It would be funny if it weren't so dangerous. At a time of multiple geopolitical crises, with the Middle East a literal powder keg, we just had the presumptive presidential nominee of a major party making his international debut like the worst caricature of the ugly American.
Who knows how much it matters in our insular media and political culture? Which is wildly ironic at a time when events are more globally inter-connected than ever. But the sheer embarrassment factor of Mitt Romney's bumblefest through Britain, Israel, and Poland -- a much simpler tour than then Senator Barack Obama's flawless 2008 trek through Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, Israel, Britain, France, and Germany -- has to hurt him as a plausible president. I don't think most Americans want a relative rube representing them on the global stage.
In Poland, last stop on his un-magical mystery tour, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney simply ignored shouted questions from reporters. Asked why Romney had taken just three questions from American reporters during the entire week-long trip, traveling Romney press secretary Rick Gorka offered this bon mot: "Shove it."
The Oh My God comedy factor of Romney's multiple gaffes in London, the easiest of his three stops on his un-magical mystery tour is one thing (more about that later). The real damage to the US came in stop number two, Israel, where Romney insulted Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims, pouring gasoline on the fire surrounding American efforts to play some sort of brokering role in several burning crises.
By the time Romney got to Poland, where he gave his big speech to a small and tepid crowd of bureaucrats and academics in a library at Warsaw University -- no Berlin Victory Column throng of 200,000, as turned out to see Obama in 2008, for the former leveraged buyout artist -- it had all congealed into Romney dodging the American press and his press secretary cursing them for asking questions.
But why should there be any surprise about Romney's dreadful performance as a would-be president?
I watched almost every one of the Republican presidential debates. It was clear that Romney had only the slightest ability to discuss geopolitics beyond shallow bumper sticker stuff. Which is very weird, considering he's one of the richest people ever to run for president and hasn't held any office for years, giving him plenty of opportunity to learn something serious.
It's also no surprise to anyone who watched or read his supposed geopolitical "vision" speech last week in Reno, Nevada at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention. (A very ironic venue for Romney, who avoided the Vietnam War when he was of age -- and vociferously all for the war, in terms of talk -- skipping off to France as a Mormon missionary, a misbegotten mission to be sure. Four decades after the Romney mission, the Mormon presence in France is close to non-existent. But France is a cool place to hang out when there's a war on.)
Did Romney have anything of sophistication and significance to say about the bubbling, and potentially lethal, current crises in the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea? He had nothing to say on the latter, though he wants to "get tough" with China in general. On the former, he seems to want a war with Iran, which he claims is the greatest threat in the world.
How would Romney know? He was gung ho for the invasion of Iraq, one of the most boneheaded strategic moves in history, which removed the principal counter-weight to the ayatollahs that Romney now rails against. Romney's own professed policy created the threat that he says is the most important in the world, so his assessments can't be taken seriously.
This is just ridiculous. America's in the early phase of a big geopolitical pivot from over-engagement with the Islamic world of the Middle East and Central Asia to increased engagement with the rising Asia Pacific region. This is a time requiring serious people and serious thinking. You can see my archive of articles on the pivot here.
Instead of putting up a serious thinker, the Republicans have Mitt Romney.
He never recovered from his gaffes in criticizing British Olympic preparations as he was about to meet with Britain's leaders, from forgetting the name of the Labour Party leader with whom he had just met, nor from violating long established protocol by disclosing his confidential courtesy meeting with the head of MI6, Britain's Special Intelligence Service.
"Mitt the Twit" was one of the kinder headlines about Romney's gaffe-filled debut on the international stage, and that was in the conservative Sun tabloid owned (still) by Rupert Murdoch.
The obvious move to recover was to distract, and Romney certainly distracted on Sunday, breathtakingly declaring that America's top national security priority must be that of Israel and its current government, the most conservative in the nation's history.
Romney on Sunday said that America's top priority in national security is that of the current Israeli government, headed by his old friend and business colleague, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyah. He said that preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon "must be our highest national security priority."
Romney's very old friend, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, worked with the financier/politician learning the managing consulting and finance businesses at Boston Consulting Group in the '70s. And everything Romney says is geared to go along with the priorities of Netanyahu's Israeli government, the most conservative in the history of the Jewish state.
Romney said that preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon "must be our highest national security priority."
This makes an already very complex and very tense Gulf crisis all the more so.
Romney is trying to rally a hawkish conservative Republican base vote, much of it fundamentalist Christian, with his backing of military strikes against the Iranian nuclear program and to peel just enough Jewish votes away from Obama to narrowly swing one or two swing states.
By saying that America's top defense priority is actually that of Israel, Romney seeks to give Obama less room to maneuver in an already very tight corner, made all the tighter by Iran's intransigence refusing to cooperate with the UN nuclear watchdog agency.
But is preventing an Iranian nuke really the most important thing in the world for the US?
Are there ways to further contain Iran?
And when, if ever, will Romney ever address the obvious questions of what would happen if strikes against Iran took place?
Fresh from this incitement, Romney went on to claim that the massive Israeli economic edge over Palestinians is due to a superior culture, "neglecting" to mention the massive restrictions on trade exercised over the Palestinian Authority by Israel as part of its occupation and insulting Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims in the process.
Romney also got his specific facts wrong as well, no surprise, saying that per capita GDP for Israelis is only twice that of Palestinians, when it is actually 20 times as great.
By the time he got to Poland, Romney was simply ignoring shouted questions from reporters. Asked why Romney had taken just three questions from American reporters during the entire week-long trip, traveling Romney press secretary Rick Gorka had this clever reply: "Shove it."
Meanwhile, with the Mitt Romney Festival of Gaffedom having moved on, Ann Romney stayed on in London. She has a role at these Games, too, though it's not an especially athletic one.
Ann Romney is part-owner with two other rich women of a horse entered in the dressage portion of the equestrian competition. The horse's rider, a German emigre, is her personal riding tutor.
She hopes for a gold medal, though, if her part-owned horse wins, because the owners get the awards even though they do not actually compete.
I think she is much better off if she does not get an Olympic medal in this way, don't you?
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