The events of the past week have brought into sharp focus the differences between the two candidates for president and their ability to deal with world events and shape foreign policy. Due to the rapidly moving pace of the information age, it is easy to forget what happened not so long ago but we do so at our own risk. In less than two months, we will cast our votes for president, so we’d better know exactly who and what we are voting for. Recent reports have shown that world leaders, indeed, even ordinary people around the world, have confidence that President Obama has the intellect and the steady hand needed to navigate the dangerous seas that make up the world today. He has shown it over and over again. Can the same be said of Willard Mitt Romney?
Let’s take a look.
During a March 2012 interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN, Romney characterized Russia as “without question our number one geopolitical foe.”
He then clarified his statement: “The greatest threat the US faces is a nuclear Iran … [But] who is it who always stands up for the world’s worst actors? It’s always Russia, typically with China along side,” Romney said. “Russia is not a friendly character on the world stage.”
That might be true. But it’s also true, as this past week has illustrated, that our greatest foe isn’t Russia or China or Iran. It is religious extremists who are whipped into a frenzy over perceived insults to their religion and thus give cover for terrorists with an agenda.
Let’s not forget one of Mitt’s foreign policy advisors warned against policies that would aid “the Soviet Union” and that members of the Romney team, including Mitt himself, have referred to that country, which hasn’t existed since 1991.
The infamous overseas trip during the Olympics gave us a glimpse of Romney’s in-person handling of foreign relations. It was not pretty.
In a televised interview in London, Romney called the preparations made for the Olympics “disconcerting” and questioned the city’s readiness to host the event. Neglecting to bother to remember Labour Party Ed Miliband’s name, Romney addressed him as Mr. Leader. Perhaps Mr. Romney is oblivious to the very real possibility that Mr. Milband is considered by some as a contender to replace the prime minister. Then, in a gaff of gargantuan proportions, Romney disclosed his meeting with MI6, in spite of the agency being top-secret, not even officially acknowledged by the British government until 1994.
Then it was off to Israel and an opportunity to redeem himself on the world stage. It did not go precisely as planned. Romney’s statement that Israeli culture figured prominently in their success was viewed by Palestinians as a back-handed insult to their culture. It is no secret that Israeli-Palestinian relations have been an insurmountable problem for decades and for a man completely devoid of understanding that simple fact to also be one who would be president of the United States is a cause for concern.
Fortunately, Mitt did pretty well in Poland. The same can’t be said for his traveling press secretary Rick Gorka. During a visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, Gorka handled a barrage of reporter questions about the myriad of gaffes by Romney on his excellent overseas adventure thusly: “Kiss my ass. This is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect.” Mr. Gorka clearly didn’t recognize the irony of his statement.
Back home again and getting ready for the Republican National Convention, where Mitt Romney was going to show America that he is the man for the job. Yet, while we are still embroiled in an ever more dangerous conflict in Afghanistan, the candidate neglected to mention it or veterans even once. After saying that his intention was to talk about the things he thought were important, Romney tried to salvage himself by saying that he did mention the troops, except he referred to them as “our military.” There is a difference between talking about troops who are putting themselves in harm’s way every day and “preserving a strong military” but Mr. Romney doesn’t seem to understand the distinction.
This past week, Mr. Romney politicized the tragic events unfolding in the Middle East in yet another ham-handed attempt to look presidential. Before he even knew what was happening, while the events were still unfolding, Mr. Romany lambasted the Obama administration for sympathizing with the terrorists. Even when he found out that the embassy document he based his accusations on was issued six hours before the attack in an attempt to defuse tensions, Mr. Romney didn’t stop. He doubled down.
Taken separately, perhaps one could excuse the actions of a man who is a neophyte when it comes to foreign policy. But given that this man is seeking the highest office in the land, it isn’t unfair to expect that he would make an effort to educate himself on the issues, take a few lessons in diplomacy and wait until he had all the relevant facts at hand before making statements that will now live forever in the electronic age.
In a world as dangerous as the one we live in, we want a president who surrounds himself with people who know that the Soviet Union ceased to exist over two decades ago, who has the diplomatic savvy to engage and not enrage our allies and who knows that you don’t attack the President of the United States in the midst of an international crisis.