As Gov. Rick Perry flails, Gov. Chris Christie and Sarah Palin rule out running, and pizza-delivery magnate Herman Cain starts scoring second place in polls, it seems clear that, three months from the first caucuses and primaries, Mitt Romney is the front-runner for Republican presidential nominee. Add to that the fact that he has put together a high-profile team of foreign policy advisers (itself further evidence that he is the favorite), and you see why his major foreign policy speech this morning at the Citadel was hotly anticipated.
But in an electoral climate dominated by the economy and other domestic issues, what, exactly is there to say about foreign policy? An excellent preview in the Financial Times predicted that Romney would hone in on one issue, “Obama’s Achilles heel when it comes to foreign policy”: Israel. And in his speech today, the two issues Romney brought up first were, duly, Iran and Israel.
We’ve already been through why in discussing Perry. Iran/Israel works best as an attack on President Obama for two reasons: first, it’s virtually the only specific foreign policy issue where he is even vulnerable; and, second, because Americans rightly identify with Israelis, Israel can be framed as an attack on Obama’s values rather than his foreign policy record. The top soundbite from Romney’s speech is: “I will not surrender America’s role in the world. This is very simple: If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on Earth, I am not your President. You have that President today.” That’s not an argument for a specific agenda; indeed, the speech was light on specific agendas, especially concerning the disastrous situation in Afghanistan-Pakistan. But it is an argument, implicitly, for a different kind of leadership. Which is why you’ll be reading about Israel on more than just this Website over the next 13 (yes, really 13 more) months.
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.