Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Romney's 'apology for the apology' tour

Mitt Romney has arrived in London today, the first stop on a three-country tour meant to shore up his foreign policy credentials. His tour opened with a remarkably tone-deaf gaffe by a campaign staffer, who told British newspaper The Telegraph that Barack Obama cannot understand the common “Anglo-Saxon heritage” of the US and the UK.

The advisor was likely using the term in the continental European context, which refers to the free-market economic heritage of English-speaking countries. He was likely trying to make some 'Obama as Socialist' characterisation. But this definition is unknown in the English-speaking countries themselves, where the term is a seldom-used ethnic description of English descent (ie, from the Germanic tribes who settled in Southwest England). So it ended up just coming off as shockingly racist. Stephen Colbert hilariously summed up the bemused reaction of Americans to the comment.

It’s a bad start to what is a very important foreign tour for Romney. Over the next few days he will be meeting with virtually every high level politician in the UK. On Friday he will attend the Olympics opening ceremony, surely excited about the prospects for his horse-dancer in the dressage competition.

The Republican presidential candidate’s choice of three countries for this visit is highly significant. After his visit to the UK he will fly to Israel, where he will make a series of high-profile appearances. He will then finish his tour in Poland. All three are countries which the Romney campaign has accused the Obama administration of at best ignoring, and at worst insulting.

President Obama made a similar European tour four years ago during his campaign, and his choice of countries was no less symbolic. Obama visited Berlin, Paris and London. Those first two capitals had been shunned and alienated by George W. Bush, most significantly over the issue of the Iraq War. Famously dismissed by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as “Old Europe”, relations between the US and France and Germany were at an all-time low. But the unprecedented enthusiasm with which Obama was greeted in Berlin (a crowd estimated to be large than that which greeted JFK or Ronald Reagan) demonstrated just how hungry Europeans were for that relationship to be repaired.

Obama went a long way in extending the olive branch, admitting that the United States had “made mistakes” and “not always lived up to its ideals”. Mitt Romney later dubbed this European tour, along with a trip through the Middle East Obama made shortly after being elected, the president’s “apology tour”.

One could dub this week’s trip by Romney to be the “apology for the apology tour”. Members of Romney’s foreign policy team told The Telegraph that as president Romney would “reverse Mr Obama’s priority of repairing strained overseas relationships while not spending so much time maintaining traditional alliances such as Britain and Israel.”

“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',” one advisor told the paper.

Republican allies?

It isn’t fantasy for the Romney campaign to say that relations between the US and these three countries have changed under the Obama administration. Relations between the US and the UK would surely have suffered in the wake of the disastrous experience of the Iraq invasion no matter who was elected president in 2008. But the Obama administration has been particularly cool toward Britain in a way that John McCain would likely not have been. The term ‘special relatioship’, something British pundits fret over ad nauseum, is not a phrase used by this administration. The Obama administration has publicly vented its frustration with British prime minister David Cameron’s antagonism of Europe and the EU, urging them to strengthen European ties rather than chasing after an illusory trans-Atlantic partnership that is not well-suited to the 21st century.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates delivered a landmark NATO speech in 2011 not-too-subtly spelling out the end of American geopolitical interest in Europe, and by extension the end of any real or imagined “special relationship”.

Poland too has felt slighted by the Obama administration, particularly regarding promises it was made by the Bush Administration. Bush had been keen to set up an extensive American military presence in Poland and the Czech Republic, setting up a missile defense system that appeared to be aimed at Russia. Russia was none too pleased about this, so as part of efforts to “reset” relations with the Russian bear, the Obama administration dropped the plans for the expensive project.

Out of the three destinations Israel is the most hostile to Obama, in fact polls have shown that Israelis are the most hostile to Barack Obama of any country in the world. What has he done to earn this ire? He has displayed slightly less than fanatical support for Israel. The differences between Romney’s Israel policy and Obama’s isn’t enough to pass a needle through, but that difference is crucial to Israelis.

The Romney campaign’s message is clear: as president he would tell France and Germany to sod off, be more aggressive toward Russia and China, and work diligently to forge an unbreakable bond with the mighty American allies of Britain, Poland and Israel.

This ‘unconditional support’ will surely be welcomed in Israel. But in the UK, I would be surprised if the average Brit fees “shunned” by Obama. He remains very popular there, and the crowds that will turn out for Romney in London will surely pale in comparison to the crowds that welcomed Obama in 2008. And there are few in Britain who want to return to the days of the Bush-Blair “poodle alliance”.

Poland, too, is probably an overstep by Romney. As The Economist noted last week, the heady days of Polish Atlanticism are over. Idle promises made to Poland were broken long before Obama took office, and Poland has gotten little over the past 15 years of its close connection to the US. These days Poles are wary of continuing to hitch their star to the US, and this is not just because of Obama. There is no reason to assume that Poles are ‘natural Republicans’ or that Poles desire a Romney presidency.

Of course all of this will only be symbolic. The Romney campaign has been unable to offer any concrete policy change that would accompany this “significant foreign policy shift” he keeps talking about. Much of this seems to be centred around old battles fought during the George W. Bush years, or earlier in the Cold War. Romney and members of his team have continually referred to the Soviet Union as if it still exists.

In fact, Romney foreign excursion is noticably lacking in anything of modern relevence. The fact that Romney won't set foot inside the Eurozone during this trip, even though this is the real center of the action right now, indicates that he might not really be living in the here and now. Maybe at some point he'll demand that someone tear down a wall, just for nostalgia. But he certainly won't be saying that in Israel.

1 comment:

Captain Kid said...

What a great last paragraph. :D