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Mitt Romney’s trademark flip-flops on display in Israel

If we can’t depend on the Republican candidate to keep to his words or his policies, how are we supposed to count on him when it comes time to act?

Did you hear that? Governor Mitt Romney’s flip-flops are getting audibly louder.

Some might try to make the argument that the Governor has just evolved and truly changed his stances, but during Romney’s recent trip to Israel, the flip-flops really were hard to miss. It is becoming increasingly clear that Romney’s words and his record mean remarkably little.

Romney’s team billed his recent trip overseas as an opportunity for the candidate to “listen and learn,” with promises to adhere to the well-established tradition that “politics end at the water’s edge.”

So much for tradition.

Romney almost immediately blasted President Obama in Israel Hayom, saying “Israel deserves better treatment” than it has received from the current administration. He went further, trying to make the argument that Obama worsened the situation in the Middle East by abandoning the “freedom agenda” of President George W. Bush’s administration.

Despite Obama’s 100% pro-Israel voting record at the UN – a better record than presidents Bush or Reagan – Romney implicitly criticized Obama for having a diplomatic policy that “emboldens Israel’s adversaries.”

How absurd. But Romney didn’t stop there.

While Romney promised that he would be “careful” not to discuss US policies during his trip abroad, he ignored decades of US policy, during Republican and Democratic administrations, in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem:

My understanding is the policy of our nation has been a desire to move our embassy ultimately to the capital [Jerusalem]…I would only want to do so.

That sounds like policy talk to me. It also does not sound like the Romney who, according to JTA, “privately told Jewish leaders he would not commit to moving the embassy as president” just a few months ago.

Is Romney’s policy and rhetoric really that dependent on what soil is under his feet at a given moment? And what happened to the water’s edge?

Can he walk the pro-Israel walk? Romney with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/GPO/Flash90)
Can he walk the pro-Israel walk? Romney with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/GPO/Flash90)

Remember in March when Romney said that Russia is “without question our number one geopolitical foe?” Well, it seems that once again he has flip-flopped. In an interview on Thursday with Haaretz, Romney declared, “A nuclear Iran represents the greatest threat to the world.” The more Romney explains his Iran policy, the less clear he becomes.

In a briefing before Romney’s speech in Jerusalem, a top foreign policy adviser to the campaign, Dan Senor, noted, “If Israel has to take action on its own, the Governor would respect that decision.” After those who had heard this comment began to wonder if this meant that a president Romney would mean war with Iran, Romney scrambled to clarify the comment, telling ABC, “I think I’ll use my own terms in that regard and that is that I recognize the right of Israel to defend itself.”

To be clear, I support President Obama’s commitment to “prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons” and his declaration that “Israel must be able to defend itself by itself against any threat.” But Romney’s seems to be still formulating his position – a scary thought.

Furthermore, while in Israel, suspending his impassioned denunciation of President Obama’s signature health care reform – inspired, in part, by what Romney did in Massachusetts – Romney’s pandering to Israelis led to his embrace of Israel’s system of socialized medicine. In Israel, Romney told a crowd, “You spend eight percent of GDP on health care. You’re a pretty healthy nation.” Perhaps it is possible that Romney doesn’t realize that Israel spends less on health care partially because it has a universal health system that requires everyone to have insurance. Or perhaps Romney is again showing the worth of his words. He was for this in Massachusetts, and is generally against it now — except when he’s in Israel.

The flip-flops from this short trip are dizzying. With its blatant attempt to pander to Jewish voters, Romney’s time to Israel has demonstrated what we already knew to be true: Romney will say whatever he has to in order to appear pro-Israel – or whatever else is convenient and popular at a given moment. The governor’s contortions of rhetoric and principle are more fitting for the gymnasts competing in the Olympic Games than for a serious public policy debate.

And just like the 2012 London Olympics, actions speak louder than words.

If we can’t depend on Romney to keep to his words or his policies, how are we supposed to count on him when it comes time to act? It takes more than political rhetoric to convince the pro-Israel community.

It takes action.

On Friday, Obama signed legislation that will provide an additional $70 million in military aid for Israel. This increase in aid will help expand Israel’s Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system. Obama’s “unshakeable commitment to Israel” has not changed, if anything it has only gotten stronger. When I look at the president, I see someone who not only sounds pro-Israel but truly is pro-Israel.

About the Author
Mel Levine is a former senior Democratic congressman of the Middle East subcommittee of the House of Representatives from California. He served from 1983-1993.