“DRUMMING UP MONEY, BY BEATING THE DRUMS FOR YET ANOTHER WAR ?”
And so it goes, another day, another appeal for campaign funds by saying and at least pretending a willingness to do something, anything, that might tickle the nerves and stroke the metaphysical and incarnational fantasies of potential major donors.
My, oh my, how our once noble liberal democratic republican experiment keeps evolving as it stumbles along such an amazingly convoluted path.
One can only wonder what will come next. What do you think may be about to happen??
And, at the end of the day, does it really matter. More wars, more money flowing into the pockets of the privileged insiders, more campaign donations into the right coffers. Aren’t we ever going to grow up and get tired of this? Or it this ultimately what the original intelligent design was really all about??
Anyway, have another beer and enjoy this circus while it lasts, or until you fall asleep again for another four years. Take care, Andy
OBAMA'S OCTOBER SURPRISE: BOMBING IRAN
By Jacob Heilbrunn, The National Interest, 2 August 2012.
A devastating strike would create an upsurge of patriotism in America and fully neutralize Mitt Romney's contention that Obama is a foreign-policy wimp. It could allow Obama to sweep to victory in November.
Will he do it?
One reason he might is that Mitt Romney is singlehandedly pushing the entire debate about Israel and Iran to the right. The parameters have changed markedly. As TNI editor Robert Merry and others have noted, Romney's efforts to ingratiate himself with Jewish donors and voters have prompted him to suspend any notion of an independent American foreign policy in the Middle East. Traditionally, the green or red light for military action has come from America, at least when it comes to actions that directly impinge upon American interests.
Ronald Reagan, for instance, successfully demanded that Israel halt its attacks on Lebanon in 1983. Romney, by contrast, has effectively promised to give Israel a veto power over military action, indicating that he will do whatever Benjamin Netanyahu wants. As Romney observed in December, he would never, ever criticize Israel. Instead, he would get on the phone with Prime Minister Netanyahu and ask, "What would you like me to do?" So it's fair to say that Romney would outsource his foreign policy to Netanyahu when it comes to Israel and its enemies.
What's more, anyone who thinks that Romney is bluffing should think again. It's no accident that his senior adviser on the Middle East is Dan Senor, a hard-line neoconservative. As the New York Times notes today, Romney relies upon him for advice and frequently cites his book “Start-Up Nation”. Senor wasn't dissembling when he said in Israel that Romney was prepared to endorse an attack on Iran—he simply got a little ahead of the program.
Obama has not been far behind in giving Netanyahu close to carte blanche. But he has not gone as far as Romney in endorsing the threat that Iran should be precluded from having the capability of building a nuclear weapon. But as Netanyahu champs, or tries to give the impression of champing, at the bit to bomb Iran, Obama must be weighing whether or not he should call Netanyahu out on his threats. So far, the Obama administration has been doing everything in its power to dissuade Israel from speedy action. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's visit to Israel was another sign that the administration is trying to reassure Israel of its commitment to its security. But his emphasis was on sanctions:
The most effective way to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is for the international community to be united, proving to Iran that it will only make itself less secure if it continues to try to pursue a nuclear weapon.
But as Romney calls for "any and all measures" to stop Iran, Obama surely could deflate his sails by launching a strike in October. If it worked, he would be hailed as a hero. The consequences of a strike wouldn't be felt for at least a few weeks—the nightmare scenario is that an oil shock would result in a quadrupling of oil prices, plunging the world into a new Great Depression. Enough time for Obama to sail back into office as a tough foreign-policy president.
Given Obama's congenital caution and sobriety, he seems unlikely to follow such a course. But it should not be ruled out. The neocons may be closer to helping bring about an assault on Iran than even they realize. They've already captured Romney. But they may also be on the verge of capturing Obama. Their sustained campaign of pressure, in other words, may be more effective than anyone has acknowledged. For the fact is that Obama already has amply demonstrated his ruthlessness when it comes to confronting America's adversaries. If he were able to carry out regime change in Tehran, he might even start referring to himself as the “new Decider”.
