By Rob L. Wagner
6 August 2012
IF Arab leaders had any doubt about the direction Mitt Romney’s foreign policy will take if he is elected president in November, the presumptive Republican nominee’s trip to Israel last week ought to make things crystal clear.
With about as much subtly as Rush Limbaugh discussing gender politics, Romney insisted to his Israeli hosts that Israel’s economic success is due to its strong culture. His meaning, of course, is that the Palestinian economy is far behind Israel because of its inferior culture.
I am not sure what is worse. Romney’s veiled racism and his efforts to marginalize an Arab population under occupation, or the fact that cultural superiority wasn’t even his cockamamie idea, but stolen from books by a Harvard professor and a neo-conservative.
It’s not as if Romney came up with his theme of “cultural superiority” on the plane trip to the Middle East. After all, he argues the same point in his book, “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.”
Romney writes that he “wondered how such vast differences could exist between countries that were literally next door to each other. How could Americans be so rich and Mexicans so poor? How could Israelis have created a highly developed, technology-based economy while their Palestinian neighbors had not yet even begun to move to an industrial economy?”
This position comes from Harvard professor David Landes, who wrote “Wealth and Poverty of Nations” in which he asserts that “culture makes all the difference” in economic prosperity.
Romney in his book goes on to echo Landes by noting that countries that do well hold highly a strong work ethic, entrepreneurial spirit, faith in God, honor, patriotism and respect for life.
“There are cultures where life is cheap, but thankfully, ours is not one of them,” Romney argues in his book.
It is not much of a stretch that he meant the Palestinian culture specifically and the Arab culture in general.
Romney also draws from Dan Senor’s book “Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle. Senor is a foreign policy adviser to Romney, a champion of Israel and a proponent of a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
In his book, Senor marvels at the technological advances made by Israel, especially the country’s military, which pours cash into research. He is also enchanted by Israelis’ “chutzpah” to overcome adversity to succeed.
That’s all well and good for a country that relies on the US as a benefactor. Not so good for Palestinians who see US military and economic aid to Israel from a very different prospective.
What Romney doesn’t say is that American foreign policy is responsible for much of the economic lethargy in the Middle East through economic and military support of Arab leaders like Hosni Mubarak or the economic sanctions against Libya and Syria. Muammar Qaddafi and Bashar Assad have certainly have inflicted harsh repressive measures against their own people, but to imply it’s cultural rather than government policy is ludicrous.
Palestine serves as an example of what government repression can do to economic growth.
Israel’s draconian security policies that include innumerable checkpoints and roadblocks — funded in part by the US — and severe restrictions on allowing people and goods to move across borders have stifled any hope of economic success.
It’s understandable that Romney feels the need to pander to Israeli elites to capture the Jewish vote in the US. It is a rite of passage for presidential candidates. It also demonstrates just how Israeli and US foreign policies are intertwined to the point that it excludes any serious discussion about the future of Palestinians.
Romney’s pilgrimage to Israel, his snubbing of Palestine, and President Obama’s failure to follow through in developing a peace accord also show just how much the US has lost interest in establishing a two-state solution. No longer are Palestinians looking to the US for answers. It doesn’t matter who is in office after November. The outcome will be the same.
However, while Obama may be guilty of neglect, Romney is on a course to resume the George W. Bush doctrine of intervention to implement US-style democracy on unwilling nations.
Senor firmly established his neo-conservative credentials by co-founding the conservative Foreign Policy think tank with Robert Kagan and William Kristol. He served under Gen. Jay Garner during the Iraq war when US troops entered Baghdad on April 20, 2003. He served as a senior adviser to Ambassador L. Paul Bremer in the disastrous early days of US occupation. Bremer disbanded the Iraq military that helped lead to brutal violence throughout the country that continues to this day.
There is no indication that Romney finds any fault with the advice of Senor and his fellow neo-cons on the foreign policy staff. But the Arab community can expect to find plenty if Romney wins in November and the likes of Senor join him.