It has become a ritual of American politics for presidential candidates to pay a visit to Israel during the campaign season, but Mitt Romney's trip to Jerusalem over the weekend is not his first mission to the Jewish state — it's his fourth — and it won't be his last.
I've known Mitt Romney for a long time, and know he has a deep commitment to Israel. It flows from his understanding of its history. Romney is a (small "d") democrat, and Israel is a thriving democracy that has lived in danger all of its life. Romney admires not only that democracy, but also the way Israelis have defended themselves against all odds.
By sheer coincidence, Romney is an old friend of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His first job after finishing Harvard was at the Boston Consulting Group; Netanyahu was working there at the time. The two struck up a friendship and remain close. If Romney were to be president, it would be an extraordinary chapter in U.S.-Israeli relations. "There is little precedent," The New York Times wrote recently, "for two politicians of their stature to have such a history together that predates their entry into government." Certainly, Israel could use a close friend in the White House these days.
Israel's position in the Middle East is more precarious than at any time since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It faces grave challenges, even existential threats. Iran has been pursuing nuclear weapons while making no secret of its desire to wipe Israel off the map.
Thanks to the revolution in Egypt, the future of the Camp David Accords and peace on Israel's southern flanks hang in the balance. To Israel's north, in Syria, we see the brutality that some of Israel's neighbors are capable of. And as we saw recently in Bulgaria, remorseless terrorists continue to attack Israeli civilians.
Israel has always insisted, rightly, on defending itself; it doesn't want others to fight its battles. But it has also always looked to the United States as an ally.
Over the last three years, U.S.-Israeli relations have grown troubled. The president doesn't seem to have affection for Israel. He's publicly castigated the country at the United Nations. He was caught on a hot microphone denigrating its prime minister, and when Netanyahu came to D.C., Obama received him coolly, neglecting to hold the customary joint news conference before asking the Israeli leader to exit through a rear door.
Far more significant has been Obama's passivity toward Iran's mounting threat. Even as the ayatollahs have pressed on with their bomb-building, and even as they continue directing genocidal threats toward Israel, Obama has sought to "engage" Iran in "dialogue." Through this process, the Iranians have gained what they needed most: time.
When ordinary Iranians took to the streets in 2009 to protest their country's stolen election, the Obama administration was silent. We can't say what would have happened had America's moral authority been brought to bear, but we can say that a once-in-a-generation chance to rid the world of a vicious regime was missed.
The failed record of Obama's diplomacy suggests he doesn't take Iran seriously. If Iran is permitted to acquire nuclear weapons, it will dominate the Middle East, igniting proxy wars and making nuclear terrorism a persistent danger.
We need a leader who understands such perils and will act to avert them. We can't wait until the dangers are upon us.
As president, Obama has toured the world and the Middle East, choosing Cairo as the location to deliver a major address. He has yet to visit Israel, our closest ally in the region. He seems to labor under the illusion that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute lies at the center of the Middle East's problems, even as the region is wracked by war and revolution.
Mitt Romney has a different view. He understands that Israel is targeted as a scapegoat. He also understands that there is a campaign to demonize Israel. And so he's pledged that his first foreign trip as president will be to Jerusalem. He intends to send a signal to the world that the United States is not Israel's fair-weather friend, but a partner in a relationship based upon a common commitment to our most fundamental values.
Norm Coleman served as a Republican U.S. senator from Minnesota from 2003 to 2009.