ADVISER DRAWS ATTENTION TO ROMNEY MIDEAST POLICY
By Michael D. Shear, NYT, 1 August 2012.
WASHINGTON — Moments after making remarks in Jerusalem about Middle East culture that enraged Palestinians and undermined the public relations value of his trip to Israel, Mitt Romney looked around the room for Dan Senor, one of his campaign’s top foreign policy advisers.
It was Mr. Senor’s book about entrepreneurs in Israel that informed his comments, Mr. Romney explained to the group of Jewish-American donors he had assembled at the King David hotel. The book, “Start-up Nation,” is among Mr. Senor’s writings that Mr. Romney frequently cites in public.
Mr. Senor (pronounced See-NOR) has become one of the key people shaping Mr. Romney’s increasingly hawkish views on the Middle East. A television-savvy former spokesman for the American government in Iraq, Mr. Senor blends a foreign policy background, high-volume punditry and ties to wealthy hedge fund investors in the United States to become a triple threat as an insider in Mr. Romney’s presidential campaign.
His presence in the tight orbit of advisers around the Republican candidate foreshadows a Romney foreign policy that could take a harder line against Iran, embrace Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move away from being the honest broker in the conflict with Palestinians.
But his views and influence have drawn new scrutiny to Mr. Romney’s Mideast positions, particularly after Mr. Senor said last week that Mr. Romney respected Israel’s right to pre-emptively strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. Campaign aides conceded that Mr. Senor got “a little ahead” of Mr. Romney on Iran, but said it had not diminished his role at the campaign.
“Dan is a long-term friend and adviser of Mitt,” said Beth Myers, one of Mr. Romney’s top strategists. “He’s consistently been a part of his foreign policy advising world. Mitt appreciated his advice and counsel on that trip and he remains a close adviser.”
By tapping Mr. Senor, 40, as his principal adviser on the Israel leg of his foreign trip this week, Mr. Romney passed over more seasoned strategists, some of them veterans of the Middle East peace efforts that have bedeviled presidents and diplomats for decades.
In Mr. Senor, Mr. Romney turned to an advocate of neoconservative thinking that has sought to push presidents to the right for years on Middle East policy. (His sister, Wendy Senor Singer, runs the Jerusalem office of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an influential lobbying organization.)
“Mr. Senor is a pragmatic hawk who clearly has an acute sensitivity and sensibility toward Israeli security interests,” said Aaron David Miller, a former adviser to Democratic and Republican secretaries of state. “That’s clearly a filter through which he, and should he get to be president, Romney, sees the whole panoply of issues in the Middle East.”
The plan for Mr. Romney’s overseas trip called for him to mix delicate global diplomacy with high-dollar campaign fund-raising, all on foreign soil. It would take an adviser accustomed to maneuvering effortlessly through the worlds of politics, money and news media.
Enter Mr. Senor, who has become one of Mr. Romney’s closest foreign policy advisers, having traveled three times to Israel with him. Mr. Senor began visiting Boston in 2006 to brief Mr. Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, on foreign policy, and has had his ear since. In the acknowledgments of his book “No Apology,” Mr. Romney wrote that Mr. Senor sharpened his “appreciation of the dangers presented by the shift in our foreign policy.”
Mr. Senor declined to comment for this article.
But in Israel last week, the carefully laid plan was quickly consumed by negative attention. Gushing comments about Mr. Romney by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were initially overshadowed by Mr. Senor’s comments to reporters about Iran. When that died down, Mr. Romney’s assertion that cultural factors helped account for the wide Israeli economic edge over the Palestinians drew condemnation from Palestinian leaders.
For all the furor, Mr. Senor has proved to be a resilient public figure, often finding new success after public criticism.
At the start of the Iraq war, Mr. Senor served as the spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, often delivering rosy accounts of the war’s progress to reporters whose on-the-ground view of the crisis there was anything but. Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a Washington Post reporter who wrote a critical book about the authority, once described Mr. Senor’s office as doing “a masterful job of spinning the media.”
