Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Israel and the Republican Debate

by Elliott Abrams
November 22, 2011

With the exception of Ron Paul, every one of the Republican candidates on the stage at Constitution Hall is a strong supporter of the alliance between the United States and Israel. In Tuesday night’s debate as in previous outings, they stated in compelling terms their understanding of why the friendship and cooperation between Israel and our country is of great value to us. For the most part they did not blink at the possibility of a military strike on Iran as a last resort and as an outcome preferable to permitting Iran to become a nuclear weapons state.

To these necessarily conditional statements–conditional because the precise situation months or years down the road is of course unclear, and will depend in large part on what actions the United States takes in the interim–Mitt Romney added a specific promise. He would, he said, make a visit to Israel his first foreign trip.

This promise will be attacked by the usual suspects, from the New York Times to Democratic Party spokesmen defending the Obama Administration to Arab diplomats. And among the things they will say is that it is a gimmick.

In his nearly three years in office, President Obama has never visited Israel though he visited both Cairo and Riyadh very early on. President Bush visited Israel only in his seventh year in office, though Israelis did not much complain because he was so clearly and strongly supportive of the Jewish State year after year. President Clinton first visited in October 1994, after nearly three years in office. President Reagan never visited Israel, nor did President George H.W. Bush. President Carter visited in March 1979, after twenty-six months in office. Typically a president’s first visit abroad is to Canada.

So what Romney has promised would be a first. It would be a remarkable signal to the Middle Eastern states and to the Europeans that the Obama era of distancing from Israel is over. At a moment of instability in the region it would visibly restore one solid pillar: the American-Israel alliance. For the Turks wondering how far to go in their new hostility to Israel, the Iranian ayatollahs thinking about whether our pledge to stop their nuclear weapons programs is real, Jordanians and Moroccans asking if we will support moderate reform against the forces of radicalism–the list is long–the symbolic power of such a visit would be immense.

I am glad that neither Romney nor any other candidate promised to move the U.S.Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, for that is indeed a gimmick. This promise has been made many times before but once in office presidents keep postponing it and postponing it–and then they leave office. Such a pledge is simply not credible. Romney’s promise is so easy to keep that he would have to do it, as he must have known when he made it. As noted he’ll be attacked for it: he’ll be accused of pandering and of risking our relations with the Arab world. But the gesture of making Israel his first foreign trip would instantly communicate more effectively than any other that a foreign policy radically different from that of President Obama was now in place. Any Republican who replaces President Obama in 2013 should “take the pledge” and make similar travel plans.

Post a Comment 10 Comments

  • Posted by Jay

    So respecting Israel’s sovereignty is not supporting Israel? Israel is not our puppet.

    “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

  • Posted by Brian C

    It’s such an honor to write a comment on the blog of the real government of the US. CFR. Ron Paul wants an alliance with Israel. He wants us to be neither to be its master or lap dog. I do keep in mind Genesis 12 when I say this. Have a nice day

  • Posted by Guy


  • Posted by nadeem salem

    I will be reviewing the debate and counting how many times the word israel was used in comparison to the word United States or even America (excluding South America of course). Wonder if anyone cares to try this

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  • Posted by Marc

    Wouldn’t it be risky to reinforce our links wth Israel at the current time. If we recall, American-Israel relationship were a cause of the Afghanistan war. We are at a point where religion is growing in middle-east. I think it might not be the right time show our support to Israel.

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    The situation has become so appalling and Iranian intentions so obvious that immediate attention to Israel is not only a must but long past due . It’s a waste of time to hope for a show of solidarity with Israel from the current U.S.administration … now or any time in the foreseeable future . Isreal’s best hope is for a complete change of attitude from the United States government … which means a complete change in administrations .

    Where is America’s “Responsibility To Protect” when it comes to Israel ?

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