James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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Perry and Romney Blame Obama for Palestinian Statehood Bid

by James M. Lindsay
September 20, 2011

Mitt Romney and Rick Perry shake hands at the conclusion of the CNN/Tea Party Republican presidential candidates debate in Tampa, September 12. (Scott Audette/ courtesy Reuters)

Mitt Romney and Rick Perry shake hands at the conclusion of the CNN/Tea Party Republican presidential debate in Tampa, Florida on September 12, 2011. (Scott Audette/ courtesy Reuters)

Obama administration officials are working feverishly to persuade Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to drop his insistence on seeking a UN Security Council vote on Palestinian statehood this Friday. There are some signs they are making progress. But the White House shouldn’t expect any applause from either Rick Perry or Mitt Romney if they succeed. Today both GOP presidential frontrunners lambasted President Obama’s policies for creating the mess in the first place.

First, Governor Perry. At a press conference surrounded by a group of Jewish leaders, he was characteristically blunt:

Simply put, we would not be here today at the precipice of such a dangerous move if the Obama Policy in the Middle East wasn’t naïve, arrogant, misguided and dangerous.

For good measure, Perry twice accused Obama of appeasement in dealing with the Palestinians. He promises “a new firmness and a new resolve” instead. (You can bet that phrase will show up in the governor’s foreign policy speeches from now on.) However, Perry did say that he would support Palestinian statehood if it is established “through direct negotiations between the Palestinian leadership and the nation of Israel.”

Perry also talked tough about Iran, though when it came to specific policy responses he only mentioned tighter sanctions. He blamed Obama for being “slow to recognize the risks posed by the new regime in Egypt and the increasingly strained relationship between Israel and Turkey.” Perry didn’t say what risks are emanating from Cairo, what he would do about them, or whether he was thinking of Egypt when he said “it is vitally important for America to preserve alliances with moderate Muslim regimes and Muslim leaders who seek to preserve peace and stability in the region.”

Mitt Romney didn’t go as far afield as Perry did. He stuck to the Palestinian statehood bid and blamed Obama for creating “an unmitigated diplomatic disaster.” Here is the statement in full:

What we are watching unfold at the United Nations is an unmitigated diplomatic disaster. It is the culmination of President Obama’s repeated efforts over three years to throw Israel under the bus and undermine its negotiating position. That policy must stop now. In his speech to the U.N. this week, President Obama must unequivocally reaffirm the United States’ commitment to the security of Israel and its continued existence as a Jewish state. And he must make clear that if the Palestinian Authority succeeds in gaining any type of U.N. recognition, the United States will cut foreign assistance to the Palestinians, as well as re-evaluate its funding of U.N. programs and its relationship with any nation voting in favor of recognition. Actions that compromise the interests of the United States, our allies, and all those who desire a lasting peace must have consequences.

Perry’s and Romney’s criticisms are undoubtedly smart electoral politics. Israel is as popular with Republican primary voters as Obama is unpopular. But campaigning isn’t the same as governing. A question for both candidates is why they think that their preferred policies will work in a region that is changing dramatically and not necessarily in a direction conducive to U.S. interests.

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