Mr. Senor’s departure from Iraq was followed by a stint running a private equity firm that made him wealthy. He married Campbell Brown, a former anchor for CNN, formed a conservative research organization and secured invitations to appear on Fox News and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program.
“He is intrigued by the game of politics,” said William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard and a longtime friend. “But he is genuinely public spirited.”
Mr. Romney’s relationship with Mr. Senor began just after his honeymoon in 2006, when Ms. Myers asked if he would meet with Mr. Romney, then a likely presidential candidate.
Before long, Mr. Senor was regularly visiting Boston for briefings and setting up visits by other foreign policy hawks in Washington. He accompanied Mr. Romney to Israel in January 2007 and went with him on a trip to Afghanistan, Jordan, Israel and Dubai last year.
“I believe they are genuinely close and personal,” Mr. Kristol said.
Perhaps the best evidence of that is the frequency with which Mr. Romney talks about Mr. Senor’s book. Acquaintances of both men said Mr. Romney frequently mentions it. The slim book argues that Israel’s entrepreneurial spirit contributes to its success — a message that resonates with Mr. Romney’s background in business.
“He goes through some of the cultural elements that have led Israel to become a nation that has begun so many businesses and so many enterprises,” Mr. Romney said at his Jerusalem fund-raiser.
Looking around a room filled with wealthy Americans, including Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate who has donated tens of millions of dollars to Republicans, Mr. Romney noted Mr. Senor’s absence and his success at hitting such people up for campaign cash.
“I saw him this morning. I don’t know where he is,” Mr. Romney said. “He’s probably out twisting someone’s arm.”
ROMNEY EDGES U.S. TOWARD WAR WITH IRAN
By Robert W. Merry, TNI, 1 August 2012.
Robert W. Merry is editor of The National Interest and the author of books on American history and foreign policy. His latest book is “Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians” (Simon & Schuster).
The major newspapers all understood that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s expressions in Jerusalem last weekend were important, which is why they played the story on page one. But only the New York Times captured the subtle significance of what he said. The paper’s coverage, by Jodi Rudoren and Ashley Parker, reported that Romney sought to adhere to the code that says candidates shouldn’t criticize the president on foreign soil.
“But,” they added, “there were subtle differences between what he said—and how he said it—and the positions of his opponent.”
Most significantly, while Obama talks about stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, Israel insists Tehran should be prevented from having even the capacity to develop nuclear weapons. This means no nuclear development even for peaceful purposes. Romney embraced the Israeli language. In doing so, he nudged his nation closer to war with Iran.
Based on Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s oft-repeated expressions, he clearly seems bent on attacking Iran to destroy or delay its nuclear program and, if possible, undermine the Iranian regime. And he wants America at his side when he does it. Obama has been seeking to dissuade Israel from contemplating such an assault in order to give the president’s austere sanctions regimen a chance to work. But what does he mean by “a chance to work?”
If he means a complete capitulation by Iran, he’s dreaming, of course. History tells us that nations don’t respond to this kind of pressure by accepting humiliation. That’s the lesson of Pearl Harbor, as described in my commentary in these spaces. Many close observers of the Iran drama believe there may be an opportunity for a negotiated outcome that allows Iran to enrich uranium to a limited extent—say, 5 percent—for peaceful purposes. Iran insists, and most experts agree, that the Non-Proliferation Treaty allows such enrichment for energy production. In any event, numerous signatories to the NPT do in fact maintain limited enrichment programs for peaceful ends.
Obama seems torn between pursuing such an outcome and embracing the Israeli position, which demands that Iran foreswear all enrichment and any peaceful nuclear development. In last spring’s Istanbul meeting between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group (the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany), there seemed to be a genuine interest on the part of those six nations to explore an outcome that would allow for some enrichment by Iran. Five weeks later in Baghdad, the P5+1 group seemed to backtrack and insist upon zero enrichment. Talks are ongoing but only among low-level technical people; any serious negotiations are on hold pending the election. Thus Obama has managed to maintain his flexibility during the delicate campaign period.
