In several statements Romney made during his visit, he raised concerns over the state of American diplomacy under his potential presidency. Particularly at a time when many international situations remain fragile, Romney’s casual words have inflamed anger among a number of groups. The British and Palestinians were left asking who invited Romney in the first place, while his words have also brought criticism from China and Russia, among others.
So just how did Romney end up with such a headache after his trip? The visit began with what should have been an easy couple of days in London. Meeting with the prime minister and others, Romney was inevitably looking to cultivate a personal relationship with the leaders of America’s longtime ally. However, in what has become the “gaffe heard around the world,” Romney immediately did damage to these hopes by criticizing Britain’s preparation for the Olympics, drawing on his experience organizing the 2002 Winter Games in Utah.
It’s not that British people aren’t aware of the problems surrounding the event. Union strikes and security concerns would naturally be disconcerting. However, the people don’t want to hear this from a visiting American politician of whom they have never heard. Retorts from Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson roused British pride, as well as antipathy toward Romney, while the British papers labeled him “Mitt the Twit” and “Nowhere Man.”
Although undesirable, the repercussions of a bad visit to Britain are trivial. President or not, Romney’s words are unlikely to damage the strong relationship the U.S. has with its European counterpart. Of more gravity, however, would be to make such a move in a political hot spot such as the Middle East. Romney opened his visit to Israel by making a speech in which he acknowledged Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, something not officially recognized by the U.S. government as its ownership remains disputed by the Palestinians. He went on to suggest that Israel’s marked success when compared to Palestine is due to cultural superiority.
Many would be quick to point out to Romney that Palestinians earn on average 20 times less than Israelis due largely to the unfair treatment of the Palestinians by Israel in such things as land ownership, access to water and an overall inferior level of economic freedom. The Palestinians were understandably incensed by Romney’s words, and many now fear a further breakdown of relations in the region. As with his mistake in Britain, Romney is finding out from this experience that speaking with sensitivity, particularly concerning a dispute as volatile as the Israel-Palestine conflict, is a crucial trait if one plans to be the leader of the free world.
Should Romney win the presidency in November, the United States’ reputation abroad could suffer. The U.S. plays an integral role in peace talks between Israel and Palestine, and siding so clearly with Israel will inevitably put pay to any progress on that issue. Some have even gone so far as to suggest it could lead to further conflict between the two. Additionally, his suggestion that he would support a unilateral Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities implies an aggressive tendency that will not go down well internationally.
It would be naïve to suggest that our reputation with others is not important. Now more than ever, it is imperative that the U.S. foster a strong international reputation as it seeks to maintain its powerful role in the global order. Aggressive “Lone Ranger” countries will inevitably be sidelined in tomorrow’s world, regardless of the strength of its military. It is better that Romney learns this sooner rather than at a time when his actions have more weight.