Depending on one's source of what passes for news, Mitt Romney's recent trip to England, Israel and Poland was either a gaffe-filled disaster or the second coming of Woodrow Wilson.
Upon arriving in London, he quickly managed to offend everyone from Hillingdon to Havering by characterizing the city's security arrangements for the summer Olympic games as "disconcerting." For that gaffe, the Sun labeled him "Mitt the Twit."
P.M. David Cameron, as diplomatic a gent as ever graduated Eton sniffed "We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities in the world. Of course, it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere." As such, the Times of London referred to Romney as "Nowhere Man."
Despite spending his first full day in London trying to dial back his dig, he ended up raising more eyebrows when he referred to looking out of the "back side" of 10 Downing Street to see the beach volleyball stadium. (For most Brits "back side" means one's arse . . . oops!)
Then, to top off his brief sojourn in Dickens' "hand-made city," he let slip that he had met with the head of MI6, Britain's overseas intelligence agency. (Sorry Mitt, but briefings with British spy chiefs are traditionally hush-hush affairs; guess you aren't a James Bond aficionado.)
From London, Romney traveled on to Israel, where he was joined by some of his wealthiest American Jewish backers, including gaming magnate Sheldon Adelson. (It should be noted that Adelson occasionally appends the Roman numeral "III" to his name, signifying that he is the third wealthiest person on the planet). Arriving on Tish B'av, the fast day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples, Romney visited with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres, made the mandatory stop at the Western Wall, and held a fund-raising dinner at the ultra-posh King David Hotel. While in Israel, Romney accomplished the previously unthinkable: getting a Palestinian spokesman to say something positive about the Israelis. This unlikely scenario occurred after Romney ham-handedly suggested that the reason why Israel's per capita GDP is so much higher than that of the Palestinians is due largely to cultural differences -- thus suggesting that Palestinians are backwards and Jews have a knack for making money. (Not once did Romney acknowledge that perhaps -- just perhaps -- it had something to do with the difficulty of maintaining a fluid economy under terms of occupation/administration.)
Despite the inevitable backtrack ("That's not what I said"), Romney drew the ire of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who, through senior economic aid Saeb Erekat said, "It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people." Erekat concluded his angry riposte with, "He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority.” In other words, say what you will, at least the Israelis respect and understand the culture of the Palestinians . . . even if Mitt Romney does not.
President Obama sought to upstage Romney -- and garner crucial votes in places like Florida -- by signing a defense security measure granting Israel an added $70 million for Iron Dome. Flanked by U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative Howard Berman, and several prominent Jewish leaders, including Lee Rosenberg, chairman of AIPAC, the leading pro-Israel lobby, and Richard Stone, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the president reaffirmed "my unshakable commitment" to Israel's security. Coming as it did just hours before Romney's arrival in Jerusalem, Obama was attacked for baldly seeking political advantage. Despite proffering the inevitable denial, it was obvious to all that this was preciously what the White House was doing -- what any White House would be doing under the circumstances. Hey, this is a bare-knuckled presidential election, not a game of Whist.
But what's good for the goose is good for the gander . . .
Prior to their man's arrival in Israel, William Krystol's Emergency Committee for Israel released a thirty-second ad -- which has already run a couple of hundred times here in South Florida -- with the slogan "Next year ... President Mitt Romney in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel." The ad's implication is clear: as President, Mitt Romney, unlike Barack Obama, will move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Mitt Romney -- unlike Barack Obama -- is a true friend of the Jewish State.
The Israeli's have a word for this: שטויות (pronounced shtu-yōt) which, depending on one's intonation, can mean "nonsense," "rubbish," "crappola," or "utter b.s." Under the circumstances, I go with the latter. There is absolutely nothing new about proclaiming that if elected, one will move the American Embassy to Jerusalem. Everyone from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama has spoken the words. Yet no one -- from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama has kept the promise . . . and for good reason. To do so would make it virtually impossible for America to act as an "honest broker" in any future negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Any politician with an ounce of sense or experience (which may or may not include Mitt Romney) knows this to be true. And yet, everyone makes the promise because, well, a Jewish vote is a Jewish vote. In this particular case however, it may be that much of Romney's "I'm-a-much-better-friend-of-Israel-than-you-know-who" posture may be aimed more at Evangelical Christian Zionist voters than at the Jews. Despite what pundits, pollsters and chatterboxes would have us believe, there won't be a tectonic shift in the percentage of Jews moving from "D" to "R" in 2012. Sure, there may likely be fewer Jewish voters casting ballots for Barack Obama this go-round than in 2008, but not enough to change the course of history . . . or move the American Embassy to Jerusalem.
Ever since the days of Richard Nixon, the Tel Aviv/Jerusalem debate has managed to squirrel its way into presidential campaigns. Moreover, moving the embassy to Jerusalem has been an actual plank in the Republican Party platform in the past 5 presidential elections:
- “A Republican administration will ensure that the U.S. Embassy is moved to Jerusalem by May 1999.” (1996)
- “Immediately upon taking office, the next Republican president will begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel's capital, Jerusalem.” (2000)
- “Republicans continue to support moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel's capital, Jerusalem.” (2004)
- “We support Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to that undivided capital of Israel.” (2008)
- “My understanding is the policy of our nation has been a desire to move our embassy ultimately to the capital. That is something which I would agree with. But I would only want to do so and to select the timing in accordance with the government of Israel.” (Mitt Romney, interview with CNN, July 29, 2012)
For those wishing a comment on two on the Polish leg of Romney's diplomatic debacle, please know that he did come out in favor of freedom and democracy, and did not crack a single ethnic joke. Perhaps the single-most important thing to come out of the entire journey was a comment made by campaign flak Rick Gorka who, exasperated at reporters throwing out questions about his boss's taxes, blurted out what may well turn out to be the slogan that embodies the Romney world-view:
"Kiss my A**!"
©2012 Kurt F. Stone