But now we have Romney in Israel essentially telling the people there that they need fear no ambivalence on his part. If elected, he will embrace the Netanyahu position, which is designed to ensure the collapse of any negotiations attending anti-Iran sanctions, which Netanyahu already has labeled a failure.
“We have to be honest,” he said over the weekend, during Romney’s visit, “and say that the sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota.”
That’s the view that Romney subtly embraced in Jerusalem.
True, it was all done with a wink and a nod. In actual language, Romney didn’t diverge too far from what the president had been saying. Certainly in declaring that Americans “recognize Israel’s right to defend itself,” he echoed similar expressions that Obama has uttered on many occasions. But when he added, “and it is right for America to stand with you,” he was offering just a touch more of a free pass for an Israeli attack on Iran than Obama has done.
But all this apparently was just a little too subtle for Dan Senor, Romney’s senior foreign-policy aide, who told reporters just prior to Romney’s Jerusalem speech,
“If Israel has to take action on its own, the governor would respect that decision.”
This led to much back-and-forth afterward, but the message was clear: unlike Obama, and unlike George W. Bush before him, Romney harbors no inclination to dampen Netanyahu’s determination to solve his perceived Iran problem through force of arms. And, since an Israeli strike on Iran inevitably would thrust America into the resulting conflict, the Romney-Senor expressions, taken together, moved America that much closer to another Mideast war.
Arguably, this is true even if Obama is reelected in November and Romney is tossed to the side of the campaign trail. That’s because the mere expression of such sentiments from a major-party presidential candidate confers an added legitimacy to the idea that the United States would accept or even welcome a unilateral Israeli preemptive attack on another nation, whatever its leaders say in public. Such an attack almost surely would unleash a powerful wave of instability throughout the Middle East, with incalculable consequences for global peace and prosperity. It’s inconceivable that, in such circumstances, America could avoid getting drawn into the maelstrom that would ensue. In the meantime, the economic consequences would be nearly catastrophic as oil prices soared, dealing a heavy blow to an already unsteady global economy.
Thus, Romney’s words may have been subtle, but this is foreign-policy mischief on a very large scale. If he becomes president, two of Mitt Romney’s primary responsibilities will be to ensure peace and prosperity in the nation he leads. Those imperatives certainly didn’t seem uppermost in his mind over the past weekend. He may have looked frivolous and unprepared for the office he seeks when he arrived in London last week and, responding to a routine question about the Olympics, promptly demonstrated a tin ear for the nuances of diplomatic expression. But that was child’s play in comparison to what he did in Jerusalem.
ROMNEY, NETANYAHU, AND GEORGE WASHINGTON'S WARNING
By David Bromwich, HuffPost, 1 August 2012.
Mitt Romney's campaign stop in Jerusalem has been criticized for the grossness of the subservience that the candidate exhibited toward Israel. This reaction was surely factored in by his handlers. Liberals, internationalists, human rights advocates might demur, but Romney's intended audience was none of these people. Nor was it the Arab world, nor was it American voters, with a possible exception for the state of Florida. Romney was aiming to reach two distinct but related target groups: first, a small set of extremely wealthy donors, and second, a group composed of one person, Benjamin Netanyahu. Both have long been potent players in American elections. Both were already helping Romney. It was necessary and useful at this time to cement the alliance in public.
Judged in the light of that purpose, Romney's visit must be counted a success. And it was a success in one other respect. The billionaires and the prime minister wanted Romney to bring the United States closer to supporting a war with Iran. Romney obliged, and we are now closer to war. He recognized, he said, the "right" of Israel to defend itself. Who ever denied that right? He meant: the righteousness of a preventive attack on Iran. This left open the question, Does Iran have the right to defend itself? A question that Americans and Israelis, as effectively propagandized as we have been, can be trusted not even to ask. So Romney's intervention in Jerusalem amounted to approval of war -- and a war before November if Netanyahu happens to find that desirable. As a candidate in an election season, Romney gave the green light to a power whose engagement in war would involve the United States.
