Greta Van Susteren and Mitt Romney conducted their interview on a flower-decked balcony against a background of palm trees and white houses sparkling on a hill. That was the high point. Despite some unusually probing questions from Van Susteren, the candidate spent the first part of his On the Record interview saying the sum total of nothing.
Is Israel closer to a war with Iran? Van Susteren asked. "I think we know that we're closer to seeing Iran becoming a nuclear nation than we were several years ago," Romney replied in a colorless monotone he undoubtedly thought statesmanlike. “We hope that … non-military options will be effective in keeping Iran from taking a course which would require other options."
Then she tried to get him to say whether he favored aggressive action against Iran. "The prime minister said to you this morning, he says we have to be honest and say that all the sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian nuclear program one iota." But Romney wasn’t biting this time: "I think we have to execute all of the political, economic and diplomatic measures that are possible ... But at the same time, we recognize that if down the road, these sanctions are ineffective, that we have other options."
How do we decide when we are down the road? Van Susteren asked (as in, do we wait to actually find the weapons of mass destruction this time?) "I don't imagine you're ever 100 percent certain," Romney replied, except that the US would stand by Israel as always. In what kind of role? asked Van Susteren. A military one? "Well, I don't want to be highly specific as to the nature of our military options down the road...I certainly would not want to make foreign policy on foreign soil in any way trying to distinguish myself from the views that have already been expressed by our government." (Oh. Now he’s getting scrupulous about criticizing the current government? That’s a first.)
OK, how would Romney promote a resolution of the seemingly unsolvable Israeli-Palestinian conflict? "Well, the right course is for the Palestinians and the Israelis to sit down at the table together... But this is not something that we will impose from America." (Oh yeah. Negotiations have worked wonders so far.)
The best you can say of that performance is that Romney didn’t put his foot in his mouth, or pander too much to the far right wing. Maybe in part two of this interview (to be broadcast tonight) he’ll actually say something.