November 15, 2019

Advice for Romney: No ‘opposite’ please

One of President Obama’s many mistakes when it comes to Israel was his ‎insistence on being the anti-Bush whenever possible. It was a mistake he ‎could have avoided, a decision against which he was advised by some of his ‎smarter advisors. President Bush didn’t leave office with a lot of hope for the ‎peace process, but he did leave behind a functioning mechanism for its ‎continuation. And he did it for a reason, as I wrote at the time:‎

‎[T]he president is still determined not to repeat what the previous ‎president did. Hopefully, he will be sufficiently determined. Well-‎positioned persons note that [Bill] Clinton passed down to his successor ‎a dysfunctional peace process. A violent intifada. The size of the abyss ‎into which the two sides slid was commensurate to Clinton’s ambition to ‎bring an end to the conflict. A senior official described it thus: “Clinton ‎drove an expensive race car in order to reach the end of the race, but ‎spun at the curve. What Bush got from him was not a car but a pile of ‎rubble.” The outgoing president – in 10 months – intends to leave his ‎successor the keys to a car in working order.‎

Obama made the mistake of wanting to start over, scrap whatever mechanism ‎was in place and reinvent the peace process. As Steve Rosen explains in his ‎new paper (see Rosner’s Must Reads):‎

Obama’s strategy of confrontation over settlements, in other words, has ‎backfired. The Palestinian issue has now regressed to the pre-Madrid ‎situation before 1991: Palestinians once again refuse to meet with ‎Israelis, and speak of abandoning the two-state solution and returning to ‎armed struggle. By comparison, during the term of George W. Bush, ‎who, Obama believes, did so little for Israeli-Palestinian peace, Abbas met ‎with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for talks that Abbas himself ‎characterized as among the most productive ever held. Between the ‎November 2007 Annapolis Conference convened by Bush, and the end ‎of 2008, there were 288 negotiation sessions by 12 teams representing ‎Olmert and Abbas, all while limited construction of Jewish homes in east ‎Jerusalem and the settlement blocs continued.‎

Enter Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee. And what does he tell the pro-‎Israel crowd of the Faith and Freedom Coalition?‎

“I think, by and large, you can just look at the things the president has ‎done and do the opposite”.

Apparently, the crowd loved it:‎

Those words prompted prolonged applause and cheering from an ‎audience of 250 in the ballroom of a Washington hotel.

I don’t. Doing the “opposite” is what got Barack Obama into trouble with ‎Israel, and doing the opposite would get Romney in as much trouble if he ‎insisted on pursuing such a policy. Doing the opposite is the opposite of doing ‎the right thing – that is, of building on one’s predecessor successes and ‎changing where one’s successor had failed. Obviously, at this stage the ‎‎“opposite” quip is no more than an election one-liner aimed at getting cheers. ‎Alas, such quips have the occasional tendency to become the policy of new ‎administrations, and as a policy it is really a bad one. ‎

So yes, Romney should “do the opposite” from Obama on Israel, but just in ‎one regard: he should do the opposite by not doing the opposite.‎