Romney Little Different From Obama On Foreign Policy

— by David Streeter

Maeve Reston and Seema Mehta noted in the Los Angeles Times today that for all of his bluster and smears regarding the President’s foreign policy — including border-line “belligerent” statements — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has yet to state what exactly he would do differently from the President on a wide range of issues.

Highlights of article follow the jump.

Romney has roughed up Obama with a hawkish tone – at times bordering on belligerent. Yet for all his criticisms of the president, it has been difficult to tell exactly what Romney would do differently.

He has argued that reelecting Obama will result in Iran having a nuclear weapon – without explaining how. He has charged that Obama should have taken ‘more assertive steps’ to force out the repressive regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad – but has said he is not ‘anxious to employ military action.’ He accused Obama of tipping his hand to the Taliban by announcing a timeline for withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, but also accepts the 2014 timeline.

Romney’s approach could be seen in his take on the case of Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese activist who in early May sought shelter at the American Embassy before leaving his country. As Americans officials negotiated over his fate, Romney suggested that the Obama administration had put Chen in danger to placate the Chinese.

He said that if reports he had heard were true, ‘this is a dark day for freedom and it’s a day of shame for the Obama administration.’

Two weeks later, when Chen arrived in New York, Romney declared himself ‘relieved’ and said the episode ‘underscores the need for the United States to forthrightly stand up for the human rights of the Chinese people.’

At no point did he elaborate on how his approach would have differed from Obama’s.

Christopher Preble, a foreign policy expert at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, says he does not yet see ‘a huge difference’ between the foreign policy approaches of Obama and Romney.

‘A lot is made of Romney’s tough talk with respect to Russia and Iran and China, but even there it’s not like I see a dearth of toughness on the part of President Obama,’ Preble said….

Foreign policy is not Romney’s strength; 2008 GOP nominee John McCain defeated the former Massachusetts governor in primaries that year in part because of his international expertise. In Washington Post-ABC News poll last month, 53% of respondents said they trusted Obama to do a better job handling international affairs. Thirty-six percent picked Romney….

On Iran, Romney frequently faults Obama for waiting too long to put ‘crippling sanctions’ in place on the central bank and the petroleum industry, measures that the Obama administration agreed to late last year. But when asked what further steps Romney would take to crack down on Iran, campaign aides said they were keeping an eye on legislation working its way through Congress that would put sanctions on regime officials and that Romney’s main task would be to make sure the current sanctions are vigorously enforced.

In addition, Romney has said he would do more to support dissidents in Iran and make it clear that military action by the U.S. is a real option (something Romney charges Obama has failed to do, though the president has repeatedly said all options are on the table).

US Budget: Obama Requests Largest Amount of Israel Aid Ever

Israeli and American flags fly as Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates arrives in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 18, 2007.— by David Streeter

Underscoring his commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship, President Barack Obama requested a record $3,100,000,000 in assistance to Israel for the 2013 fiscal year. The requested amount is not just the largest assistance request for Israel ever, it is the largest foreign assistance request ever in U.S. history.

According to page 172 of the State Department’s report on the FY 2013 budget, foreign military financing to Israel has increased steadily under Obama:

  • In 2011, Israel received $2,994,000,000;
  • In 2012, Israel is estimated to have received $3,075,000,000; and
  • In 2013, Obama requested for Israel to receive $3,100,000,000 — almost half of the entire global request for foreign military financing.

This is consistent with the ten-year Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel.

The increase in funding will help the Jewish state maintain its qualitative military edge and keep its citizens secure as the Middle East continues to undergo rapid change.

Obama’s Right Wing Critics Should Be Dizzy from All their Spinning

— by Marc R. Stanley

Ever since President Barack Obama’s inauguration, his right wing critics have devoted countless hours and millions of keystrokes to spinning the President’s record of support for Israel so far from reality that it threatens the historical bipartisan foundation of American support for Israel. The vortex of right wing spin was fully on display last week as Republican partisans and right wing pundits pounced on selectively-chosen quotes and inaccurate media reports to continue their baseless attacks on Obama’s stellar record of support for Israel.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta delivered-in front of a pro-Israel crowd gathered to substantively and civilly discuss Israel-an entire address that discussed the actual steps taken by the Obama Administration to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. Right wingers took five words from the question and answer section, removed their context, and ran wild with them as if they nullified every pro-Israel action described in Panetta’s speech.

