Tonight’s debate: What Obama can’t say about Romney, Bibi and Iran

Americans should be scared to vote for Romney, but they’re too scared and antagonistic toward Muslims for Obama to tell them why. 

Tonight’s Obama-Romney foreign policy debate is no doubt going to go heavy on the issues of Iran and Israel. By rights, Obama has a powerful argument to make against his opponent, one that, in a more perfect America, could scare a lot of those “floating voters” who’ve deserted him into floating back to his corner. And it wouldn’t be demagoguery – it would be taking a legitimate fear of a Romney presidency, one that’s based strictly on the candidate’s own words, and focusing in on it. In a more perfect America, Obama could do that tonight; in America such as it is, he can’t.

The argument to be made is that if Romney gets elected, there’s a much greater chance America will go to war in Iran, because when it comes to Iran – or anything else having to do with Israel and the Middle East – Romney swears by everything Bibi Netanyahu says. He keeps stressing that there must be “no daylight” between America’s policy and Israel’s. Well, Israel’s policy on Iran, as laid out for a decade or more by Netanyahu, is that America should bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities to rubble, and that if America won’t do it, Israel must.

While Romney hasn’t committed himself to attacking Iran, he has very publicly agreed with Netanyahu that the bar for American military action should be set much lower that where Obama has put it. According to Obama’s strategy, which calls for attack if and when Iran starts weaponizing its nuclear program, war is not inevitable. According to Netanyahu’s strategy, which calls for an attack if Iran continues to refuse to dismantle its nuclear program, war is already overdue. From the New York Times story on Romney’s fundraising speech in Jerusalem at the end of July:

Mitt Romney said Sunday that preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear capability should be America’s “highest national security priority,” stressing that “no option should be excluded” in the effort. …

While the Obama administration typically talks about stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, Mr. Romney adopted the language of Israel’s leaders, who say Tehran must be prevented from even having the capability to develop one. …

Mr. Netanyahu, whose relationship with Mr. Obama has been rocky, was generous in his praise of Mr. Romney. “Mitt, I couldn’t agree with you more, and I think it’s important to do everything in our power to prevent the ayatollahs from possessing the capability” to develop a nuclear weapon, the prime minister said earlier in the day.

In case anyone missed Romney’s statement, he repeated it in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal:

When we say an Iranian nuclear-weapons capability—and the regional instability that comes with it—is unacceptable, the ayatollahs must be made to believe us.

It means placing no daylight between the United States and Israel.

It’s bad enough that a candidate for president has emphatically and proudly enslaved much of America’s foreign policy to that of a foreign country and its leader. But on Iran, Romney is enslaving America’s policy to that of a foreign leader who very plainly wants America to go to war – yesterday.

I believe this would scare a lot of independent or undecided voters out of voting for Romney – if they understood the importance of what he’s saying, which Obama could certainly explain to them tonight. But Obama won’t, or at any rate he won’t do so bluntly enough to scare people, because it would backfire terribly. If the president were to attack Israel’s policy toward the Iranians, the Palestinians or anybody else, it would immediately translate in the current American political environment as support for terror. If you oppose Israeli policy, you support Israel’s enemies, and Israel’s enemies are America’s enemies – the Islamic world, the terrorists. That, finally, is the Israeli war camp’s strongest card in the U.S. – not the Israel lobby, not evangelical Christians, but post-9/11 American Islamophobia, which spreads well beyond Israel’s right-wing American Jewish and Christian fans. 21st century American Islamophobia lets Bibi get away with anything. It’s going to be in Romney’s corner tonight, and if Romney wins on November 6, it will amplify Netanyahu’s calls for war.

For this reason alone, Americans ought to be scared of electing Romney. Unfortunately, they’re too scared and antagonistic toward Muslims to hear about it, especially from someone whose middle name is Hussein.