WASHINGTON -- Even after his "grand tour" of Europe, presidential candidate Mitt Romney was still being criticized for (1) that old Bain Capital cross-to-bear, or (2) the Mitt-miffs he made in friendly places like London. That was where he questioned whether the English Olympic Games of this summer were as well-planned as his Salt Lake City Winter Games in 2002.
But the real dangers of the overseas jaunt -- and that seemed to be what it was because it came across as so random and purposeless -- lay somewhere else. Particularly during his stop in Israel, where Romney virtually promised the United States would take part in what would amount to two more wars in the Middle East.
Revealingly, he almost never speaks of Afghanistan, where we still have tens of thousands of troops and enough medieval insurgents to satisfy even a Dick Cheney. He also never speaks of Iraq, where we have supposedly said goodbye to eight years of chaos, yet al-Qaida is once again resurgent. To Mitt, the emotional spokesman for the use of American power in the world, these wars are now part of history.
If he represents anything, he represents things that are new and, you can bet, wars that are new, too. What he did in Israel that is so little understood here, but well understood there, was to effectively promise America's aid in an Israeli attack on Iran, which would almost surely result in America's involvement in the cruel and violent Syrian civil war.
Instead of hemming and hawing and dropping his voice so nothing could be heard, and refusing to commit himself and his country to anything, Romney on the campaign trail overseas made promises that would fill even a 5-year-old's wish box. What's more, his apparent need to please his Israeli constituency was made even worse by the fact that a number of major donors, including the enormously rich Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who has given tens of millions of dollars for Romney's campaign, sat in the front rows, carefully watching like cats with a mouse, while Romney gave his major "policy" speech.
He declared unequivocally that Jerusalem is Israel's capital, a policy position every American president, including Republicans like Ronald Reagan, has refused to embrace if only for the fact that it is one of the final bargaining points in any negotiated peace settlement with the Palestinians. On Iran, he made it clear that, if Israel has to attack, the U.S. would be right there alongside. (So much for acknowledging the now universally accepted realization that George W.'s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are American disasters.)
Then he made his now-famous remark that he could see the effects of "culture" in the prosperity of the Jewish state, in the way small businesses were nurtured and succeeded. This is, of course, true, but it was taken in that situation to mean that he drawing a negative contrast to the Palestinian poverty just across the Jordan River and, even more, in shadowy Gaza to the south.
The candidate, as charming as he can be, obviously had no understanding of the poisoned dynamics of the Middle East, where, as wise men have said, everyone has too much history to digest. Or was it perhaps a result of the fact that Romney had already surrounded himself with the old neo-conservatives who ran such an apocalyptic policy for George W. Bush?
One of Romney's top advisers, Dan Senor -- a leading foreign policy spokesman during the first year in Iraq, where he was the enthusiastic apologist for all the disastrous policy decisions made by the Americans -- had said publicly before the trip that Romney supported Israel's right to pre-emptively strike Iran's nuclear facilities.
As The New York Times wrote in a summary of the whole overseas trip: "His (Senor's) presence in the tight orbit of advisers around the Republican candidate foreshadows a Romney foreign policy that could take a harder line against Iran, embrace Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move away from being the honest broker in the conflict with the Palestinians."
It may be, of course, that President Obama too would support Israel on an attack on Iran. That is the risk we take. Not only would such an attack have a deleterious effect on all the countries of the Middle East, but it would especially affect Syria, with its closeness to Iran, and arguably draw us in as still another military force and interlocutor. And remember, every additional set of American boots on the ground in the region means the birth of another anti-American radical.
It may seem "all talk." Americans may think that what is said during a campaign can easily be erased. Not so. In Israel and the Middle East, campaign promises are written in ink. And Mitt Romney, a man of many talents, made so many promises he would be politically hog-tied by them as president.