Nothing like this has ever happened before in American politics. But then, there has never been anything in history remotely like the present relationship between the United States and Israel. President Obama, who is thought to be lukewarm by Romney's supporters, in March described our alliance with Israel as "sacrosanct." A month earlier, he had assured Israel and its warmest American partisans that his administration was marching in "lockstep" with Israel in our approach to Iran.
All this Obama said and did in deference to Benjamin Netanyahu and without regard to American interests. For he had been told by the CIA that Iran is not working at present on a nuclear weapon, and he was warned by the Pentagon that a war with Iran would be a regional disaster for the United States. Even so, he gave Netanyahu in effect a yellow light: proceed with caution. And to sweeten the transaction, he promised to issue no traffic ticket if Israel speeds up. It was the same at this year's AIPAC convention where Obama again assured Netanyahu: "I have Israel's back."
A corny line from the playbook of the younger Bush, suggesting a false analogy between a gunfight and a world war, but Obama at the start of an election year knew very well what the script called for.
It has been said by members of the Israel lobby that Obama's actions speak louder than his words, and that his actions have hurt Israel. Let us recall some of the actions. In response to the onslaught on Gaza in December-January 2008-2009, in which 1,300 Palestinians were killed and 13 Israelis, Obama observed a silence which he has never broken. When, in November 2010, Netanyahu balked at the proposal of a 90-day partial extension of the freeze on West Bank settlement expansion, Obama offered twenty F-35 fighter jets if he would change his mind; Netanyahu refused, and Obama gave him the jets anyway. Only a week ago, the president donated another $70 million, on top of U.S. assistance already given, to build up the Israeli "Iron Dome" defense against rockets. Yet it is felt that Obama's love of Israel has been insufficiently demonstrative. The reason is simple but it is seldom mentioned quite candidly.
Twice, in the last four years, this president lapsed from the post-1992 American protocol toward Israel of undiluted flattery and largesse. In June 2009 he called for a settlement freeze, and in May 2011 he spoke of the 1967 lines as the starting point for the creation of an independent Palestine. Now, the de facto policy of the Netanyahu government is annexation of the West Bank. These diplomatic hints and reminders from the president were therefore as unwelcome as they were unexpected.
As for Iran, Israelis themselves (except Netanyahu and those in his immediate circle) are a good deal more cautious than their American neoconservative supporters. At a public meeting in April, in the Israeli city of Kfar Saba, Yuval Diskin, who in 2011 retired as head of Shin Bet (the Israeli FBI), said that he had "no faith" in Netanyahu's policy or his instincts on Iran. Two days later the former chief of Mossad, Meir Dagan, emphatically concurred and praised Diskin for his honesty.
What does it mean for an American like Romney, unskilled in international politics and innocent of the complexities of the Middle East, to back the pressure now being exerted by Netanyahu against the advice of the American president and against the advice of high-ranking intelligence and military officers in Israel? It means that Romney is not a friend of Israel so much as he is a friend of Netanyahu. Or rather, for Romney, as for the billionaires he had in tow, the personal is political. For them, Netanyahu is Israel. A point to which we shall return.
Joe Biden and Leon Panetta in recent months have taken care to issue statements along the lines of Obama himself, implying American avoidance of any war short of necessity, but adding that Israel is a sovereign nation and America does not pretend to control it. And yet we give Israel fighter jets, Iron Dome technology, and more than three billion dollars a year in foreign aid. If there is ever again an American president capable of deciding to concern himself more with the soundness of policy than with his chances in the next election, that president will have considerable control over Israel. Obama, however, works slowly and he starts worrying about the next election a year ahead. That does not leave much margin for inventive policy or persuasion. On the Middle East, his boldness in theory and timidity in practice seems to have roused the adventurism of Romney's neoconservative advisers. But Obama does occasionally offer convincing signs of not wanting the war with Iran that the Pentagon says would be a disaster. Romney, by contrast, with his quarterback-audible in Jerusalem, signaled that a war would be fine with him.
