10/23/2012 10:53 am ET Updated Dec 23, 2012

Neither Obama or Romney Will Go to War for Netanyahu

For me, it was the most significant moment of the third debate.

Moderator Schieffer to Governor Romney: What if -- what if the prime minister of Israel called you on the phone and said, "Our bombers are on the way. We're going to bomb Iran."
What do you --

Romney: Bob, let's not go into hypotheticals of that nature. Our relationship with Israel, my relationship with the prime minister of Israel is such that we would not get a call saying our bombers are on the way, or their fighters are on the way. This is the kind of thing that would have been discussed and thoroughly evaluated well before that kind of --

Schieffer: So you'd say it just wouldn't happen?

Romney nodded.

And there the exchange ended. President Obama chose to ignore the question.

It was a critical moment.

In a night of full-court pandering to Binyamin Netanyahu, Mitt Romney would not give Netanyahu what he most wants: permission to bomb Iran knowing that we would automatically come in too.

Instead, Romney said that a surprise strike by Israel could not happen because any Israeli attack would first be "discussed and thoroughly evaluated..." In other words, Romney would have the opportunity to do the same thing George W. Bush did and Barack Obama almost surely would too: just say NO. And Israel would have to stand down.

Romney's response took Obama off the hook. After all, if Romney had said that a surprise Israeli strike was acceptable, Obama would either have to agree or look less faithful to Netanyahu than Romney. And that is something he seems desperate to avoid.

But Romney is already seeing himself as a possible president and he therefore cannot give any country carte blanche to drag us into war. In that sense, he and Obama are in the exact same place. They are Americans and are not ready to risk our forces and even American lives at home in a conflict that would not be in the U.S. interest.

The rest of the debate was, of course, heavy on the pandering. But both managed to profess undying love for Israel without saying, when asked, that an attack on Israel would be treated as an attack on the United States.

Both said they would "stand with Israel" but neither said that Israel is in the NATO category (an attack on one is an attack on all). Like President Nixon in the Yom Kippur war, they would supply Israel with aid to repel an attack but, again like Nixon, neither would commit the U.S. to war.

Bottom line. They both pandered (Obama's pandering was even more over-the-top than Romney's) but neither indicated a readiness to go to war for Israel. Obama supporters can be somewhat reassured. Romney's neocon backers must be ready to dive out a window.

Of course, if pandering to a foreign country for purely cynical reasons offends you (it sure offends me), you too might be ready to dive out that window.

Don't. The pandering was bad but, in the end, it amounted to nothing. U.S. policy will remain as unbalanced as ever but, and this is some consolation, not to the point of being railroaded into war by a foreign leader and the donors who champion him.