While so much of the world is bemused by Mitt Romney’s gaffe-filled foreign adventure, it seems almost cruel to add one more voice to the Republican candidate’s ill-fated attempt to reveal to the world his skill as a diplomat.
But Romney is running for president of the free world. And there is no degree of scrutiny or examination of a presidential candidate that is too excessive. He is, after all, a man who is competing to be the spokesman for the interests of the United States and the leading voice of diplomacy around the world.
His first major foray into international diplomacy was less than glowing, with sophomoric embarrassments.
Romney had been in London no more than two days before earning the criticism and barbs of the country’s media and British leaders, including a tongue-lashing from London’s mayor and a snide comment by British Prime Minister David Cameron.
His insults to the British about their lack of preparedness for hosting the Olympics was but the tip of the iceberg. It was an impolite thing to utter in the very country that hosted him–a bit like being invited to someone’s home for dinner and telling the host that their kitchen seems old and deficient and incapable of producing decent food.
But his London blunder paled in comparison to Romney’s pronouncements in Israel. A short time after arriving in Jerusalem, the Republican candidate offered remarks that offended Palestinians, and their leadership wasted no time in announcing their displeasure.
Romney stated that the difference between the economic wealth of the Israeli population and the lower incomes of Palestinians could be explained by their cultural differences. Essentially, he was suggesting that Palestinians were economically hampered because of their inferior culture.
That produced one of the most stinging critiques of Romney of the entire campaign season. “It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people,” said Sa’eb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator and a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization. ”He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority.”
It was a devastating review. Romney’s visits to three foreign countries–he also went to Poland–were designed to show that the Republican candidate possessed acumen and skill as a master diplomat on a world stage. Instead, he showcased an inept, clumsy lack of proficiency.
The truth of the matter was that Romney’s comments were aimed primarily at a segment of the Israeli leadership without taking into account the highly nuanced landscape, not only within Israeli politics but throughout the entire Middle East. It is a region with complex, historic relationships and deep divisions. It is not wise or prudent to pander to one side and alienate another in a political and diplomatic interplay that will need the cooperation of all parties.
The contrast between Romney and President Barack Obama, who has shown understanding and a deep respect for the complicated Middle East scenario, couldn’t be more dramatic. Romney has demonstrated with stark clarity that he is as unprepared to lead internationally as he is to be a leader within the United States.