Feature

Romney’s mixed reception abroad

Mitt Romney's trip to Britain, Israel, and Poland to build his foreign policy credentials was was marred by a series of verbal miscues.

What happened
Mitt Romney attempted to build his foreign policy credentials this week with a six-day trip abroad in which he celebrated the “special relationship” with Britain on the eve of the Olympic Games, affirmed Poland’s strong ties to the U.S., and committed himself to the security of Israel. But the presumptive Republican presidential nominee clouded his message with a series of verbal miscues, as he offended the British and outraged Palestinians. In Israel, Romney pledged strong support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish stance on Iran, declaring that “any and all measures” should be used to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. He stirred controversy when he stated that the large economic disparity between Israel and the Palestinians could be explained by “culture” and “the hand of providence.” Palestinian official Saeb Erekat called that “a racist statement,” saying it was the “Israeli occupation” that’s causing Palestinian poverty.

In the United Kingdom, Romney upset his hosts by casting doubt on London’s preparation for the Olympic Games, saying security problems were “disconcerting.” A furious British media mocked Romney as “Mitt the Twit,” while Prime Minister David Cameron shot back, “Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere”—a reference to Romney’s management of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002.

What the editorials said
Republicans need to revoke Romney’s passport, said the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger. First he “dissed the Brits at their proudest moment,” then he threatened the peace process in Israel by implying that the Palestinians were culturally inferior to the Israelis and calling Jerusalem—which must be divided if there’s any hope of peace—“the capital of Israel.” How can such a tone-deaf buffoon ever represent the U.S. as president?

Yes, Romney “got off on the wrong foot” in Britain, said The Wall Street Journal, but the trip was hardly a fiasco. His talk tough on Iran was welcomed, as was his praise of Israel’s “culture of innovation.” He also exposed how Obama has “backpedaled and pivoted away” from our key allies, said the New York Post. Embracing Israel, endorsing “abiding American-British unity,” and standing strong with the Poles in their opposition to Russian ambitions “drew a stark contrast” with Obama’s limp leadership.

What the columnists said
Romney’s visit to Israel perfectly illustrated “much of what is wrong with the U.S.-Israel relationship today,” said Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times. Like other Republicans, he pandered to hard-liners like Netanyahu and Super PAC donor Sheldon Adelson, telling them exactly what they wanted to hear “while blatantly ignoring the other side.” A true ally of Israel would commit to finding a two-state solution, and prevent Israel from becoming an apartheid pariah state. 

But Romney didn’t rule out future agreements with the Palestinians, said Rich Lowry in NationalReview.com. All he did was speak the truth—that the Israelis’ Westernized “culture of entrepreneurship” has helped them thrive. It was a message of economic freedom that he also spoke about in post-communist Poland, said Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post. While the “nation’s gaffe-seekers were enjoying a few moments of snark,” Romney articulated on this trip why free markets, individual liberty, and religious freedom are the foundations of any enlightened, functioning society.

No wonder that Romney’s surrogates are trying to spin this disastrous trip with such “frantic intensity,” said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com. What he revealed abroad was not just that he’s a diplomatic klutz, but that he has a dangerously simplistic and arrogant worldview. Romney is very much the same insular plutocrat who made a fortune in a venture-capital firm, assessing new assets with “cookie-cutter formulas,” and then bullying them into serving his own interests. Is he “presidential material? Get serious.”

In their hearts, even Romney’s supporters must know he failed to present himself as “an unflappable potential world leader,” said Scott Conroy in RealClearPolitics.com. But Romney’s speeches did satisfy the Republican base. And as the focus of the race now returns to the economy, Romney’s foreign blunders “will soon be far in the rearview mirrors of swing voters.”

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