What are the actual stakes for Israel? Netanyahu has called the possession of a nuclear weapon by Iran an "existential threat," but nobody known for sanity, including his own defense minister Ehud Barak, has agreed with him about this. An existential threat conjures an image of war-loving Iran poised on the brink of exterminating the Jews of Israel. The evidence for that intention is a statement by the anti-Semitic president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who did indeed say that history would wipe the "Zionist entity" off the map.
What only readers who follow politics are likely to know is that Ahmadinejad is not the most powerful figure in Iran and that after the next election he may be out of a job. The cost to the mullahs of bombing Israel, with a weapon they are not yet close to possessing, would be massive retaliation by Israel, whose nuclear arsenal is estimated between 200 and 300 weapons. That picture is so improbable that Netanyahu has been forced to adopt a different stratagem.
On the argument that he now presses, even low-enrichment uranium is a danger in the hands of Iran. Obama and the European capitals, in the October 2009 negotiations, had offered Iran an agreement allowing 5% enrichment, and at the time Netanyahu raised no public objection. He now says he will not settle for any enrichment at all by Iran. He is lowering the threshold to justify an attack. And Romney last week in Jerusalem, with the support of his war party advisers, fell into step in with the Netanyahu ultimatum. Nothing less than zero enrichment will satisfy Mitt Romney.
Still, if Iran is not an existential threat, why is the wish to attack Iran so strong in Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition? The reason is fear of Iran as a regional competitor. A powerful hostile nation induces any rival to hesitate before wielding power as often as it would like. An Iran with a serious armed force could not equal Israel, or thoroughly deter Israel, but it would doubtless inhibit Israeli military ventures in the Arab world. And that, for an advocate of Greater Israel, is intolerable. Israeli designs must go forward unhindered. So Netanyahu is asking for American support against Iran for much the same reason that his predecessor Yitzhak Shamir wanted America to go to war with Iraq in 1991. Iraq, like Iran, was pursuing nuclear research but had no nuclear weapon. In 1991, however, Iraq did have a formidable army, and Israel had an interest in seeing that army destroyed. Some side effects of the elimination of Iraq as a military power are now a familiar part of the regional landscape: the air, land, and sea blockade on Gaza, and the Israeli annexation of the West Bank, which proceeds with fresh evictions every day.
Romney was asked by a reporter at the Western Wall if he endorsed the annexation of the West Bank by Israel. The question was put to him three times, and three times Romney ignored it. The channeling to the settlers of West Bank aquifers, the uprooting of Palestinian olive groves, the expulsion of Bedouin shepherds from their grazing lands all are done under the ostensible explanation of military necessity by Israel. Anyone who recalls the Jim Crow society of the American South in the 1950s knows the real purpose of such actions: to assert and make visible by force the superiority of one caste of people over another, and to drive the inferior people from places of value.
At the King David Hotel, Romney addressed campaign donors from America who had traveled thousands of miles to another country to affirm their loyalty. But loyalty to what and whom? Are the United States and Israel the same country? This was one of the weirdest exhibitions of transnational financial muscle in recorded history. It probably has no precedent. Will it have a sequel? Let us try a thought experiment. Imagine the American reaction to an American presidential candidate who calls a meeting of wealthy Italian-Americans in Vatican City in order to declare their unconditional fidelity to the Pope. The United States was once the country of protestant nonconformity. What is happening to us?
The ad-lib comments that Romney spoke on this occasion have received plenty of notice, but they cannot be quoted too often. They display with a fine economy the good-natured insolence of Romney himself alongside the conventional racism of the Republican Party and its roots in Social Darwinism.
"As you come here," he said, “and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality.”
Such was his revelation for the self-made party donors, as well as the heir and heiress billionaires. But there was more:
"As I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things."
