Mitt Griswold's European vacation is, mercifully, at an end. The family jet, the Mittlennium Rafalcon has been returned to the hangar, and men in blue coveralls are hosing the streaks of dogshit off the tailfin. The Wagon Queen Family Truckster is in the garage. Rest.
After last week's hilariously disastrous London visit, it seemed like there was no way for Mitt to keep up the pace. Failing basic foreign policy in England is like being raised in Mexico City, graduating from UNAM then coming to the United States to flunk a Spanish 101 proficiency exam. He should have known all this stuff already; England is where the monocles and hats come from. But the guy kept throwing out grade-A material like an over-generous improv partner. Frankly, that kind of intensity just isn't sustainable. Then he went to Israel. Thank you, governor.
It's still not clear what Romney hoped to accomplish with this trip. As a senior GOP advisor told the Washington Post, "I find this entire trip borderline lunacy. Why on earth is he seeking to improve his foreign policy cred when there will not be a single vote cast on that subject?" It's a good question: that same Post article cites a May ABC/WaPo poll that shows only 1% of Americans consider foreign policy to be the most critical issue in this year's election. It probably doesn't help that Romney paints himself as a foreign policy alternative to Obama by offering proposals that wind up sounding like the Obama policies they're meant to be alternatives to. When Romney was glad-handing Likud members, Israel's own defense minister was telling Wolf Blitzer, "[This] administration under President Obama is doing, in regard to our security, more than anything that I can remember in the past."
All that might be beside the point. For one thing, when Sheldon Adelson signs a big check, Sheldon Adelson gets the candidate he wants. (Note: when Tom Friedman is punking you up and down his column, you fucked up.) A night spent eating and talking policy with Romney's good buddy Benjamin Netanyahu might have been the impetus for this vacation. Pump tokens into the Romneybot and then play My Dinner with Bibi, toggling the joystick to "Trenchant Insight" and "Stamp Out the Cockroaches," then frenziedly slapping the "Build Me More" button as soon as Bibi mentions West Bank settlements.
For another thing, as Gershom Gorenberg notes at The American Prospect, some of Romney's ostensible gaffes might have been welcome dog-whistling sent to the AIPAC-Likud axis of right-wing Israeli nationalist sentiment. Sounding like your speech was drafted by Netanyahu, pledging never to show any public policy distance between Israel and the U.S., calling for the
capital U.S. embassy to be moved to Jerusalem, and contravening official American policy to support unilateral action against Iran if it develops even nuclear energy capability is a feature, not a bug.
Mercifully all this alleged crafty competence wasn't the entire story. There was Romney's fundraiser at the King David Hotel, where tickets were $50,000 per couple for all of 45 minutes' interaction with the candidate. Invoking the Jewish people's suffering and taking solemn photo ops at the Western Wall seem less reflective when at night you're going to charge each person roughly $9.20 per second to listen to you. It's even worse when that fundraiser's organizer is a racist like J. Philip Rosen. As Alex Kane at Mondoweiss notes:
[Rosen's] not shy about his views, either—he has written opinion pieces for Arutz Sheva, the settler news outlet which is no stranger to unabashedly racist views on Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims.
Take this piece on Arutz Sheva, written in February 2007. Rosen writes that "Abbas and his cohorts in Fatah and the PLO or PA are evil." But it gets worse: it's not just that the Palestinian leadership is "evil." It is "[Palestinian] society that has a serious pathological problem that cannot be rectified through negotiations and roundtable discussions."
They're innately bad! You just can't reason with them!
Keeping people like Rosen—and advisor Dan Senor—around might help to explain why Romney compared Israel and the Palestinian Authority's economies and attributed the success of the former to "culture." That link contains a full transcript, but the relevant portions include:
And as you come here and you see the GDP per capita for instance in Israel which is about 21,000 dollars and you compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority which is more like 10,000 dollars per capita you notice a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality. And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.... [You] look at Israel and you say you have a hard time suggesting that all of the natural resources on the land could account for all the accomplishment of the people here.... Culture makes all the difference. And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things. One, I recognize the hand of providence in selecting this place.
Either Romney fudged the numbers to downplay the severe economic inequality, or he's just incompetent. He overestimated the per capita GDP of the Palestinian Authority territories by factor of about 6.6. He underestimated the per capita GDP of Israel by a factor of about 1.5.
Fudging the numbers helps, because all the geographical and cultural determinism in the world runs up against much more Occam's Razor-style explanations for economic depression—like years of a trade blockade and fucking apartheid. Romney's casual cultural determinism is indistinguishable from the paternalistic horseshit that people like P.W. Botha employed to explain the inferiority of South African blacks: beat and starve a people and deny them equal representation, then point to their squalor and rage as evidence of their inherent inferiority as a culture and their inability to govern or be negotiated with.
Moreover, as Dov Weissglass once famously phrased it, Israel "put the Palestinians on a diet," and what a lovely job they did, banning such "dual-use" items as pasta, lentils and tomato paste. I'm not sure how the fuck you weaponize farfalle, but suffering vitamin deficiencies and dietary illness sure as shit puts a crimp in being a job creator. Then there's the matter of bombing the only flour mill in Gaza and bulldozing chicken farms—because Hamas was probably gonna egg a really nice Israeli house. Damaging water-treatment facilities until 95% of all Gaza water is unfit for drinking, while you restrict the importation of parts to fix it, also tends to hamper public health. Speaking of water, in the West Bank, Israeli settlers allegedly have access to over 70 times as much water as Palestinians, which probably has some effect on an agricultural economy.
Other potential sources of economic imbalance: choked checkpoints that convert 10-mile trips into nine-hour ordeals, the inhibition of trade and even commuting, or a defense force that stands idly by as settlers gun down unarmed people in Palestinian villages. Yet one more source: since 2008, U.S. aid to the Palestinians has stood at roughly $600 million per year, while U.S. aid to Israel has stood at $3 billion per year, a factor five times greater.
Or, you know, it's probably just their culture.
Romney didn't stop there, of course. His generic praise for Israeli "culture" neatly sidestepped acknowledging all the ugly parallels in its economic climate that make him such a uniquely unsuitable candidate domestically. For over a year, Israeli protesters have lived in tent cities and organized mass demonstrations against one of the highest levels of income inequality in the developed world. Just a handful of families—known even in Hebrew as "The Tycoons"—control over 30% of Israel's economy. Two protesters have set themselves on fire, an act which Romney probably conceives of as the symbolic burning of a corporation. Thank goodness the kids in the streets have access to universal health care at low cost to Israel's GDP, thanks to an individual mandate. Which Romney praised.
Then, from the land built in part on memories of the Holocaust, Romney jetted off to Poland, to meet with former president Lech Walesa—who, before Europe's right wing discovered Muslims, ran a 1990 presidential campaign rife with anti-Semitism and Jew-baiting. He did not get to meet with members of Solidarity, the Polish trade union whose activism helped bring about political pluralism, because its members bothered to read virtually anything about Romney's labor attitudes. This was an especially unfortunate PR blow, because it's long been taken as gospel amongst the Republican Party that the power of President Ronald Reagan's sunny rhetoric went back in time and created Solidarity three months before he was elected, freeing the Poles.
Photo via Getty.