Members of President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign on Monday strongly criticized Mitt Romney’s upcoming overseas trip, charging that Republican presidential candidate’s planned visit to Britain, Israel and Poland centers more on “photo-ops and fundraising” than issues of substance.
The Obama campaign won’t let Romney boost his foreign policy credentials so easily, with a top adviser insisting during a conference call with reporters on Monday that in fact, the Republican has none.
Robert Gibbs, a former White House spokesman who is currently a senior adviser at Obama for America, recalled the nine-day, eight-country tour Barack Obama made as a candidate in 2008, which took in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Israel, Jordan, France, Germany and Britain.
“Each leg of the [Obama] trip outlined specific foreign policy ideas,” Gibbs said, noting that Obama held news conferences in France, Jordan and Israel. “Governor Romney should live up to the standard set in 2008, unless it’s the long photo-op and fundraising trip.”
Romney will be in Israel on Sunday after kicking off his trip Thursday in London, where he will meet with top government officials, attend the 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony and hold a fundraiser for Americans living in Britain.
In Israel, “Governor Romney will meet with U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, the leader of the opposition party, and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad,” according to the official itinerary distributed to the press. His itinerary does not mention the $50,000-a-head fundraiser being held in Jerusalem about 90 minutes after the Tisha B’Av fast ends Sunday.
On Sunday, Netanyahu told Fox News he wasn't going to get into American politics: "But I will say that I will receive Mitt Romney with the same openness that I received another presidential candidate, then-Senator Barack Obama, when he came almost four years ago, almost the same time in the campaign, to Israel. Israel enjoys bipartisan support, both Democrats and Republicans, and we extend bipartisan hospitality to both Democrats and Republicans."
On Monday, Romney will wrap up the tour in Poland, visiting historical sites and meeting with Prime Minister Donald Tusk and other top officials, as well as former president Lech Walesa.
“Romney’s trip might be built almost entirely on fundraisers, but the American people are expecting something greater of their political candidates than speaking to groups of donors,” Gibbs said. “The preview of his trip said he’s going to make two major foreign policy speeches, without details. How can you give major foreign policy speeches without details?”
Gibbs added that Romney “owes the American people important answers when he is preparing to become the leader of the free world. Four years ago this month, we took that trip to show that Obama was a person who is ready to lead the world. The stakes around the trip were enormously high, and Obama offered specific policies like ending the war in Iraq and focusing on war in Afghanistan. Mitt Romney is not engaged on these issues.”
In terms of Israel, however, the Romney campaign is stressing the difference between Obama’s “cold shoulder” to Israel, lack of personal chemistry with Netanyahu and most important, the fact that Obama has not visited Israel since he was elected.
Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks told Haaretz "Romney is taking extremely valuable time out of his schedule to go to Israel and show his solidarity with the Jewish people and get briefed on critically important issues - when President Obama hasn't been in Israel in the three and a half years he's been in office. He's been all over the area, and hasn't visited Israel."
“I think that simply being present in Israel says it all,” said John Bolton, one of Romney’s top foreign policy adviser and a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “Obama has been in office three-and-a-half years and had time to do more fundraisers than any other first-term American president, and yet he hasn’t had time to fit into his busy schedule even one trip to Israel,” Bolton said in a radio interview on Sunday.
The Obama campaign noted that the president is expected to visit Israel during his second term, should he be reelected. During the Monday conference call, Colin Kahl, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East in the Obama administration, said that Obama’s “friendship with Israel shouldn’t be judged only by his travel itinerary.
“President Reagan didn’t visit Israel. President Bush did it only in his final year. It’s not a serious policy difference, but a distraction. Israeli leaders have acknowledged that the relationship is as strong as ever,” Kahl said.
Kahl warned that “Middle East policy is too important to play politics with,” noting that he was “perplexed” by Romney’s lack of specific positions. “Several weeks ago, when Romney was asked what he’ll do with Israel, he said he’ll ‘do the opposite of Obama.’
“President Obama means what he says and he does what he says. He worked with Congress to provide hundreds of millions of dollars of additional aid for anti-missile systems. He is exerting pressure on Iran. The American people are expecting Romney to say exactly how he is going to put pressure on Teheran,” he said.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now