Discussion over the real and looming threat of a major war in the Tel Aviv-to-Tehran corridor dominated the final presidential debate last night. Iran, Israel and the disaster in Syria were mentioned more than any other countries — more than China, far more than Russia. Canada and Mexico were never mentioned last night.
Indeed, the sharpest and most impassioned confrontations between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney came over the Iran nuclear threat, the prospect of Israel launching a full-scale war against Iran, and whether the U.S. will stand with Israel as a faithful ally.
However, one of the most disturbing moments for me personally came when moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS News asked: “Would either of you be willing to declare that an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States, which of course is the same promise that we give to our close allies like Japan? And if you made such a declaration, would not that deter Iran? It’s certainly deterred the Soviet Union for a long, long time when we made that – when we made that promise to our allies.”
This was a flawed question. The far more important question is: If diplomacy and sanctions and covert operations don’t stop Iran from getting the Bomb, would you fully support Israel if Prime Minister Netanyahu feels he has no choice but to order preemptive military strikes on Iran.
Nevertheless, President Obama accepted the premise of the question and replied, “I will stand with Israel if they are attacked.” Mr. Obama tried to portray himself as a strong ally of Israel throughout the rest of that answer and the entirety of the evening. But consider his answer more carefully. The President did not say unequivocally that he would stand with Israel in a preemptive strike on Iran, if that were the last option available. Rather, Mr. Obama insisted he would help Israel after Iran attacks the Jewish state. But if Iran attacks Israel with nuclear weapons, it would be too late for American military assistance to do much good. Indeed, it is immoral for an American president to vow to defend Israel only after she has been attacked with nuclear weapons. Yet this is the President’s position.
True, President Obama noted that “as long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.” But as I explain in detail in my new book, Israel At War: Inside The Nuclear Showdown With Iran, Israeli leaders aren’t convinced they can trust Mr. Obama to prevent Iran from getting the Bomb. The Israelis see time passing. They see the Obama administration interested in never-ending diplomacy with Iranian leaders who have shown no serious interest in making a deal despite years of attempts. They see Iran getting closer to the Bomb, and they see the White House constantly undermining the Israeli military option, and signaling that when the U.S. says “all options are on the table” that the President and his advisors don’t really mean they are seriously considering military options.
Advantage Romney? Perhaps, but it wasn’t so clear.
Overall, I have come to believe over the past few months that Governor Romney would likely be a better ally for Israel that President Obama. He certainly wouldn’t do worse than Mr. Obama in creating tensions between the two nations. He has known Benjamin Netanyahu personally for many years, since they worked together at a business consulting firm in Boston in the mid-1970s. He has articulated a very pro-Israel policy throughout his campaign. And last night Romney made a strong defense for better U.S.-Israeli relations and gave a devastating critique of the President’s troubled relationship with Israel and weakness vis-a-vis Iran. “We’re four years closer to a nuclear Iran,” Romney noted. “We’re four years closer to a nuclear Iran. And — and we should not have wasted these four years to the extent they’ve – they continue to be able to spin these centrifuges and get that much closer. That’s number one. Number two, Mr. President, the reason I call it an apology tour is because you went to the Middle East and you flew to — to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to – to Turkey and Iraq. And – and by way, you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region, but you went to the other nations. And by the way, they noticed that you skipped Israel. And then in those nations and on Arabic TV you said that America had been dismissive and derisive. You said that on occasion America had dictated to other nations. Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators.” Strong stuff.
But if you look closely, Mr. Romney last night did not indicate clear and unequivocal support for a preemptive Israeli strike. Rather, he echoed the President’s promise to stand with Israel after a nuclear attack by Iran. “Well, first of all, I — I want to underscore the — the same point the president made,” Romney said, “which is that if I’m president of the United States, when I’m president of the United States, we will stand with Israel. And if Israel is attacked, we have their back, not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily.”
Was Romney concerned a stronger answer might allow the President to label him a “war monger”? Perhaps. But Romney’s answer came out soft. I repeat: it is immoral for an American president to offer to stand with Israel only after she has been attacked by Iranian nuclear warheads. Jewish and Christian friends of Israel must ask: Would a President Romney actually take decisive action to neutralize the Iran threat, even if that meant American military strikes? If not, would he fully and unequivocally back an Israeli strike on Iran, if no other options were available? I think so. I hope so. But he didn’t actually say so last night.
At one point, Mr. Schieffer asked Romney, “What if — what if the prime minister of Israel called you on the phone and said: ‘Our bombers are on the way?. We’re going to bomb Iran’? What do you say?”
“Bob, let’s not go into hypotheticals of that nature,” Romney replied. “Our relationship with Israel, my relationship with the prime minister of Israel is such that we would not get a call saying our bombers are on the way or their fighters are on the way. This is the kind of thing that would have been discussed and thoroughly evaluated well before that kind of action.”
Does that mean a President Romney would give a green light to Netanyahu days or weeks ahead of an Israeli strike? It sounded that way, but he wasn’t precise. Rather, he changed the subject. Indeed, he actually left himself plenty of room not to support an Israeli strike. Why? It is worth asking why the Governor didn’t offer a clear statement of support for Israeli action if needed, when this would have provided a clear point of difference with President Obama. No one wants war. But if war must come, President Obama refuses to promise to stand with Israel in a preemptive strike. Isn’t it a bit odd that Governor Romney is leaving doubt, as well?
Last point: I found it intriguing that the candidates for the most powerful office of the most powerful nation on earth did not focus primarily on the most populous nations on earth, like the 1.2 billion people in China, or the one billion people in India. Rather, they focused primarily on future “wars and rumors of war” in the Middle East. Bible prophecy indicates that in the “last days,” the eyes of the nations will be riveted on Israel and her neighbors and enemies, the epicenter of the momentous events that are shaking our world and shaping our future. Last night was further evidence this trend is coming to pass before our eyes.
Consider the following facts, based on a search of the full debate transcript:
- Iran was mentioned 53 times
- Israel was mentioned 34 times
- Syria was mentioned 34 times
- China was mentioned 32 times
- Pakistan was mentioned 25 times
- Iraq was mentioned 22 times
- Libya was mentioned 12 times
- Egypt was mentioned 11 times
- Russia was mentioned 10 times
- Lebanon was mentioned 2 times
- Saudis were mentioned 2 times
- Palestinians were mentioned 1 time
- France was mentioned 1 time
- Great Britain was mentioned 1 time
- Jordan was not mentioned
- India was not mentioned
- Indonesia was not mentioned
- Mexico was not mentioned
- Canada was not mentioned
>> New e-book – Israel At War: Inside The Nuclear Showdown With Iran — now available on Kindle, Nook, other formats for $2,99 (includes sneak preview of material from forthcoming Damascus Countdown novel, as well)