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Mitt and Ann Romney (Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters/Landov)

Trip to remember

Campaign 2012 | Foreign trip sends signal that Romney wants a renewed commitment to three traditional allies that are on the outs with Obama

Issue: "School choice," Aug. 25, 2012

If you caught media coverage of Mitt Romney's late July seven-day foreign trip through three countries, then you probably read a narrative that proclaimed the tour a failure. According to the Media Research Center, 86 percent of the trip's coverage by the major television networks emphasized the perceived gaffes Romney committed while touring Great Britain, Israel and Poland.

Romney's U.S. media escort obsessed over largely trivial matters such as Romney questioning London's readiness for the Olympic games and the rebuke one of Romney's aides hurled at journalists for shouting questions at Romney while he visited Poland's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

But what the press largely overlooked are the hints the GOP candidate offered concerning the foreign policy posture he would take as president. While President Obama has created rifts by downplaying some long-standing allies of the United States, Romney's visit to three of America's most dependable partners signaled that he would reemphasize their importance in his foreign policy.

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During his stop in Israel, Romney promised a harder stance against Iran's efforts to secure nuclear capabilities. "We must not delude ourselves into thinking that containment is an option," Romney said. He recognized "Israel's right to defend itself" and argued "no option should be excluded."

The comments offered reassurance to many Israelis who believe President Obama has been cool and distant towards Israel. Not only do many Israelis believe Obama has not done enough to curtail Iran's nuclear ambitions, they also remain upset at Obama's call last year that Israel should return to its 1967 borders.

But most of the U.S. media spent their Israel coverage questioning Romney's comments about the strength of Israel's economy versus the lackluster Palestinian economy. Romney argued that cultural differences might play a part in Israel's economic success. "I am overwhelmingly impressed with the hand of providence, whenever it chooses to apply itself, and also the greatness of the human spirit, and how individuals who reach for greatness and have purpose above themselves are able to build and accomplish things that could only be done by a species created in the image of God," Romney said.

In Europe, Romney stopped at another country enduring strained relations with Obama. Polish leaders remain irate at the Obama administration's decision to cancel a planned Poland-based missile defense system.

Romney, who received a warm welcome from the Poles, revealed that he will be more willing to criticize Russia as he tries to strengthen ties with Central and Eastern European allies. Romney promised to review U.S. involvement in the START nuclear arms treaty and to challenge the Russian government over its authoritarian practices. "I can only guess what Vladimir Putin makes of the Obama administration," Romney said at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Nev., the day before he left on his overseas trip. "He regained the Russian presidency in a corrupt election, and for that, he got a congratulatory call from the Oval Office."

The trip contained few policy specifics. But James Carafano, a foreign policy expert with the Heritage Foundation, said candidates should be reluctant to lock themselves into promises in a constantly shifting world. He said the biggest takeaway from the trip is Romney's message to the nation's allies that they would not be nudged aside in a Romney administration, as well as Romney's warning to the nearest threats of those allies.

"Romney's approach," Carafano said, "will be to state America's clear interests and then say, 'When you respect those interests then we will talk.'"

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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