Watch What You Wish For, GOP

Ron Paul Could Wind Up As Man Behind Mitt's Curtain

Ron’s Role: Despite Mitt Romney’s dominance, or perhaps because of it, Ron Paul and his controversial views on Israel could play an outsized role in the Republican presidential race.
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Ron’s Role: Despite Mitt Romney’s dominance, or perhaps because of it, Ron Paul and his controversial views on Israel could play an outsized role in the Republican presidential race.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published January 12, 2012, issue of January 20, 2012.
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Paul claims he’s neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Israel. He’s just wary of foreign entanglements. There’s evidence to the contrary, and it’s been well reported: The former aide who says he’s heard Paul say he wished Israel didn’t exist. The extremist and racist newsletters. Paul’s private mutterings aren’t the real problem, though. The problem is his unabashed isolationism. Should he gain real influence, his policy positions would directly endanger Israel. They would broadcast to Israel’s enemies that it no longer enjoys the umbrella of American protection. Remember, that’s the real importance of financial aid to Israel, and of a muscular American foreign policy. Israel can’t be defeated if America is actively behind it. Take that away and Israel is just a middle-sized regional power.

In the end, of course, it’s presidents that make foreign policy. A Romney White House would reflect the personal convictions of Mitt Romney. Whatever those turn out to be.

This is what made primary night television coverage so unsettling: the reminders that we don’t really know what Romney believes, and he may have no intention of telling us until he’s inaugurated.

Of all those reminders, the most chilling was the appearance of former New Hampshire governor John Sununu as a Romney spokesman. For those with long memories, it harkened back to the 1988 election, when Sununu was Republican candidate George H.W. Bush’s national campaign manager. Pro-Israel hawks were beating the drum for Bush that year, warning that Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis was a threat to Israel because Jesse Jackson was prominent in his party. Bush was Israel’s true friend, they said.

Nobody paid much attention to Sununu until after Election Day, even though the press was reporting some alarming facts about him (I remember, because I wrote the stories). One of the highest-ranking Lebanese Americans in national politics — and the only one then active in Arab-American community affairs — Sununu was also the only one of the 50 governors who refused to sign a 1987 proclamation saluting the 90th anniversary of Zionism and calling on the United Nations to rescind its Zionism-racism resolution. His reasoning was that governors shouldn’t dabble in foreign affairs — though he’d issued proclamations honoring Bastille Day and saluting Polish freedom on Pulaski Day. In 1988 he issued a proclamation honoring the veterans of the U.S.S. Liberty, an American naval vessel mistakenly attacked by Israeli jets in June 1967, causing 34 deaths. Sununu called the attack “vicious and unprovoked.”

Bush’s Jewish supporters insisted Sununu’s views didn’t reflect Bush’s. When word came out that Sununu was to be White House chief of staff, they said he wouldn’t be involved in Middle East policy. They said Bush was a devoted friend of Israel. Then we found out he wasn’t.

We hadn’t seen much of Sununu lately, until Romney went and found him. Or they found each other.

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com


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