Rival campaigns battle to define Romney’s three-country tour

GOP candidate’s trip to UK, Israel, Poland targets US president’s foreign policy ‘weakness’ and strained relations with the Jewish state; Obama campaign paints the trip a ‘distraction’

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, leaves his campaign bus and boards his campaign plane in January (photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, leaves his campaign bus and boards his campaign plane in January (photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak)

Barack Obama’s 2008 eight-country tour through Europe and the Middle East showcased the celebrity power of his candidacy. Greeted everywhere — including in Israel — with widespread adulation and favorable polls, the trip was meant to enhance the candidate’s brand and set him apart from his Republican rival.

Instead, it drew criticism as adulation abroad was quickly translated by the Republican opposition into a narrative of shallow celebrity and derisive comments in the conservative press about his appeal to foreigners.

There may be a lesson there for Republican candidate Mitt Romney, who embarked on his own mid-campaign overseas tour on Tuesday, though the Romney campaign says the purpose of his three-country tour of Britain, Israel and Poland is very different.

The trip will “demonstrate a clear and resolute stand with nations that share our values and possess the fortitude to defend those values in the name of a more peaceful world,” Romney campaign policy director Lanhee Chen told reporters earlier this week.

Campaign advisers have suggested it will be a trip demonstrating that a Romney presidency would focus on strengthening the American relationship with friends and allies, who they say feel abandoned by the Obama administration.

The Obama campaign has tried to downplay the significance of the tour, with campaign adviser Robert Gibbs calling it “one long photo-op and fundraising tour.”

“We did press conferences… in Jordan and France, did a press avail[ability] in Israel. We sat down with the three network news anchors for their broadcasts during parts of the trip, did segments on ‘Meet the Press’ and ‘Face the Nation’ as well as interviews with CNN and Fox,” Gibbs told reporters. “I think at the end of that trip the American people knew exactly where Barack Obama stood on all the major foreign policy issues of the day.”

While Romney is expected to give interviews to NBC, CNN and Fox News during the trip, campaign adviser Chen acknowledged that “we don’t anticipate that this is an opportunity for the governor to make any specific policy pronouncements. [Romney] is really abroad to learn and to listen. There will be other opportunities for the governor to articulate additional policy prescriptions and foreign policy.”

In an election expected to be too close to predict — Obama leads by just 1.3% in the latest RealClearPolitics poll of polls — the Romney campaign is seeking to use foreign policy as a bludgeon, railing against what it calls the president’s “weakness” and his alleged penchant for “apologizing” for America.

While campaign advisers have said Romney would not speak out against a sitting president’s foreign policy on foreign soil, Romney slammed Obama’s foreign policy — on American soil — in a speech Tuesday before the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Nevada, just hours before leaving for his overseas tour.

“If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on Earth, I am not your president. You have that president today,” Romney told the VFW convention.

“Have we gained greater confidence among our allies, and greater respect from our adversaries” after four years of the Obama presidency, he asked rhetorically. “Has the most severe security threat facing America and our friends, a nuclear-armed Iran, become more or less likely?”

Romney railed against what he called Obama’s fondness for “lecturing Israel’s leaders,” and said the administration had become a member of the “chorus of accusations, threats and insults [against Israel] at the United Nations.”

He vowed to use “every means necessary” to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. “There must be a full suspension of any enrichment, period. And at every turn, Iran must know that the United States and our allies stand as one in these critical objectives. Only in this way can we successfully counter the catastrophic threat that Iran presents.”

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