Romney’s international waste of time

Simon Williamson

The presumed Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, is currently on a trip to Britain, Israel and Poland to try and shore up his foreign policy credentials, of which he has very few, before November’s election.
Of course, Romney is up against the chap who was steering the ship when the US military managed to fill Osama Bin Laden with bullets, which is always a nice notch in the Oval Office bedpost, but Romney is utterly wasting his time gallivanting around the world.
For starters, no one cares. Romney is not in an election cycle that gives two figs about what is happening in the rest of the world right now. There are severe economic problems in the US: the country has not staved off the recession, unemployment is over 8% (which is the currently accepted limit of where everything is just shit), petrol prices, although lower than a few months ago, are still high enough for people to claim Obama is gay marrying the king of Saudi Arabia, and Europe’s debt crisis is threatening to stuff the entire world fiscus.

There are only two places foreign policy might (and I use the word in its loosest sense) stand out to the average American worrying about how to keep those giant portions of food on the table, the first of which is Afghanistan. But as Stephen M Walt noted in Foreign Policy magazine, Romney's plans for Afghanistan, should he win the presidency in November, are hardly any different to Obama’s with both claiming exit from the country in 2014. Romney also pledged to “evaluate conditions on the ground [in Afghanistan] and solicit the best advice of our military commanders”, which to me sounds like nothing less than common sense.

Talking a good game
The only other foreign policy bullet point, which could entertain the electorate, is the nuclear capability of Iran, and what that means for Israel. While Romney might talk a good game, Obama has slapped harsher sanctions on the Iranian government than ever before, managed to get a large part of the rest of the world to follow suit, and repeatedly said “all options are on the table”, which means a military strike is not out of the question. Other than order a military strike, what can Romney do differently?
So on the two points of which Romney may enter the collective conversation about foreign policy, he doesn’t differ from the president. At least not yet.
The benefits of this European sojourn, which obviously no one noticed coincided with the Olympics (where one of his wife’s horses is competing), carried very little potential reward, but did carry risk. Albeit only small risk for the major reason mentioned above: no one really cares.
That is, until the gaffe-obsessed media begins shouting. Since Romney’s arrival in Britain the news outlets have run with gaffe after gaffe, some fair and some not.

Firstly, a Romney foreign policy advisor allegedly told Jon Swaine of the Telegraph that Obama doesn’t get the “shared Anglo-Saxon heritage” between Britain and the US. To be fair to Romney, the advisor was unnamed in the article and Romney flatly denied he thought anything of the sort. But the media and Romney’s political opposition (in the shape of Vice-President Joe Biden) ran with it, and it wasn’t pretty.

Insulting Britain
Romney was also castigated in the press on Thursday for allegedly insulting Britain in the lead up to the Olympics, which open on Friday. Romney said to NBC: “There are a few things that were disconcerting. The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials - that obviously is not something which is encouraging.”

While Romney, who managed the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2002, happens to be absolutely correct (the immigration staff strike was only called off on Wednesday), no one took these comments kindly.

British Prime Minister David Cameron retorted: “Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere,” and London’s mayor, Boris Johnson got an 80 000-strong crowd to chant “Yes we can” by asking them whether London was ready to host the games, in spite of Romney’s comments. “Yes we can” was Obama’s campaign slogan in 2008. The international media was even less kind than British politicians.
And there was even more. Romney has spent the last month lambasting the Obama administration for leaks of confidential information allegedly emanating from somewhere within the White House, including sensitive national intelligence. Well on Thursday, according to Nicholas Watt, The Guardian’s chief political correspondent, Romney said: “I appreciated the insights and perspectives of the leaders of the government here and the opposition here as well as the head of MI6.”

MI6 is one of Britain’s most secretive organisations and in charge of overseas intelligence. In fact the British public only became aware of its existence in 1994 when it was officially acknowledged by government. One does not tell everyone when one sits down with the head of MI6. This is absolutely not the equivalent of a British official boasting they had met the head of the CIA.

A waste of time

It doesn’t end in Britain. Romney messed up his plans for Israel which he is visiting to shore up the votes of American Jewish folks. He planned a fundraiser on July 29, which in the Jewish calendar is the 9th of Av, Tisha B’Av, a fast day that mourns the destruction of the first and second temples, along with other incidents.

Organising a fundraiser on the saddest day in Jewish calendar is hardly the best way to begin courting the support of Jewish voters, or the citizens of America’s staunchest ally. According to the Huffington Post, the fundraiser has been cancelled

What was merely a waste of time across international time zones has turned into a thundering headache for the Republican presidential candidate. But, while Democrats will most likely be clapping their hands with glee, it is unlikely to change anything significantly before November. This election remains contested over the economy.

Simon Williamson is a freelance writer.

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