Media aside, Mitt Romney's trip abroad was a success

Posted: August 06, 2012

At the outset of his recent foreign trip, Mitt Romney committed a gaffe. In answer to a question about the Olympics, he expressed skepticism about London's preparations. The response confounded and agitated Romney supporters because it was such an unforced error. The question invited a simple paean to Olympic spirit and British grit, not the critical analysis of a former Olympic organizer.

Soon that initial stumble was transmuted into a metaphor for everything that followed. The mainstream media decided with near unanimity that the rest of the trip amounted to a disaster.

Really? The Warsaw leg was a triumph. Romney's speech warmly embraced Poland's postcommunist experiment as a stirring example of a nation committed to limited government at home and a close alliance with America abroad, even unto such godforsaken war zones as Afghanistan and Iraq, at great cost and with little thanks.

Especially little from the Obama administration, which unilaterally canceled a George W. Bush-era missile-defense agreement with Poland to appease Russia. Without any overt criticism of the current president, Romney set out a foreign policy of radically greater fidelity to American allies.

Yet all we hear about Warsaw is the "gaffe": two phrases uttered by an aide, both microscopically rude. At Poland's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a pack of reporters hurled questions of such journalistic sophistication as, "What about your gaffes?" To which Rick Gorka suggested they kiss his posterior, a charming invitation that would have made a superb photo op. The other offense against human decency was Gorka's directive to "shove it."

The horror! On the eve of the 2004 Democratic Convention, Teresa Heinz Kerry offered precisely that anatomically risky suggestion to an insistent Pittsburgh journalist. Hillary Clinton reacted with: "Good for you. You go, girl." Is what's good for the Heinz not good for the Gorka?

Culture wars

At his previous stop, in Jerusalem, Romney's speech was a masterpiece of nuance and restraint. Without directly criticizing Obama, he deftly drew pointed distinctions in the code words of Middle East diplomacy.

He declared flatly that Jerusalem is Israel's capital; the official Obama position is that Israel's capital is to be determined in negotiations. On Iran, Romney asserted that Israel has the right to defend itself. Obama says this as boilerplate; Romney made it clear that he means it.

What about the alleged gaffe that dominated reporting from Israel? Romney averred that Israeli and Palestinian economic development might be related to culture. A Palestinian Authority spokesman obligingly jumped forth to accuse him of racism.

The American media bought it, even though Romney was echoing the U.N. Arab Human Development Report, written by Arab intellectuals. It unambiguously asserted that "culture and values are the soul of development" and went on to report that existing cultural norms, "including traditional Arab culture and values," are among the major impediments to Arab economic progress. The report deplores rampant corruption, repressive governance, and a lack of women's (and human) rights in the Arab world.

(In the Palestinian case, it faults Israeli "occupation," but a U.N. document that doesn't blame Israel for every Palestinian sorrow has yet to be written. Moreover, that excuse doesn't work for today's occupation-free Gaza.)

Foreign fluency

Is there any question about Romney's assertion? PA corruption is legend. Palestinians are repelled by it. Why do you think the PA lost the 2006 election?

Romney's point was to highlight the improbable emergence of Israel from resourceless semidesert to First World "start-up nation," a tribute to its freedom and openness.

Look at how Romney was received. Israel's popular prime minister gave him a welcome so warm as to be a near-endorsement. In Poland, Romney received an actual endorsement from Lech Walesa, former dissident, former president, Cold War giant, Polish hero. Yet the headlines were "shove it" and "culture."

Scorecard? Romney's trip was a major substantive success: one gaffe (Britain), two triumphs (Israel and Poland), and a fine demonstration of foreign policy fluency and command — wrapped, however, in a media narrative of surpassing triviality.

Charles Krauthammer is a Washington Post columnist.


Chat live with Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele about their Sunday Currents column, on outsourcing, at 1 p.m. today at  www.philly.com.

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