After Monday’s debate, many took note of the way in which Mitt Romney shifted his foreign policy towards what constitutes the center on Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran. It was as if the previous ten months or so had never happened, with The New York Times editorial page suggesting that Romney now “does not actually have any real ideas on foreign policy beyond what President Obama has already done, or plans to do”. His relative moderation also led some, including The Forward’s Gal Beckerman to ask, “So Romney seems to have ditched the neocons tonight. Where was Dan Senor’s influence?”
Senor’s name has been thrown around a good deal during this campaign. As a senior foreign policy advisor to the Romney/Ryan ticket, it was suggested infamously and rather insidiously by Maureen Dowd that Senor was in fact a “neocon puppet master”, moving the lips of his candidates. Aside from the obvious problem with her imagery, Dowd (and indeed Gal’s) statements are based upon a fundamental misconception: that Senor is a neoconservative at all.
This false impression of Senor derives in the main from two things we know about Senor’s career, such as it is. The first is that he has been a very strong advocate not only for Israel and its absolute right to defend itself but for the military option to prevent Iran from going nuclear. The other and more significant one perhaps (since the former is the consensus view in the United States) is Senor’s association with the liberation of Iraq as spokesman for L. Paul Bremer, who as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in effect ran the country in the year after the liquidation of the Ba’athist regime.
In addition to Mitt Romney’s remarks at AIPAC yesterday, arguing that his approach to Iran would be a radical break from Obama’s (though nothing he said indicated how it would be different), one of his high-profile foreign policy advisers, Dan Senor, also had a well-placed op-ed in the Wall Street Journal making similar points but with not much more substance.
Senor, who some will remember was the Bush administration’s spokesman in the first days of the Iraq War and more recently the author of “Start-Up Nation,” about Israel’s successes in high tech, briefly flirted in 2010 with a run for Senate from New York. He has since hunkered down with Romney and is presumably a key part of his brain trust when it comes to figuring out the Middle East.
Senor set out to explain, as the headline of the op-ed put it, “Why Israel Has Doubts About Obama.” He didn’t dispute the major piece of the administration’s counter-argument, that security cooperation between the two allies is at an all time high — though he does try to attribute this to commitments made by President Bush (commitments, it goes without saying, Obama could have ignored but instead reaffirmed and strengthened).
Instead, Senor simply strings together a few offhand comments from administration officials that he argues make the Israel-U.S. relationship look vulnerable when viewed from Tehran. The overwhelming majority of these comments came from the mouth of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. There was the time in October 2011 when Panetta worried about Israel “isolating” itself in the diplomatic arena, and then in December when Panetta implored Israel to “get to the damn table.” There’s not much more to Senor’s argument. He mentioned Obama’s not having visited Israel yet, but as we reported here, George W. Bush (Senor’s former boss) went twice at the very end of his second term. His father, George H.W. Bush, never went. You know who else never visited Israel as president? Ronald Reagan. So maybe we can just retire this debating point.
But if Senor’s argument about the administration is really an argument about Panetta, the defense secretary’s words this morning at the AIPAC conference should really suffice to slam the door on this Obama anti-Israel trope the Romney folks are trying to develop.
Just take a look at some of Panetta’s statements: