msnbc | September 16, 2012
>>> the hour. new today israeli prime minister benjamin netanyahu warning iran is on the brink of going nuclear saying that country is about six months from making enriched uranium, a critical step in the bomb making progress. he also weighed in on israel 's relationship with the u.s. and the upcoming presidential election .
>> governor romney for a year, and he said it in his convention speech, has said, quote, president obama has thrown allies like israel under the bus. do you agree or disagree with governor romney 's charge? it's a serious charge.
>> well, you're trying to get me into the -- into the american election, and i'm not going to do that. the relationship between israel and the united states is a bond of -- it's just a very powerful bond.
>> joining me for today's strategy talk is former vermont governor and dnc chairman howard dean and former rnc chairman and msnbc analyst michael steele . gentlemen, good to see you both.
>> how you doing?
>> governor dean, i want to begin with you here. you just heard prime minister suns netanyahu . why is one of america's closest allies incapable of saying the president has not, quote, thrown him under the bus?
>> this past week has been somewhat of a disaster for romney . he clearly really doesn't know foreign policy very well. he's flailing around. he, of course, has now wasted another week not talking about the economy which i think he understands he has to do but just can't seem to help himself. i thought the line of the week was from president obama who just said governor romney shoots first and aims later. i know from experience in the presidency that you just can't do that. that is the difference between these two candidates in term of experience.
>> michael , up until last week the general consensus was that no one really cares about foreign policy for this election. that was a good thing for the romney campaign. has their strategy now been thrown into a sense of upheaval?
>> i don't know if it's so much upheaval. but it is a sort of a taking into account this idea that foreign policy is going to be a role here. certainly there's some of us who've always thought foreign policy , while it was not the predominant point of discussion, would be a part of the conversation. simply given what we were seeing evolve in the middle east starting with the arab spring right to the present. i think the romney campaign now has to figure out how it juxtapose an economic argument over or alongside a foreign policy argument. because there are some economic questions that can be answered there. but the broader charge to howard dean 's point, where are your policies going? what is your view of the world stage? now comes into sharp contrast with the president. this was not a good week for the romney team in terms of establishing and distinguishing their direction and what they would do in foreign policy versus what the president has done or is doing?
>> governor dean, why is it benjamin netanyahu is not able to say that president obama has not thrown him under the bus?
>> because it's incredibly foolish for one of our critical allies to make that relationship worse. my guess is the personal relationship between netanyahu and president obama is not all that good. i think most of that has to do with president obama . if you look back at our relationship with israel , which is historically incredibly strong and remains strong, this is really a personalalty problem.
>> vice president goes over there. netanyahu 's government chooses that moment to announce they're going to expand settlements into the west bank. which is absolutely opposite from american foreign policy . you know, this is just -- there's been a lot of mistakes. we're never going to throw israel under the bus. that's a ridiculous thing to say. first of all, we couldn't afford to if we wanted to. we would like israel to adhere to the two-state solution. as president bush outlined. but this is a bump in the road. netanyahu 's smart to try to stay out of american politics . it was a mistake for him to dip his toe into it during an election year. this is all water over the dam. we're going to have a strong relationship with the israel for the foreseeable future. we have to. we're two democracies.
>> michael , by the way, is it damaging in such a sensitive time for mitt romney to be saying the president is throwing israel under the bus?
>> no. i think from a political standpoint, what romney team is trying to do is to emphasize to jew iish voters and those aligned with israel here in the united states that this administration has taken a course or at least had a tone with israel --
>> okay. but hang on. you say tone. that -- it just doesn't seem right to use that vernacular in describing things. i mean, saying the president has thrown israel under the bus.
>> well, look. i think that there is -- there's, you know, obviously issues and evidence and the governor just cited one with respect to joe biden 's visit to israel and the relationships that we have -- have had in the past and how that has played out currently. yeah, that rhetoric sort of plays to that. it pays to some of those concerns about whether or not this president genuinely supports the idea of the partnership between the united states and israel . i think that's the politics of it. i think the rewralty, though, is largely where governor dean says it is. the relationship between this country and israel is strong. irrespective of the personal disagreements between the sitting prime minister and the sitting president, that's the underlying tone that we need to strike. i think for both sides, it's important that we continue to strike that support for israel .
>> governor dean, bill maher said on friday night that mitt romney lost the election with his reaction to libya. but does the average voter understand all the details of this story? and even more, do they care?
>> here's what the problem for romney is. he can't -- he doesn't look presidential. this has happened two or three times. he overreacts. almost as if he's bought into the right wing rhetoric which i don't think most people respect. his problem is he didn't appear to know much about libya which i don't think he does. his problem was he didn't look presidential. the one area you really have to be presidential in, you cannot run into the presidency and deal with a very dangerous world and not know what you're talking about. and that is the problem that mitt romney ran into this week.
>> okay. governor, also real quickly, accused of welcoming bad economic news for their own purposes politically speaking, is the president at all in danger of being seen as using the death of an ambassador to his advantage?
>> i don't think so. any more than george bush was seen as some sort of political person for the incredible speech he gave at the world trade center after with a megaphone. at times like this when americans are being killed and bad things are happening wants to see the president act like a president. i think president obama did act like a president this week.
>> along the lines of the 2004 barack obama hope and change and john mccain maverick, how would you describe mitt romney 's strategy? what is the underlying theme here? i'll go to you first, michael .
>> i think that's to be rather frank about it, i think that's part of this challenge that the romney team faces. going back to your first question, the foreign policy issue was not a forefront of the tis cushion. it sort of crept into the debate. i don't think there is a central theme, core theme that really distinguishes the foreign policy of barack obama from a foreign policy of a president obama . that's something that given recent events the obama team -- or the romney team has to do and do so in a very presidential way.
>> i think michael 's right about that. but historically there hasn't been a lot of difference between republican and democratic foreign policy . i think george w. bush was an exception. i don't think a democratic president would have sent us to war in iraq . generally speaking, the american foreign policy doesn't change a lot between democratic and republican administrations. for good reason. so i don't think there's a lot of hay to be made by governor romney in foreign policy . he needs to stick to the economy. he just can't seem to do that. we've got six weeks left.
>> okay. howard dean , michael steele , guys, great to see you both. thank you so much.