More after the jump.
Despite what you may have heard or read, Panetta-who is widely regarded as being pro-Israel by many involved with the issue-made two things crystal clear. First, “Israel will always have the unshakeable backing of the United States,” and second, that the President is considering a “wide range of military options” as part of his approach to stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

As usual though, Republicans overlooked Panetta’s positive statements and continued their effort to make Israel a partisan wedge issue. The spin on Panetta’s speech was so far removed from reality that the nonpartisan American Jewish Committee weighed in and criticized the inaccurate reports of Panetta’s speech, in addition to setting the record straight on his strongly pro-Israel statements.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton-also a stalwart supporter of Israel-received similar treatment following an off-the-record session during the same Israel forum that Panetta spoke at. Clinton reportedly expressed concern over certain recent Knesset bills and incidents regarding women and Israel’s Orthodox community. Predictably, Obama’s right wing critics spun Clinton’s reported comments past the point of reality, and largely ignored the mainstream American Jewish leaders and organizations that vocally expressed similar concerns about similar issues.

These two recent incidents highlight the lengths that Obama’s right wing detractors will go to malign his Administration’s stellar record of support for Israel. After vocally opposing the Palestinians’ unilateral state declaration, increasing security cooperation with Israel to unprecedented levels-including supplemental funding for the Iron Dome missile system that protects Israelis from Hamas’ rockets, consistently defending Israel’s legitimacy at the United Nations, personally intervening to save Israel’s diplomats in Cairo, and personally authorizing the delivery of any equipment Israel needed to fight the Carmel fire, Obama’s naysayers simply have little substance to criticize.

As a result, those seeking to make Israel a partisan wedge issue create bogus stories based on inaccurate media reports and remarks taken out of context. Most seriously though, right wing partisans politicize the occasional tactical disagreements that have zero act on the fundamental core principles of the U.S.-Israel relationship. When Israeli and American leaders state publically that the U.S.-Israel relationship is as strong as it has ever been-as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren have all loudly and repeatedly stressed-right wing partisans tune out and keep pushing their spin and smears. Their hope is that their efforts will bring the mass exodus of Jews from Democratic Party to the Republican Party that they’ve been wishing for since at least the 1980’s.

Recent polls of American and Israeli Jews indicate that the right wing spin of Obama’s Israel record is not causing the massive Israel-based shift that Republicans want to see. Given the wide distance separating the Republican presidential field from the majority of American Jews, right wing partisans should be dizzy to the point of sickness by now. But since the GOP-from Party leaders to presidential candidates to rank-and-file members of Congress-has demonstrated its intent to politicize the U.S.-Israel relationship without regard to Obama’s actual record, those who support a strong bipartisan consensus of support for Israel must speak out loudly to refute the spin before the relationship suffers collateral damage from their partisan attacks.

Originally published in the Texas Jewish Post. Marc R. Stanley is the Chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

UN Security Council Frustrated at Obama Admin. for Backing Israel

— David Streeter

The AP reported that 14 members of the United Nations Security Council expressed frustration at the Obama Administration for defending Israel by blocking the effort to condemn Israel’s settlement policies in the West Bank. According to the AP:

Fourteen frustrated members of the U.N. Security Council pointed a finger at the United States Tuesday for blocking any condemnation of Israel’s accelerated settlement construction in Palestinian territory….

While the United States was not mentioned by name, the diplomats anger was clearly directed at Washington which vetoed a resolution in February backed by the 14 other council members that would have demanded an immediate halt to all settlement building. The Obama administration has also promised to veto any Security Council resolution supporting Palestine’s bid to become the 194th member of the United Nations.

The U.S. has said repeatedly it does not support settlement building. But Payton Knopf, the U.S. Mission’s deputy spokesman, told AP “the only way to resolve the outstanding issues between Israelis and Palestinians is through serious and substantive direct negotiations.”

The United States also opposes Security Council action on “final status issues” because this “would only harden the positions of both sides and make the resumption of negotiations more difficult,” Knopf said.

