x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Romney rhetoric is damaging to regional affairs

The Republican candidate is clearly in campaigning mode, pandering to Jewish and evangelical voters in the United States. Setting actual foreign policy is a much more complicated task.

Political candidates often make promises that they cannot possibly keep. Sometimes they make promises they have no intention of keeping. And occasionally, as in the case of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, they make promises they are in no position to offer in the first place.

On Sunday, Mr Romney unequivocally offered his support to Israel in its nuclear standoff with Iran, essentially confirming he would back air strikes against Tehran. And by declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel, despite the US embassy in Tel Aviv, and referring to the Arab revolutions as a "problem", Mr Romney risks alienating the rest of the Middle East even before he is officially nominated as the Republican nominee at the party convention at the end of next month.

Mr Romney and other hawks in Washington have been making threatening sounds about Iran since the beginning of the US political season. The difference in recent days is that Mr Romney's junket has injected US campaigning into regional affairs. "Make no mistake, the ayatollahs in Tehran are testing our moral defences," Mr Romney told an audience in Jerusalem.

The implication was clear: Mr Romney was offering Israel full support while President Barack Obama has been treading with caution. To be sure, Mr Romney the candidate can offer warm words and very little else at this point. He is clearly in campaigning mode, pandering to Jewish and evangelical voters in the United States. Actually setting foreign policy is a much more complicated task.

Mr Romney's so-called "Jerusalem speech" is now being contrasted to Mr Obama's Cairo speech, delivered early in his first year in office. That rousing address raised hopes of a US administration more sympathetic to the Middle East. The reality of the past three years has been somewhat different.

But Mr Romney's words, and his timing, could not be more irresponsible. The hawks have been crying for war with Iran for three years; Mr Romney's strong words are an unnecessary incitement towards a conflict that would be disastrous, not just for the United States, but for the Middle East. His rhetoric may be mere words, but words can lead to unintended consequences.

The rationale of domestic politicking guides Mr Romney's hand. After a gaffe-ridden trip to the UK, where he was rebuked by Prime Minister David Cameron and savaged by the press, Mr Romney now stays on message by criticising Obama policies.

He may win friends at home by doing so, although we won't know until November. But these threats that affect this region at a crucial time were certainly not to his credit.