Among the other things of course was "the hand of providence," the non-denominational shorthand notation for Tetragrammaton or Jesus Yahweh Smith. But the key word here was culture. There is a good culture, we know, of self-respect and commercial success and technology. And that culture looks a lot like Israel. Then there is a culture of poverty and inertia and resentment, and it looks like the West Bank. The occupation has nothing to do with the difference. For the slow-of-wit, Romney clarified his idea by adding that a similar disparity exists between other neighboring countries like Mexico and the United States.
Note that this division between the deserving and less deserving peoples scarcely departs from the old anti-Semitism. It uses the same clichés: the despised people are crafty but sullen, lacking in Western energy, discipline, and refinement. The prejudice has now been turned against another Semitic tribe, the Palestinians. The Jews of Israel, by contrast, are praised for their adaptation to the ways of commerce, and are treated as honorary Christians.
Pass from Romney to his audience. These people, as reported by the New York Times, were high net worth individuals whose total holdings may well have approached half a trillion. We will never know, since they have multiple accounts in the Cayman Islands, where some of them also have alternate private residences. But it is worth following up a few details of the Times story by Jodi Rudoren and Ashley Parker.
"Sheldon Adelson...wore a pin that said 'Romney' in Hebrew letters," yet Adleson is troubled, these days, by an investigation of the links between his casino holdings in Las Vegas and Macau.
"Much of Mr. Adelson's casino profits that go to him come from his casino in Macau," John McCain pointed out in a recent interview. "Maybe," McCain speculated, "in a roundabout way, foreign money is coming into an American political campaign."
Also not so roundabout. The money coming from the crowd at the King David Hotel evidently came from Americans and was going back into an American campaign. What, then, was the symbolic importance of having it routed through an event in Israel timed to begin at the end of the religious day of mourning Tisha B'Av?
Other members of the Romney-Netanyahu billionaire entourage were touched on briefly in the Times account. Cheryl Halpern, a New Jersey Republican and big party donor, was named by George W. Bush the successor to Kenneth Tomlinson as chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and served in that office during the years 2005-07. She disciplined NPR for political bias and, along with Tomlinson, succeeded in bending the tone and content of NPR toward the platitudes and human interest by which it is mainly known today. John Miller, the chief executive of the National Beef Packing Company, helped Tagg Romney and Spencer Zwick to find the $244 million they needed for the startup of a private equity fund, Solamere Capital, which in its early days shared an address with the Romney campaign headquarters.
Paul Singer, founder of the $20 billion hedge fund Elliott Associates and its affiliate Elliott Management, operates a "vulture fund" that specializes in buying up third-world debt. Elliott trawls for assets that have drastically fallen in value, and then sues countries for full value, with a legal threat if they refuse. It goes after vulnerable nations like Panama, Peru, Argentina, and Congo, offering rigor-mortis prices to the panicked holders of collapsing bonds, before it compels the derelict governments to buy them back at a swollen price or suffer international disgrace and an utter loss of autonomy at the hands of financiers.
The ingenuity and detective work that goes into Elliott is perhaps another clue to what Romney means by culture. But where Romney's Bain bought, gutted, repackaged and sold factories and store chains, and held in thrall occasionally the happiness of a town or a pension plan, Elliott transfixes the life holdings of large tracts of the world, including tribes and peoples whose names its officers will not have known how to pronounce until they began to reduce them to finance fodder. Will the vulture funds take out a second mortgage on the Parthenon?
"Elliott hasn't [yet] built up a hold-out position in Greek debt, according to an individual close to the firm. Last year it profited instead by trading Greek credit default swaps."
These people, so important because of their money, are united in their belief that Israel stands in grave peril because of the neglect or hostility of Barack Obama. Yet Obama's actions toward Israel -- the gifts of weapons and security systems, the reflex vetoes on U.N. resolutions -- have been dangerous if anything by their one-sided solicitousness on behalf of Israel. Obama has conducted himself toward Israel, in fact, as he has acted toward establishments like the American military and the Wall Street banks and brokerage houses. He mentions his power of refusal chiefly in order to show that, in some technical sense, that power does exist. But his use of the power has been, in all of these contexts, nominal and decorative. Again and again he has said he could bring results and has not brought them: tougher bank regulations, faster withdrawal from Afghanistan, "hands-on" presidential engagement in negotiations to create a Palestinian state and achieve peace with Iran. In all of these settings, Obama's practice has been hands-off, no matter what he may have pledged. Still, it is true that Romney would be a distinct improvement from the point of view of Netanyahu. Rhetorically, as well as in fact, he would be hands-on in Israel's favor at all times.
