Mitt Romney and Barack Obama
Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Photo by AP
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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney Tuesday wrapped up his six-day trip to Britain, Israel and Poland, which received mixed reviews at best. The British press ridiculed him for questioning London’s Olympics preparedness and appearing to forget British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband’s name; during his visit to Israel, he infuriated Palestinians with remarks they deemed “racist” and “unacceptable,” and in Poland it was left to Romney campaign spokesman Rick Gorka to fill the gaffe quota by advising reporters to “kiss my ass.”

The White House and the Obama campaign didn’t wait long to criticize the trip. “I think there are a number of things that have been said about the president’s foreign policy record that are inaccurate and that I’d be happy to contest,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

“The news reports remind us that when American presidents, American senators and congressmen and would-be leaders go abroad, what they say is placed under a magnifying glass, and it carries great impact. And presidents, senators, congressmen, former governors need to be very mindful of the impact because of the diplomatic implications of what you say overseas.

“Even though the focus in this campaign and the focus of this president at this time is on the economy, an enormous part of the job is the exercise of national security policy and diplomacy. It’s a very important aspect of the job, and getting it right matters greatly to America’s standing in the world and to the successful execution of American foreign policy. I’ll leave the assessments of his trip to the media and to others,” Carney continued.

Asked to get more specific about some of Romney’s mistaken utterances, Carney cited the governor’s assertion that President Barack Obama had suddenly abandoned “friends in the Czech Republic and Poland” when he announced a redeployment of anti-missile defense systems in Europe.

“On the issue of missile defense, it is very clear that this president has pursued aggressively the development and implementation of a missile defense program in Europe that includes, notably, an installation in Poland and that, contrary to suggestions from critics, the Russians continue to oppose,” Carney said.

“We continue to press forward with that missile defense program, because it’s the right thing to do. It’s based on tested technology and it’s the most effective missile defense program in terms of combatting the threat from Iran. That would be one issue where some of the criticism was off the mark, to say the least,” the spokesman said.

In a conference call with reporters, Obama campaign representatives were far less diplomatic, saying Romney had “failed the first rule of overseas trips” for politicians: “Do no harm.”

“His trip might be over, but the concerns raised on this trip will continue,” said Robert Gibbs, a former White House spokesman who is currently a senior Obama campaign adviser. “Romney went to three countries and took a total of three questions from reporters. We know that the role of commander-in-chief and diplomat is an enormously important one in which getting any word wrong can have grave consequences, and he has shown he might not have the discipline to handle this delicate issue.

“I heard Romney campaign strategists saying that a foreign trip doesn’t matter. The most precious resource [during a campaign] is time. You don’t spend seven days on a foreign trip if it doesn’t matter. He set the lowest expectations, offended our closest allies and created negative reactions in one of the most sensitive regions of the world,” Gibbs said.

The Obama campaign obviously did not want to get too deeply into criticizing Romney’s statement that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel (the official U.S. administration position, according to U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, is that “the status of Jerusalem will be resolved through negotiations”).

Colin Kahl, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East who is a senior Obama campaign foreign policy adviser, said “it’s obviously a very delicate issue and as possible future commander-in-chief, you should deal with it very carefully. Romney veered away from this policy.”

Questioned about Romney’s assertion in Jerusalem that the gap between Israel’s economic success and the less prosperous Palestinian economy could be attributed to cultural differences, the Obama campaign replied “it’s up to him (Romney) to explain whether these remarks will be helpful to the peace process.”
Following Romney's remarks in Jerusalem, leftist "Jewish Voice for Peace" launched an online petition demanding an apology from the Republican candidate.

"Your statements in Jerusalem regarding the growth of the Palestinian and Israeli economies were inaccurate and misleading. Israel's Occupation of Palestinian land makes it impossible for the Palestinian economy to succeed, not "cultural differences." We call on you to apologize to the Palestinian people for your willful lack of understanding of the facts on the ground and the racist assumptions behind them", the letter said.

In an op-ed published at "The National Review", titled "Culture does matter," Romney made quite clear he is not about to apologize - he admitted his comments stirred some controversy, and asked: "But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture?.... The linkage between freedom and economic development has a universal applicability. .... Like the United States, the state of Israel has a culture that is based upon individual freedom and the rule of law. It is a democracy that has embraced liberty, both political and economic. This embrace has created conditions that have enabled innovators and entrepreneurs to make the desert bloom". However, Romney mentioned that "Israelis, Palestinians, Poles, Russians, Iranians, Americans, all human beings deserve to enjoy the blessings of a culture of freedom and opportunity."