Seeing that the Republicans don’t have much room to criticize President Obama on foreign policy this campaign season, one consistent attack line has been that Obama allegedly isn’t nice to America’s allies. “We have a president who pursued an agenda of saying we’re going to be friendly to our foes and we’re going to be disrespectful to our friends,” Mitt Romney says.
Part of that baseless GOP narrative is the claim that Obama doesn’t love Israel as much as they do. Even though Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said no one can question Obama’s “devotion” to Israel, the GOP candidates for president and other right-wing critics often claim that Obama is “not pro-Israel” or has “thrown Israel under the bus.” But Romney knows how he’s going to prove his love for Israel if he becomes president. “My first foreign trip will be to Israel, to show the world we care about that country and that region,” he said. And Herman Cain said he’d do the same, but added the caveat that he “might do a swing through Europe” as well.
Rick Perry picked up on this Obama-treats-America’s-friends-like-dirt theme today at a town hall in New Hampshire but replaced Israel with Taiwan:
PERRY: We stood back and did nothing [In Iran] and I think that was the first signal to me that we either have a naive president and administration from the standpoint of foreign policy, or he has a completely different outlook about America’s role in the world. And it may be both.
Then you see remarks that he made about Israel, going back to the 1967 borders, treating Benjamin Netanyahu as not with the appropriate respect for a world leader and ally. … One of my first trips as the President of the United States would be to go to Taiwan. Our ally in that region. They ask the United States to improve their armament with an F-16 purchase and this administration said, no we’re going to give you the old equipment, we’re not going to give you the newest equipment.
Since 1981, Canada has typically been the first foreign trip for the new American president. George W. Bush broke that streak in 2001 when he decided his first trip abroad would be to Mexico. Obama, however, stuck with recent tradition and visited Canada in February 2009, in his first international trip as president.
While the Obama administration decided not to include F-16 fighter jets in its arms sale to Taiwan, it did include Patriot missiles, Black Hawk helicopters, and communications equipment worth more than $6 billion. But also, even the Bush administration had deferred on the F-16 sale to Taiwan:
“The notion that is being bandied about that this a capitulation to China, given the unprecedented magnitude of sales in the first two and a half years of the administration, and that F-16’s were never authorized by the Bush administration, suggests that these attacks are partisan rather than security-based,” said Jeffrey A. Bader, a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution.
So the Republican presidential candidates’ formula to attack Obama on foreign policy seems to be: Make a baseless claim that the president isn’t supporting ally “x,” then pledge make ally “x” among the first foreign trips as president.