August begins with Mitt Romney back on US soil and for many, including I would say a fair few of his campaign staff and influential Republicans that is a welcome relief. The presidential candidate flew home , coasting on what seemed like a wave of criticism from the media and other politicians after his trip to Britain, Israel and Poland. To say his foreign trip was a disaster would be harsh but it did have its fair share of gaffes, all of which raise doubts over the man who is determined to be president and with that the position of Commander in Chief.
Taking a sporting analogy considering the ongoing Olympics, let’s have a look at his “performance” over the past week. In London he had the audacity to question the security preparation for the Olympics. Mitt Romney appeared to believe being the so-called saviour of the successful Salt Lake Olympics, which occurred shortly after 9/11, allowed him to state doubts about the recent mess-up concerning security contracts for the Olympics. However it appeared by many in the UK to be like someone who you invited to your home for dinner and openly begins to question the menu and décor. It elicited serious and bitchy put-downs by the prime minister and celebrated US Olympian Carl Lewis who stated: “some Americans shouldn’t leave the country”.
Mitt was probably glad to sprint away from that gaffe and the infamously rabid British press to the more hospitable surroundings of Israel, which was to contain a number of fundraisers. Here he would comfortably tap wealthy Jewish supporters for his campaign. In an apparent desire to please possible Jewish donors, he pronounced Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; a controversial statement not generally recognized internationally and thus legitimizing the occupation of territory taken by Israel in the Six Days War. If that was not enough, he dived further in to the touchy politics of the region by remarking that Israel’s economy was larger than the Palestinian economy because of cultural differences between the two. This not only ignored the fact that large parts of the Palestinian economy are under Israeli embargo, it touched a racial nerve implying some form of cultural inferiority among the Palestinians. While getting muted yet welcoming praise from the Israeli Prime minister who he has known for many years, the Israeli leg of his trip showed incompetence in relation to the quagmire that is Israeli-Palestinian relations. There would certainly be no points from the Palestinian judges during this round
Poland was the final stop in Mitt’s foreign trip, a former stalwart in what Secretary of Defence under George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld called the New Europe. Poland was chosen by Romney, like the other two countries for being allies that “stood for freedom”, whatever that meant to him. Indeed he got praise from the leader of the Solidarity movement Lech Walesa but yet again, the gaffes continued. This time however it was members of his own staff who slipped on the final hurdle. Angered by the growing criticism emanating from the US media after the first two legs of his trip, Romney’s press secretary Rick Gorka lost his cool when pressured by journalists at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw. He snapped back irritably to the press to “Kiss my ass. This is a holy site for the Polish people”. Needless to say the irony of such a statement was not lost on the journalists. Yet again, Romney missed the bar.
In retrospect we can say it was not a gold-medal performance by the Republican candidate. Compared to Barak Obama’s foreign trip during the 2008 campaign, where the then senator was fawned over by the European press and treated like a rock star at a speech at the Brandenburg Gate, Romney’s was a bit low key. The constant gaffes accentuated the lingering feeling by many that the former governor lacks a significant amount of tact in communicating to others and the media. Since these are the people he could be dealing with come January to work internationally combating Middle-Eastern and European tension, things could be a little uncomfortable. However the negative reaction should be overall benign.
The funny aspect of it all was in the response from Romney’s campaign team to the trip and the media reaction to it. The team apparently attempted to play down the significance of the trip, saying that instead of wasting time and effort on foreign policy, they should have concentrated on Mitt Romney’s economic and political policies. Granted there is some merit to this view. To many Americans foreign policy is an insignificant matter in deciding on which candidate to vote for. The issue of the economy is paramount in the minds of Americans in this presidential campaign. So one must ask, why make the time and effort to make such a significant foreign trip when the economy is still sclerotic and President Obama has taken a poll lead in the key swing states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania? The only part of this trip with some sort of merit would have been the Israeli trip to raise funds for the campaign.
Mitt Romney’s active foray in to foreign policy certainly did not get him on the podium in any way this past week. It continued to emphasize the character traits of his campaign and of his own character; that of being slightly out of touch with the people he is trying to persuade and coddle. It seemed to reinforce his campaign’s exhortations to concentrate on domestic issues such as the economy. So maybe this presidential candidate should have stayed at home this past week.