Let's be honest: based on past experience, the chances that Mitt Romney would move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem if he were president, or that he would even continue calling Jerusalem the capital of Israel, are slim. Yes, President Reagan did not bother to visit Israel, and President George Bush only did so in his second term. But even candidate Barack Obama said at his AIPAC speech in June 2008 that "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided."
Luckily for the campaigns, however, the public has a short memory, and the Romney campaign, which until now pretty much outsourced attacks against Obama's Israel policy to the Republican Jewish Coalition, is now taking full advantage of this, with a new campaign ad titled "Cherished relationship."
“Who Shares Your Values?” the narrator asks. "As President, Barack Obama has never visited Israel and refuses to recognize Jerusalem as its capital."
"Mitt Romney will be a different kind of president—a strong leader who stands by our allies. He knows America holds a deep and cherished relationship with Israel,” the ad promises.
Both Israel and the U.S. respect all religions, the ad states, before quoting remarks that Romney made in a Jerusalem speech last month: "It’s a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.”
It is doubtful that Mr. Romney would sign a pledge that, should he be elected, he will indeed act differently than any other U.S. President in the past decades, moving the embassy and praising the settlements project, for example. But, as mentioned above, the public has a short memory.
The Obama campaign also took advantage of this last week, casting doubt on Romney's preparedness to become president based on his diplomatic missteps and gaffes during his recent visits to Britain, Israel and Poland. This is a tad ironic, especially if one recalls the list of the current president's diplomatic gaffes. The British press were ruthless with "Mitt the twit" and "Party pooper" headlines following Romney's concerns over London's being ready for the Olympic games (didn't the same British press castigate just days earlier the security company that seemed to fail its task?). But wasn't Barack Obama ridiculed in 2009 over his gifts to Queen Elizabeth (an ipod) and David Cameron (a DVD set of classic American movies that reportedly couldn't be played on a European DVD player), or starting his speech at a state dinner with the Queen while the British anthem was still being played?
Romney's "cultural differences" argument, used to explain Israel's economic success as opposed to the Palestinians GDP numbers was unfortunate, and outraged the Palestinians. But it can hardly be considered a gaffe, as he repeated the same claim in an op-ed later that week.
Romney has angered the Russians several times in the past - including with his speech in Warsaw, but at least he probably really does believe that Russia is the "geopolitical foe number one" of the U.S. Meanwhile, President Obama not so long ago had to write a letter of apology to the Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, after he called a Nazi death camp a "Polish death camp" at the ceremony awarding the posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski.
Then there was last November 's "hot-mic" remark on the margins of the G-20, when the French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a "liar" and Obama said that while Sarkozy is fed up with Netanyahu, he is the one who needs to deal with him every day.
Obama's own undiplomatic gaffes won't award any points to Romney's foreign trip, which wasn't particularly beneficial either for his foreign policy standing, or his relationship with the press corps, which he mostly ignored. But is there a reason that Obama's rating in Europe (despite the liberals' disappointment with drone attacks and the Guantanamo facility that remains very much active) remains astonishingly high, and that his gaffes are largely forgotten?
The public might forgive the diplomat in chief for failing to follow protocol, but it will have a hard time forgiving the unforgivable crime of lacking charisma and a clear message. The enormous crowd that came to greet candidate Obama in Berlin in 2008 didn't need his healthcare reform or his pitch to save the American car industry. They asked for hope for a better future - and Obama embodied the promise of the more egalitarian America, and maybe even of a better world.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, didn't have much "to sell" in Europe, except for hackneyed friendship pledges, awakening the spirit of the Cold War, praising capitalism and freedom, and the conservative message that one should not borrow more than one can pay back. Romney's problem wasn't gaffes or even partially adopting Sheldon Adelson's position on the Palestinians. His problem on this trip was that he lacked a vision that the world might want to believe in, or at the very least a specific foreign policy program for discussion.
The widespread assumption at the Republican camp is that anyway the vote will be mostly "against Obama," so it might be better to keep as neutral as possible and avoid controversy. If Mr. Romney shares this strategy, his foreign trip was pointless indeed - and there is little chance we'll see anything more specific than ads that promise a "different kind of president." The poll numbers are still very close - so the strategy of trying to run as the "generic Republican candidate," who has better chances of defeating Obama than the real candidate might, could even pay off.
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