Why is Mitt Romney reportedly going to Europe this summer? To counter criticism that candidate Romney has been ignoring foreign policy on the campaign trail. Team Romney reportedly plans to make potential stops in Germany, Poland, Britain and Israel, and Romney likely also wants to promote the idea that relations with major European allies have deteriorated under Obama. The Republican has made Obama's alleged mishandling of U.S. alliances a prominent part of his foreign policy critique, but when he arrives in Europe, he will find those relationships intact. And in some cases, he may find them improved from a few years ago.
The choice of European destinations is curious for several reasons, not least of which is Romney's aversion to "Europe" as a social and economic model. Anti-Europeanism has been one of the consistent themes of both of Romney's presidential bids, and one of his main complaints against the Obama administration is that the president is supposedly trying to impose a "European" model on America. Of course, Romney's attacks on Europe aren't meant to be descriptive, but they are intended to create a generic foil for his appeals to American exceptionalism.
Our European allies are not going to fit Mitt's preconceptions about them and their relations with the U.S.
Washington and Berlin's disagreements over how to respond to the eurozone crisis are well-known, but it is unlikely that Romney will find a more receptive audience in Germany for his criticisms of the administration's position. As the German newspaper Handelsblatt explained in an op-ed, the Romney campaign's advice for European governments is that they make even more spending reductions. That goes beyond what most European governments are willing to do, and it conflicts with the popular reaction against fiscal austerity measures that has been sweeping across the continent.
Romney's visit to Poland may be the hardest to understand. While he has been outspoken in his opposition to Obama's decision to scrap a Bush-era missile defense plan that included Poland, most Poles never wanted the installation and reacted positively to the substance of Obama's decision. Romney has pledged to "reset the reset" with Russia, which is likely to increase tensions between Russia and U.S. allies in eastern Europe. And yet, Poland has pursued its own rapprochement with Russia in recent years.
Just as U.S.-Russian relations have thawed since 2008, Polish-Russian relations have improved significantly as well, so there isn't much interest in Poland for Romney's policy of confrontation. As an early opponent of the new arms reduction treaty, Romney could not have been more at odds with the wishes of the Polish government, which strongly supported the treaty's ratification. He would like to portray Obama's policies related to Poland as "selling out" an ally to Russia, but this simply hasn't happened.
Romney will also reportedly visit Britain in connection with the Olympic Games in London. The visit to Britain is likely also meant to reflect his belief that Britain has been "snubbed" by Obama on several occasions. This "snubbing" is mostly a legend created by critics out of a handful of minor, irrelevant incidents. U.S.-U.K. ties today are reasonably strong. Prime Minister David Cameron chose not to meet with any Republicans during his visit to the United States earlier this year, which suggests that he is not dissatisfied with the current relationship with America. Everywhere that Romney goes in Europe, he will have to contend with the inconvenient reality that Obama remains very popular there.
Visiting Europe might make more sense if there was any evidence that Romney pays much attention to the continent in his foreign policy. But reviewing his policy statements on different regions of the world, one will find that Europe is conspicuous by its absence. In spite of what Romney says about the importance of allies, his foreign policy statements do not have much to say about most of them, and that is particularly true of European allies. Romney's foreign policy creates the impression that contemporary Europe exists for him mostly as an abstraction, as something to avoid imitating or something onto which one can project one's beliefs, but not as real nations with their own agency and interests. As Romney will discover later this month, our European allies are not going to fit his preconceptions about them and their relations with the U.S.