I can’t help but think that the Romney Israel trip was a very good thing. Not that the apparent gaffes — attributing the dire Palestinian economic situation to their inferior culture — will lose Romney the election. They assuredly will not, and probably will solidify his position with right-wing Christians skeptical of Romney’s Mormonism, as well as pumping up donations from the Sheldon Adelson contingent. But they did put a conversation on the table, one which Americans very much need to have.
One of the singular achievements of the Israel lobby was to make the question of Palestine out of bounds in American partisan politics. Both parties were resolutely pro-Israel, and Israel and its various lobbying organizations got to define what that meant. It’s a situation that still obtains until very recently: the National Jewish Democratic Council less than a week ago tried to attack Romney from the right — he was considering Condi Rice as a veep candidate, and she once compared the situation faced by Palestinians to that faced by blacks during the civil rights struggle, and isn’t that terrible? For the Israel lobby, the statement is a major no-no, one is never supposed to acknowledge the Palestinians have been unjustly victimized by Israeli actions, and Condi, in a spontaneous reaction to the checkpoints and the wall, violated a taboo.
But that kind of foreign-policy “bipartisanship” becomes more difficult to sustain after Romney’s visit. There now really is no room to the right of Romney for the Democrats to even pretend. And as a major party nominee, Romney’s remarks inevitably draw scrutiny. It is almost a journalistic necessity for the Times to contrast and contextualize his assessment of the reasons for Palestinian underdevelopment with that of the CIA, which obviously knows a bit more about it.
Ditto the advisors who will staff a future Romney administration. Today the Times has a profile of Dan Senor, the neocon who has appparently emerged as Romney’s chief foreign-policy honcho. Before the trip, analysis of the Romney foreign-policy team was largely limited to liberal blogs, but now it’s increasingly difficult not to know that Romney wants to serve up a re-heated and recharged neocon dish:
“Mr. Senor is a pragmatic hawk who clearly has an acute sensitivity and sensibility toward Israeli security interests,” said Aaron David Miller, a former adviser to Democratic and Republican secretaries of state. “That’s clearly a filter through which he, and should he get to be president, Romney, sees the whole panoply of issues in the Middle East.”
It’s an obvious assessment to those who follow this issue, and Miller puts the most favorable possible spin on it. But it is also the kind of knowledge the Israel lobby has tried to keep out of popular discussion. Now it is being pointed out, not in the pages of foreign-policy journal, but as a major campaign story. And how many Americans want a president so beholden to Israel’s right-wing government, so willing to recycle racially charged Israeli talking points, so ready to see the Mideast, pretty much entirely, through an Israeli optic? Perhaps a majority; we will see. But 20 years ago, there wouldn’t even be a debate on the issue. That is progress.