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Is Romney’s Camp Signaling Support For An Israeli Strike?

Culling the statements from Romney’s camp

Adam Chandler
August 23, 2012
(Washington Times)

For what anything is worth anymore when it comes to chatter (campaign, diplomatic, barstool, pillow) about Iran, there seems to be a conflicting message coming out of the Romney campaign about what to do. For Foreign Policy, Josh Rogin writes:

Former senior National Security Council aide Elliott Abrams, who has been rumored as a potential top official in a future Romney administration, wrote on the Weekly Standard’s website Aug. 21 that now is the time for Congress to authorize the use of military force against Iran as a means of preventing Israel from striking Iran’s nuclear facilities.

“Why would Israel, with so much less power than the United States, decide to take on a task at the far outer edge of its military capacities? Why not leave that task to the superpower, which would do a much better job? The answer is simple: Israelis do not believe the United States will perform the task-will ever use military force, even as a last resort, to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons,” Abrams wrote.

Meanwhile, in the same week, senior Romney advisor John Bolton, whom you may have heard of, suggested something entirely different. Rogin explains:

On Wednesday, another senior Romney foreign-policy advisor, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, laid out a different policy prescription for Iran in the Washington Times. He agrees with Abrams that Obama’s assurances about preventing a nuclear Iran are not credible, but suggests that Israel must be allowed to strike on its own if necessary.

“The hard reality, therefore, is that Israel must make its own military decision, preferably one based on physics, not politics. Israel most likely still has time if it wishes to act independently, but there is no guarantee how long,” he wrote.

Neither of these statements seem to be in line with what Governor Romney said during his trip to Jerusalem last month. During that trip, Romney, essentially echoing President Obama’s position, said that diplomacy and sanctions were part of a package that would lead the policy on Iran but all options (wink, wink) would be left open.

Having Congress authorize military force (as Abrams suggests) seems to be a bridge too far. Also during that Jerusalem trip, the Romney campaign had to clarify a comment made by advisor Dan Senor, who said the Governor “would respect” Israel’s decision to strike unilaterally…which is what Bolton has just reiterated.

It seems odd that a Romney advisor would repeat essentially the same comment that was walked back by the campaign just a month ago. Add this to the Abrams message (somebody’s gotta do it and we’re better equipped), one could argue that either the Romney camp is divided (which Rogin does convincingly) or you could argue, perhaps less convincingly, that the Romney camp is not opposed to letting Israel do what it keeps saying it might do (before the U.S. elections, by some reports).

A thought that might help sustain the latter line of thinking comes from Lee Smith, who wrote in Tablet yesterday that it really makes no difference who the President of the United States is, at least, with regard to a strike on Iran because neither President Obama or Governor Romney would actually attack anyway.

If Israeli leaders really thought Romney was much more likely than Obama to bomb Iran, there wouldn’t be so much chatter now right now about how it’s become crunch time for Israel. Bibi Netanyahu would at least give Romney the benefit of a few months after the November elections. But the Israeli half of the conversation is no longer about pressuring their American allies. Rather, it seems to be preparing the Israeli public for an attack.

Something to think about. Or not.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.