- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
Tale of the tape
Mitt Romney was forced to play defense again this week after Mother Jones released a secret recording of remarks he made at a private Boca Raton fundraiser in May. In addition to saying that his "job is not to worry about" the 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income taxes and would likely never vote for him anyway, Romney made a number of controversial statements on foreign policy.
Addressing the stalled Mideast peace process, Romney told the audience, "I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there’s just no way." He suggested that the best course of action for the United States was to "kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it."
The remarks prompted an angry response from Palestinian officials.
Romney also addressed Iran’s nuclear program, saying, "if I were Iran — a crazed fanatic, I’d say let’s get a little fissile material to Hezbollah, have them carry it to Chicago or some other place, and then if anything goes wrong, or America starts acting up, we’ll just say, ‘Guess what? Unless you stand down, why, we’re going to let off a dirty bomb.’" Nuclear analysts, however, noted that Romney’s understanding of this kind of weaponry was a bit off — fissile material would not be necessary to produce a dirty bomb.
The leaked video, in which Romney also joked that if his father had been Mexican, "I’d have a better shot of winning this," overshadowed speeches Romney delivered on Monday at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles and on Thursday at a rally in Miami, aimed at making up ground among Latino voters — 68 percent of whom favor Barack Obama according to a recent poll. "This party is the natural home for Hispanic Americans because this is the party of opportunity and hope," Romney in the Miami speech.
Romney also participated in a forum hosted by Spanish-language television network Univision, in which he addressed the hot-button issue of immigration. "We are not going to round up people around the country and deport them," he said. "Our system is not to deport people." Romney also seemed to soften his stance on the issue, saying that he supported granting permanent residence to illegal immigrants who serve in the military or "kids that get higher education." The education-for-residency deal is a central component of the proposed DREAM act, which Romney said he opposed during the GOP primary.
Obama appeared on the Univision program a day after Romney and was pressed by host Jorge Ramos on why he had failed to honor a pledge made in 2008 to "have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support." Obama blamed the fact that "the economy was on the verge of collapse" and called the inability to pass immigration reform his "biggest failure." Obama was also pressed on why his administration had deported more people — 1.5 million since 2009 — than any of his predecessors.
Overall, this week brought good news for Obama on the polling front. His approval rating is back above 50 percent for the first time since May, an increasing number of voters expect the economy to improve, and he’s above 50 percent in the crucial swing states of Wisconsin, Virginia, and Colorado.
Interestingly, the most worrying number for the president this week may be in an area that’s been one of his main strengths so far in the campaign: foreign policy. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken in the days following the attacks on U.S. embassies in Libya and Egypt found that Obama’s approval rating on foreign policy dropped to 49 percent from 54 percent in August — his lowest rating since the killing of Osama bin Laden. However, Obama still enjoys an advantage over his opponent: 45 percent still believe he would make a better commander-in-chief compared to 38 percent for Romney.
Swinging on Syria
The deteriorating situation in Syria hasn’t been much of an issue on the campaign so far, as Romney has avoided the tough talk among some of his Republican colleagues in calling for military action to oust Bashar al-Assad. But Romney’s top foreign-policy advisor Dan Senor blasted the president’s handling of the crisis in an appearance on CBS on Friday morning. "It’s been over a year since the president said Bashar Assad must go," Senor said. "Bashar Assad is still in power. America looks impotent in the region."
Senor suggested that a Romney administration would do more to work with regional allies to supply the rebel forces fighting Assad.
The Bibi factor
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took his call for the United States to impose a more specific "red line" on Iran’s nuclear program to the Sunday talk shows last weekend. "It’s like Timothy McVeigh walking into a shop in Oklahoma City and saying, ‘I’d like to tend my garden. I’d like to buy some fertilizer…. Come on. We know that they’re working on a weapon,’" Netanyahu said on NBC’s Meet the Press, referring to Tehran’s claims that its nuclear program is solely for scientific and energy purposes. Employing an American football metaphor, Netanyahu continued, "You know, they’re in the last 20 yards, and you can’t let them cross that goal line,"
The Obama administration has rebuffed calls to impose a red line that would trigger a military response, arguing that it needs to maintain flexibility in negotiations. Romney had previously suggested that he and the president had the same line when it came to Iran’s nuclear program — building an actual weapon — but on a conference call with a group of American rabbis this week, Romney seemed to change his position, saying "for me, it is unacceptable or Iran to have the capability of building a nuclear weapon" — a position much closer to what Netanyahu has suggested.
Netanyahu will travel to New York later this month for the U.N. General Assembly, but will not meet with Obama. According to the White House, the two will simply not be in the city at the same time and Obama’s tight schedule does not allow a meeting, but Romney has called the decision "confusing and troubling."
The latest from FP:
Former candidate Newt Gingrich accuses the president of apologizing for American values following the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Louis Klarevas worries that Obama is caving to pressure from the right in declaring the killing of Christopher Stevens a "terrorist attack."
The Palestine Liberation Organization’s U.S. ambassador, Maen Rashid Areikat, responds to Romney’s comments on the peace process.
Joe Cirincione on what Romney got wrong about dirty bombs.
Gordon Adams says forget the 47 percent — the defense industry is the real moocher class.
Arif Rafiq says it’s time to admit that Obama’s Afghanistan strategy has been a complete disaster.
Romney’s right: Russia is our No. 1 geopolitical foe, argues John Arquilla.
Aaron David Miller wonders if Romney can be trusted with the Middle East.
Michael Cohen says we shouldn’t expect the president to be able to fix the Middle East.
Samuel Berger says Romney has adopted Netanyahu’s dangerous Iran timetable.
Netanyahu has proved that the "Israel lobby" was always overblown, says David Rothkopf.
Not so fast, says Stephen Walt.
Peter Feaver is troubled by Obama’s handling of the embassy attacks.