Foreign policy so far has not been a significant issue in the presidential campaign, but that might change now that Mitt Romney, to the delight of the White House, has shown that he is utterly unfit to represent the United States abroad or engage in diplomacy. His visit to Israel was as big a disaster as his visit to London where he was nicknamed Mitt the Twit. Haaretz described his speech with the headline “In Jerusalem speech, it was Romney’s voice but Netanyahu’s words.”
Romney’s staff picked the 150 guests carefully. Religious American immigrants dominated the crowd; secular Jews and native-born Israelis were few and far between. Those present included Jewish-American millionaires, settler leaders like the former chairman of the Yesha Council of settlements Israel Harel, and former Netanyahu aides such as Dore Gold, Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and Yoaz Hendel.
Romney read his speech from two teleprompters that were placed opposite the stage, but compared to Obama, Romney seemed gray and uncharismatic. Even from this hand-picked, extremely friendly audience, he wasn’t able to extract thunderous applause.
The speech itself sounded as if it could have been written by Netanyahu’s bureau. So it’s no surprise that when the two met later for dinner, Netanyahu thanked him for his “support for Israel and Jerusalem.”
Imagine the reaction from the right if a Democrat spoke of following the lead of another country on major foreign policy decisions the way Romney did in Israel. Romney is to Netanyahu what Tony Blair was to George Bush. Newsweek was right to call Romney a wimp on this week’s cover.
Even worse, Romney antagonized the Palestinians, which is hardly in our interest if we want the United States to continue to attempt to negotiate peace in the middle east.
Speaking to roughly four dozen donors at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, Mr. Romney suggested that cultural differences between the Israelis and the Palestinians were the reason the Israelis were so much more economically successful than the Palestinians, without mentioning the impact that deep trade restrictions imposed by the Israeli government have had on the Palestinian economy.
The Palestinian response:
In an interview with The Associated Press, Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, called Mr. Romney’s remarks “racist.”
“It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation,” Mr. Erekat said. “It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people.”
National Journal summed up Romney’s failures:
For any man who would be president there are unwritten rules of foreign diplomacy. Mitt Romney seems to have internalized some, while others apparently slipped out of the briefing book on his flight across the Atlantic to debut as a potential leader of the free world…
In Israel, Romney ignored the unwritten rule not to become overly embroiled in local controversies and disputes. He was on safe ground publicly recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself by denying Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons. However, in calling Jerusalem the capital of Israel and hinting that his administration would move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv (a move rejected by Republican and Democratic administrations going back decades), Romney signaled that under his leadership the United States would decisively take Israel’s side in its dispute with the Palestinians, and abandon its venerable role of mediator in the conflict. He then added insult to injury by suggesting that the Israeli economy had outpaced the economy of the Palestinian territories because of the power of Israel’s “culture” and the “hand of providence.” Interjecting God and cultural superiority into an ethnic-religious conflict is never a good idea. Doing so while ignoring the obvious fact that one economy in the equation is free, and the other is under military occupation, was baffling…
Romney’s close affinity for Israel’s right-of-center Likud Party, his tough line on Russia and Afghanistan, and his unwillingness to propose solutions to climate change all sound familiar to many Europeans. “Notwithstanding their widespread disappointment in President Obama, Europeans are nervous about Romney precisely because his positions remind them of George W. Bush,” said Simon Serfaty, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund.
It is not a good sign for Romney that he is being compared to both George Bush and Sarah Palin.