President Barack Obama’s Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has been working intensely to ensure that Israel receives fair treatment in UN bodies and is not singled out for criticism. Rice was recently honored by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and spoke about her work to defend Israel in UN bodies.  

Is This Romney’s Idea of Increased Support for Israel?

— Jason Attermann

Former Representative Mel Levine (D-CA) helped differentiate between the facts of President Barack Obama’s extensive pro-Israel record and the distorted portrayals created by many of the Republican presidential candidates. In his op-ed in Haaretz, Levine took special aim at former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for disregarding Obama’s efforts to protect Israel and isolate the Iranian regime. Levine wrote:

Gov. Romney recklessly and inaccurately misrepresents President Obama’s record of leadership in foreign policy in general. His disdain for the President Obama’s foreign policy conveniently ignores the president’s leadership in building international coalitions which have imposed exceptionally stiff sanctions on Iran….

And, ironically, in terms of inventing his own facts, the core policies Romney advocates have already been accomplished by President Obama. (Perhaps the former Governor has not been paying attention.) For example, Romney argues that current sanctions against Iran are weak and specifically states that ‘if there ever was a possibility of gaining the Kremlin’s support for tougher sanctions against Tehran … President Obama foreclosed it.’ But he fails to recognize that President Obama succeeded, where others had failed, in obtaining both Russian and Chinese support for international sanctions against Iran, sanctions as a result of the president’s leadership are the strongest that have been obtained by any U.S. president.

During the GOP presidential debates, Romney agreed with Texas Governor Rick Perry’s call for all U.S. aid to other countries to begin at “zero.” For Perry,  Israel is included. Levine questioned, “Is this his idea of how the U.S. should increase needed support for Israel?”

President Obama’s policies toward Iran have been tough and clear. As has been his staunch support for Israel. This president understands the threat which a nuclear Iran poses to the international community. That a serious candidate for the Presidency would intentionally distort and misrepresent that clear policy does a disservice to our nation.

Sirte

This post was originally posted at DemConWatch, written by Scott Calvin, Professor of Physics at Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY

 

We all have many questions about the conflict in Libya: How long will it last? Who are the rebels? How tough will it be to get Qadhafi to leave? How many civilians will be killed? Does the country have a chance of becoming a stable democracy? Will it even be a single country in the future?

We're likely to have a much better sense of the answer to these questions soon, for a simple reason: the rebels are advancing toward Sirte.

What's Sirte? It's Qadhafi's home town, lying midway on the Libyan coast between the country's two largest cities of Tripoli in the west and Benghazii in the east. It has become, under Qadhafi, a kind of secondary capital for the country, with some government ministries headquartered there. It is also the home to Qadhafi's tribe, among others.

The rebels have recaptured Ajdabiya, and reports today indicate Brega is in their hands as well. Next up is Ras Lanuf, then Bin Jawad, which is as far as the rebels got before Qadhafi's counterattack, and then…Sirte.

What happens when they get there? Do the residents side with Qadhafi, and oppose the rebels? If that happens, it is probably impossible for the rebels to take it, and it becomes unlikely the entire conflict will have a swift resolution. Or do the residents join the rebellion? If that happens, then Qadhafi is probably done. Or it could trigger ethnic strife within the city, or even some kind of neutral reaction. Finally, the rebels could decide to bypass Sirte altogether, continuing by it toward the west and the cities nearer to Tripoli. But how does that work? Would the rebels cut off supplies to Sirte, in effect besieging it?

And what does the coalition do in any of these cases? Here's a nightmare scenario: suppose the rebels take Sirte and then begin killing members of Qadhafi's tribe indiscriminately. There's no evidence they are planning to do this, mind you, but just consider what would happen if they did. Would the coalition then begin bombing rebel positions in order to protect the civilians?

Sirte is the test–for the rebels, for the coalition, for the President, for Qadhafi. The way things are going now, it looks like we'll have some answers to the question of Sirte in the next week or so, and with that, some answers to many of the questions surrounding Libya.

UPDATE: Rebel forces have taken Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad, eclipsing their former high-water mark. Forget answers coming in the next week or so; the rebels are coming face to face with decisions about Sirte now. President Obama had better write his address to the nation, scheduled for tomorrow night, in pencil.