In a foreign policy speech delivered Monday at Virginia Military Institute, Governor Mitt Romney sounded, well, to be charitable, like a man in an echo chamber.
"I will put the leaders of Iran on notice that the United States and our friends and allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. I will not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran, and will tighten the sanctions we currently have.
"I will restore the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf the region -- and work with Israel to increase our military assistance and coordination. For the sake of peace, we must make clear to Iran through actions -- not just words -- that their nuclear pursuit will not be tolerated."
Sounds like the Obama plan to me. Romney was not specific about any action plan. Obama has been quite specific about his plan, informing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly, that Obama, not Netanyahu, would set the red line that would determine how the U.S. would deal with Iran's nuclear program.
In an additional blow against Romney's effort to build his foreign policy credentials, he was apparently unaware that a day after his speech, Ha'aretz, a leading Jerusalem newspaper, would report:
"Iran has diverted much of its enriched uranium to scientific research, an aspect in the International Atomic Energy Agency's lastest report [to which] Israeli policy makers are giving greater emphasis . . . The new emphasis ostensibly justifies a delay in Israel's timetable for possible military action against Iran's nuclear program. That data was included in the IAEA's August report, defense sources say additional information has been received that clarifies the report's conclusions."
The key phrase in that statement is, "justifies a delay in Israel's timetable for possible military action." Were there no staffers on Romney's team assigned to read IAEA reports? Was there no one in Jerusalem who could have alerted Romney what was about to be announced?
Why wasn't Romney informed of what Ha'aretz planned for the Tuesday papers? The Romney-Netanyahu friendship began when they were young men working in Boston. It was no surprise that Netanyahu made what was essentially a pro-Romney television ad for the Romney Florida campaign. Florida is a swing state with a large Jewish voting population.
Romney staffers presumed, wrongly, many analysts felt, that Florida voters would respond positively to an implied Romney endorsement from Israel's Prime Minister during the final weeks of a U.S. political campaign. Campaign veterans know that outside interference in U.S. politics is frowned on in most political and media circles.
It was also a major Romney stumble not to have known that Ha'aretz had been given information it would use the day after Romney's VMI speech. A friend should not let another friend drive steeped in ignorance during the final weeks of a campaign, especially when that friend was trying to embellish his limited foreign policy credentials.
This was the information Ha'aretz was holding for its Tuesday paper, as Romney was delivering his speech:
"The report, which the Israeli intelligence community considers highly reliable, states that on a number of occasions in the recent past, Iran has allocated uranium enriched to 20 percent for another purpose: the manufacture of fuel rods for a research reactor in Tehran, where isotopes can be manufactured for cancer treatment. This information was behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statement during his UN speech last month that Israel was extending its deadline for international action on the Iranian nuclear program until the spring of 2013.
"Uranium enriched to 20 percent could help make an atom bomb if it were further enriched to 93 percent. But the moment 20-percent enriched uranium is allocated for scientific purposes, it is difficult to put it back on a bomb-making track."
Senior Israeli defense officials told Ha'aretz that "Iran has moved the wall back by eight months at least," and Israel's latest position is a consequence of this action.
If Romney had possessed this behind-the-scenes data before delivering his speech, he might have at least been able to appear like he was in Israel's loop. If the Mitt-Bibi special bond is a Romney plus, it did not show itself in Romney's VMI speech.
Israel was "standing down" until after the November 6 election. Romney was left to saber rattle alone. Next time fellows, give a friend an early warning.