If Team Romney doesn’t act quickly, what was supposed to be a potent commentary on the President’s failure to engage traditional American allies will become a trans-Atlantic embarrassment for the candidate’s campaign.
The ancient Olympic Games were regarded as a time so sacred, even the militaristic Spartans deemed battle during the period sacrilegious. As always, it seems as if we could learn a thing or two from the Greeks; a new front in the war for the White House was opened this week as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney arrived in London just prior to this year’s opening ceremonies. Reportedly planning to visit Poland and Israel in short order, Team Romney clearly hopes to reinforce an argument that President Barack Obama has betrayed vital U.S. allies in favor of better relations with Russia and the Middle East, respectively. It’s a plan sure to resonate with conservatives, but it’s already off to a rocky start.
“Despite his promises that politics stops at the water’s edge, Governor Romney’s wheels hadn’t even touched down in London before his advisers were reportedly playing politics with international diplomacy, attempting to create daylight between the United States and the United Kingdom where none exists.” So charged Vice President Joseph Biden upon the Republican’s arrival in the U.K., when a yet-unnamed campaign staffer allegedly commented that the U.S. and Britain share an “Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he [Romney] feels that the special relationship is special. The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.” Another advisor reportedly added, “Obama is a left-winger. He doesn’t value the NATO alliance as much. He’s very comfortable with American decline and the traditional alliances don’t mean as much to him. He wouldn’t like singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory.’”
These remarks come on the heels of a Romney speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in which he quipped, “If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your President… You have that President today.” Together they paint a picture that’s sure to turn heads even amongst the candidate’s most-ardent Republican supporters.
The comments have stirred displeasure in London and outrage at home, particularly over their perceived racial undertones and claims that the President would welcome American decline. Tensions flared further when Romney, during an interview with NBC on Wednesday, said that preparation for the 2012 Games has been “disconcerting.” The line was picked up by British press immediately and led Prime Minister David Cameron to comment that “it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere,” referring to Romney’s 2002 supervision of the Salt Lake City Games.
Advisors at Romney’s Boston headquarters likely anticipated a media blitzkrieg in London, earning pictures of their candidate with British officials and American Olympians to boost his foreign policy credentials. Instead, they have something of a media meltdown on their hands at a time when President Obama continues to enjoy high approval abroad. Some outlets have termed the incident “Romneyshambles,” a take on the phrase coined to describe the faltering British Coalition government, “Omnishambles.” Romney will likely have more success in Warsaw, where his staffers are sure to be tight-lipped following the Telegraph fiasco. Poland was arguably the first real foreign policy blunder of the Obama administration, when the president initially scrapped a planned missile shield there to appease Moscow. Expect Team Romney to emphasize their candidate’s commitment to Eastern Europe and opposition to further “pandering” to Russia.
The GOP nominee will almost certainly enjoy the most success in Israel. Romney has long emphasized a personal relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, referring to him repeatedly as “Bibi” during the Republican primary debates. He has also repeatedly called Obama’s overtures to the Muslim world a “global apology tour.” Given the President’s opposition to Israeli settlement plans and a proposed pivot in strategic resources from the Middle East to Southeast Asia, Romney will no doubt claim to reverse the administration’s policies to focus American resources on regional stability.
It’s a risky move given the growing power of China and its increased belligerence in the South China Sea, as it may leave America flat-footed should violence erupt. But it will play well with the Republican base and independent voters who believe Obama has abandoned crucial allies in pursuit of personal celebrity. Perhaps more importantly, it may siphon wary Jewish votes away from Democrats come November. Loyalty to Israel has long been a reliable GOP standard, and in light of mounting tensions with Iran—not to mention increased militarism and the apparent progress of its alleged nuclear weapons program—the call may prove too strong to resist.
Romney’s tour has decidedly not gone according to plan. A series of gaffes in London have provided fodder for press on both sides of the Atlantic and opened the candidate to damaging fire from Team Obama. His campaign has always recovered remarkably well, however, turning aside seemingly knockout blows during the primaries and early in the general election. Staffers will be on guard for any potential crises from here on out, and the sailing will only grow smoother once Romney’s left the British Isles. President Obama can enjoy a few days’ amusement at his challenger’s expense, but the reprieve will be short. And when he hits back, Romney’s likely to strike hard.