Because the Tisha B'Av spectacle was so bizarre, almost grotesque, one cannot help asking again: why were those American donors going to Israel to cheer an American candidate in an American election? Is being an American no longer good enough?
In a speech in Israel in 2010, Sheldon Adelson regretted that "the uniform that I wore in the military unfortunately was not an Israeli uniform, it was an American uniform."
Such an attitude of abasement or self-subordination toward Israel, often accompanied by a peculiar vicarious nostalgia, is not confined to American Jews or billionaires. On arriving in Jerusalem in March 2010, Joe Biden said "It's good to be home." What was he thinking?
As Netanyahu looks at these postures of genuflection, it is no wonder that he feels himself entitled to criticize an American president in front of the American Congress, or to "vet" Republican vice-presidential hopefuls such as Chris Christie and Rob Portman. If Netanyahu is now the most effective bundler in the Republican Party, why should he not have a say in the party's choice of a vice-president?
George Washington thought that being Americans should be enough for us. In his great Farewell Address, he also gave some reasons why attachment to a foreign power, no matter how sentimental the affection, could only impair American liberty and independence and serve to draw the country into unnecessary wars.
"Nothing," said Washington, “is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. . . .Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. . . .The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.”
So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity.
Can there be any doubt what George Washington would have made of the scene of Mitt Romney and his high-rolling backers at the King David Hotel?
Washington summed up his criticism of such attachments in these climactic words of warning:
“Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. . . .Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other.”
A contrary understanding has become so familiar in our politics that it is hard to recall when anyone last worried about excessive partiality for one nation.
We should expect no compunction, no reservation, no self-consciousness regarding the "passionate attachment" to a "favorite nation" by Romney and his foreign policy team. Part of the reason lies in the composition of the team itself. They are, to a man, alumni of the Cheney circle and the post-2001 Patriot Act security establishment, and close affiliates of the Israel lobby.
But another reason for the partiality goes far back in Romney's own life. He has been a friend of Netanyahu since their younger American corporate years together; the two have gone to each other for advice ever since, as Michael Barbaro disclosed in an April 8 story in the New York Times: they consult casually and with implicit trust, in every walk of political practice, from discussing the right strategy against Iran to canvassing the sharpest method for cutting state pensions. They share, said Barbaro (with less irony than he needed), "the same profoundly analytical view of the world."
To readers who know this personal history, it may seem that Romney went to Jerusalem to confirm one detail of Barbaro's story:
"Mr. Romney has suggested that he would not make any significant policy decisions about Israel without consulting Mr. Netanyahu -- a level of deference that could raise eyebrows given Mr. Netanyahu's polarizing reputation, even as it appeals to the neoconservatives and evangelical Christians who are fiercely protective of Israel."
Romney could not fail to consult his personal friend who happens to lead a foreign power, since he has pledged to do so without exception, in all decisions affecting that power. It is exactly the situation that George Washington described and warned against; but Romney seems unaware of any conflict of duties or even a possible tension. During a December primary debate, Barbaro notes,
Mr. Romney criticized Mr. Gingrich for making a disparaging remark about Palestinians, declaring: "Before I made a statement of that nature, I'd get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say: 'Would it help if I say this? What would you like me to do?'"
"What would you like me to do." Those are the words of our intendant decider, and he means to address them, with an implied vow of fidelity, to the leader of another country.
Can we read Washington's words of 1796 addressed "to the people of the United States," and compare Romney's words addressed to his donors in Jerusalem, and not feel a deep disturbance? What would you like me to do?