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The top foreign policy questions for Obama and Romney

by Douglas Bloomfield

October 15, 2012 | 12:07 pm

President Barack Obama, right, and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the first presidential debate in Denver, Colo., on Oct. 3. Photo by REUTERS/Jason Reed

President Barack Obama, right, and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the first presidential debate in Denver, Colo., on Oct. 3. Photo by REUTERS/Jason Reed

I concede that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama love Israel, are committed to its security and survival and they don’t want Iran to get nuclear weapons.

We’ve heard them say that over and over again, ad nauseam. Literally. Ad nauseam. This pandering is becoming nauseating.

I want to hear some specifics about what they plan to do. So far it sounds like Gov. Romney intends to outsource Middle East policy to Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, and President Obama would like to continue what he’s been doing for the last two years since the peace process went comatose.

Neither man has given any real hints, much less details, of what he’d actually do.

When the candidates debate foreign policy on Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., I hope the moderator will ask them some of the tough questions they have so far avoided and not let them wiggle out with platitudes about their undying commitment to our Israeli ally.

Here are some suggested questions on a few topics:

IRAN — What are they really going to do about Iran besides huff and puff and imply they’d use military power? What if the sanctions don’t make the ayatollahs cry “uncle”? Will it take carrots as well as sticks to get a deal with the ayatollahs, and what are they willing to offer? What would the next president do if Israel is attacked? If Iran retaliates against Israel but states it will not strike any American interests, should the United States stand off?

SYRIA — What would they really do to hasten the fall of Bashar al-Assad? Obama’s policy seems to be wait and see while giving some covert aid, though he has said he’d act militarily if Syria tries to use its unconventional weapons. What would Romney do differently? Short of Assad using chemical weapons, what would it take for American direct intervention?

PEACE TALKS — What would each man do — specific examples — to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations? Obama tried and failed more than once and seems to have shelved the whole thing. Romney hasn’t even indicated he’s willing to try. Sheldon Adelson, Romney’s largest benefactor, is adamantly opposed to the two-state solution; how would that influence Romney? Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have set certain criteria for resuming negotiations; should the president accede to their wishes? If not, what initiatives would Romney, as president, take? Or would it be best to leave it to the Israelis and Palestinians to work things out for themselves, and we should stand by until they call us in to help?

JERUSALEM — Both men, as candidates, have spoken of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The western half of the city, the pre-1967 areas, is not in dispute, so why not recognize that as the capital now? What are their views on moving the U.S. embassy there?

BORDERS — Every president for the past 45 years has said the 1967 borders would be the reference point for drawing new borders in any peace agreement, with mutually agreed modifications. Does Romney support that position, and if not, how would he change it?

PALESTINIANS — The Palestinians were very insulted by Romney during his quick visit to Israel this summer, summoning the prime minister to meet him in Jerusalem, snubbing their president and seeming to say Palestinian economic “accomplishments” can’t match those of Israel because of shortcomings in “culture and a few other things.” How does Romney plan to win the confidence of Palestinians?

EGYPT — Egypt just elected an Islamist president and is likely to elect an Islamist parliament. The military leadership that was close to the United States and worked with Israel to preserve the peace has been sacked in favor of one more aligned with the Islamists. What will our policies be toward such a government? Let’s hear some specifics about arms sales, intelligence sharing, shifting our aid emphasis from military to economic.

TURKEY — Turkey also has an Islamist government that has been turning more and more toward the East as it appears to be vying for leadership of the Islamic Middle East. It has vilified Israel, threatened war against the Jewish state and come close to breaking relations. As Israeli-Turkish relations have steadily chilled, U.S.-Turkish relations seemed to be warming.

The Obama administration has acquiesced to several anti-Israel moves by the new Turkish government. President Obama, how do you justify that? Mr. Romney, how would you balance U.S.-Turkey and U.S.-Israel relations in a changing Middle East? For both men, what should the United States do to repair the rift between Israel and Turkey?

VISITING ISRAEL — Mr. President, you visited Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey in the first few months of your administration. You’re one of the most-traveled presidents, having been to 40 or more countries, yet you’ve never found the time to stop in Israel. Why is that? Do you have any plans to go there in the future?

AID CUTS — At a time of deep cuts in federal spending in so many programs, including the social safety net and our own defense, should military aid to Israel be protected or share the burden?

Every president talks about his First Hundred Days agenda. What — specifics, not rhetorical generalities — is your agenda for the Middle East?

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