July 24, 2012
Romney, Obama exchange foreign policy jabs, with Israel as an emphasis
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“This conduct is contemptible,” he said. “It betrays our national interest. It compromises our men and women in the field. And it demands a full and prompt investigation, with explanation and consequence.”
National security leaks that burnish an incumbent’s foreign policy reputation have become common in recent years. The last Bush administration leaked in its first term information about its pushback against al-Qaida and claims of Iraq war successes, and it punished critics with leaks.
Romney also chided Obama for his tense relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, referring to a “hot mic” moment in which former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Obama commiserated on their frustrations with the Israeli leader.
“President Obama is fond of lecturing Israel’s leaders,” he said. “He was even caught by a microphone deriding them. He has undermined their position, which was tough enough as it was.”
Kahl in the Obama campaign call suggested that the Israel portion of Romney’s trip was aimed at scoring points among Jewish American voters.
“This isn’t the time for anyone to be playing politics with our foreign policy in the region,” he said, noting, for instance, the turmoil in Israel’s neighbor, Syria.
Much of the call described the extent of Obama’s visit as a candidate in 2008, particularly to Sderot, where Obama said he would support victims of Hamas rocket fire from the neighboring Gaza Strip.
Obama has not visited Israel as president—Romney has said it will be the first country he visits as president—and here the Obama campaign appeared defensive, with Kahl pledging a presidential visit during the second term.
“We can expect him to visit Israel in a second term should he be elected,” he said, noting that Republican presidents such as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush did not visit Israel in their first terms. “Being a friend of Israel shouldn’t be judged by a travel itinerary. I don’t think this is a serious policy difference—it’s basically a distraction.”
The promise of a second-term visit drew a pushback from Republicans.
“It’s politically inspired, coming as it does only days before Mitt Romney heads off to Jerusalem,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement released by the Romney campaign. “One should not play political games with U.S. foreign policy, particularly at a moment when the Middle East is a tinderbox.”
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House majority leader, in his own statement released through the Romney campaign noted that Obama had visited other Middle East capitals and said the announcement “comes four years too late.”
Obama has visited Cairo, Egypt and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. His predecessor, George W. Bush, also visited Arab capitals in his first term and was as close to Israel as four miles away in Aqaba, Jordan, but did not visit until the last year of his second term.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, called Cantor’s statement “politically charged” and said it was the Romney campaign playing politics with Israel.
“The bottom line is that President Obama has been a steadfast supporter of the Jewish state,” she said in a statement, “and numerous Israeli leaders have spoken out publicly to agree.”
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