THE BLOG

Thinking About Europe

Among the many important subjects you won't hear discussed in the U.S. Presidential campaign is Europe. One reason is that foreign policy rarely moves votes in our elections. Any talk about Europe in particular -- unless it directly involves high finance or war and peace -- risks inducing narcolepsy among voters.

Europeans are concerned about this, and such concern spurred one non-profit, a self-styled "do good" organization to sponsor a conference in Yalta that gave some attention to the question: "Whither the U.S. and Europe?" with thoughts of the presidential race front and center.

This is not the kind of conference you're likely to be reading about in your newspaper or hearing about on American radio and television. I tried to keep up with it a little. Some quotes from Newt Gingrich, talking about Mitt Romney -- if elected -- leading a "more militant" foreign policy caught my eye.

Not a lot has been heard from Gingrich since he flamed out running for president in the Republican primaries, but there he was in Eastern Europe telling leaders that it is not too late for Romney to have a "Reagan-size victory" in November and that if Romney wins there will be a far more aggressive, "militant" American policy toward Iran, Syria, Russia and, by inference, China.

Gingrich emphasized that he believes that because the economy remains the most important issue for Americans, President Obama remains vulnerable on Election Day.

"If the election were held today, I would suspect that Obama would win. Luckily for us on the Republican side, the election is not being held today," says Gingrich.

Gingrich believes that if Romney can make the case over the next 50 days that the choice is between "Obama stagnation" versus a "Romney recovery" then he says Romney can win the election.

Gingrich has long personal ties with Europe. In 1956, he moved with his family there, living in both France and Germany. In college, Gingrich studied history, and earned a Ph.D. in modern European history in 1971, before joining the history department at West Georgia College as an assistant professor.

Gingrich attended the Yalta European Strategy conference, hosted by Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk, along with former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and President Barack Obama's former White House Chief of Staff, William Daley.

On the grounds of the Livadia Palace, where Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin gathered in February of 1945 to discuss Europe's postwar reorganization, Gingrich and Daley held a lunch-time discussion on the 2012 Presidential Campaign where Gingrich took some blame for the Romney campaign being behind in the polls saying they were asking the wrong question going into the GOP convention.

"We were trapped in two past images... the 2004 campaign in which George W. Bush won re-election by defining John Kerry as unacceptable... and we were mesmerized by the 1980 Reagan-Carter campaign in which Reagan asked the question, 'Are you better off than you were four years ago?' It was the wrong question."

Gingrich says it was the wrong question because in 1980, people clearly understood that Carter was responsible for the state of the economy and "people clearly held him accountable and decided to fire him."

Gingrich says that people in the United States are divided in blaming President Obama or blaming former President George W. Bush for the state of the economy today.

"Technically they are not dramatically worse off than they were in January 2009 because things were falling apart in January 2009. So the president can in fact make a case that 'okay, it's not very good, it's the worst economy since the Great Depression, I've had 43 straight months with eight percent or more unemployment, and I mean well, but at least it is not collapsing.'"

"If (Romney) cannot convince people that he represents a better future, Obama may get re-elected by a narrow margin in which case I candidly think he will have an enormously hard time governing," says Gingrich. "And from a long-term institutional Republican standpoint, the election of 2014 after two more years of Obama could be catastrophic on a grand scale for Democrats."

Gingrich also took questions on a big topic of discussion for most eastern Europeans, that of relations with Russia. He made it clear that he thought, if elected, diplomatically Mitt Romney would approach Russia differently.

"I think Romney is more committed to an aggressively pro-freedom policy. Obama has tried to follow a policy of appeasing Putin, says Gingrich. For example, Gingrich says Romney would try to accelerate the development of natural gas in Ukraine in order to liberate them" from what he describes as a "very, very bad deal" with the Russians.

"There will be places where you will see a methodical more forward-looking and militant Romney administration."

But Gingrich acknowledged to the attendees that both candidates will be best served by focusing their attention on the number one domestic issue.

"I would never recommend that either candidate talk about Europe because the net effect of that on the average American voter is zero," says Gingrich. "The average American voter doesn't want to hear about Europe. They want to hear about America. What they want to know is, 'When am I going to get a job? Or when is my son going to move out? What can I do to get my son a job? Or how can I afford gasoline?'"

NOTE: For transparency and background: Some of the information and all of the quotes for this article were provided by an independent reporter whose air travel and accommodations in Yalta were covered by a non-profit organization -- Yalta European Strategy, which hosted the conference and reached out for media coverage to outlets in the U.S.

Dan Rather is anchor and managing editor of AXS TV's Dan Rather Reports (Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET on AXS TV). For more, visit Dan Rather's Official website, Dan Rather Reports on Facebook and Dan Rather Reports on Twitter.

Subscribe to the World Post email.