As incredible as it may seem, Mitt Romney, the man the Republican party has nominated to be president of the United States and a candidate who has vehemently attacked incumbent Barack Obama on foreign policy, cannot seem to stop offending foreign countries -- not only America's adversaries, but its allies, too.
One of this year's earliest demonstrations of Romney's foot-in-mouth tendency on the international stage was his use of language that had not been heard in 30 years or so, i.e., cold war type talk:
[Russia] is without question our number one geopolitical foe.
The Soviet Union's Russia's former President Dmitry Medvedev rather understandably described that comment as sounding like something from Hollywood rather than Washington, and sarcastically suggested the GOP candidate check his watch:
“It's 2012 now, not the mid-1970s."
A few months later, Romney managed to do the internationally incredible again, this time by insulting our number one ally, the United Kingdom, with condescending commentary about its preparations to host the 2012 Summer Olympics:
In a move that astonished Downing Street, hours before it laid on a special reception for Romney at No 10, he told NBC there were "disconcerting" signs about the preparations for the Games. One senior Whitehall source said: "What a total shocker. We are speechless."
David Cameron wasted no time in rebuking Romney hours after his remarks were broadcast. On a visit to the Olympic Park, the prime minister said: "We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities in the world. Of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere."
Cameron's remarks were intended to be a light-hearted jibe at Romney, who used his famous management skills honed at Bain Capital to rescue the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.
When asked about the preparations for the Olympics in an interview...with the NBC anchor Brian Williams, Romney said: "There are a few things that were disconcerting, the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging. Because there are three parts that makes Games successful.
"Number one, of course, are the athletes. That's what overwhelmingly the Games are about. Number two are the volunteers. And they'll have great volunteers here. But number three are the people of the country. Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment? And that's something which we only find out once the Games actually begin."
Next it was on to the Middle East for more global fumbles when Romney followed up on a lack of awareness of Israeli culture with what many people perceived as a racist jibe at Palestinians:
The Romney camp initially stirred up some controversy by scheduling a high-priced fundraiser ($25K – $50K per plate) on a day of fasting in Israel. Accused of being culturally insensitive...where the fundraiser really got inappropriate was when Romney started talking about his admiration for Israel:
"[A]s I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things. …As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality."
Rightly, Palestinians were offended by the comment. Tying Israel’s economic advantage to cultural superiority rather than acknowledging the geopolitical realities affecting the region is not only racist, it’s downright ignorant, they said. Saeb Erekat, top authority in the Palestinian Authority, said:
"It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation. It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people. He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority."
Romney's latest diplomatic gaffe was made in Colorado last Wednesday during the first presidential campaign debate -- a debate that was not even about foreign policy:
"Spain spends 42 percent of their total economy on government," Romney noted, veering away from the European cautionary tale he most often trots out on the campaign trail: Greece. "We're now spending 42 percent of our economy on government. I don't want to go down the path to Spain."
Like Romey's infamous 47% inaccuracy,, which insulted a large number of his fellow Americans, his 42% figure was just as misleading, because the only way a percentage this high could be calculated for Spain or the USA would be if in addition to national (federal) expenditures, regional (state) and local government spending were also included in the tabulations.
What are people in Spain making of Romney's remarks? ...El Mundo hosted a colorful live blog that included several opinions from its journalists (some of whom are reporting from the States). "Publicizing how well things are going for us," Felipe Sahagún observed drily. "If only for this, it would be better for us to stick with Obama. At least he doesn't stick his finger in our eye."
"Romney has a special obsession with Europe," Eduardo Suárez noted, adding that the GOP candidate has cited Spain before. "He often cites it as an example of everything the United States shouldn't be." Another reporter pointed to IMF statistics on U.S. and Spanish government spending under the heading, "electoral lies."
María Dolores de Cospedal, the secretary-general of the ruling [conservative] People's Party, told the radio service RNE that "Spain is not on fire through and through as some on the outside would have us believe," noting that Romney's remarks "upset me deeply" and that Spain "has also been a model for economic recovery." She conceded that "our image has been damaged and regaining confidence is very difficult" but added that Spain "is in the eye of the hurricane" for a reason -- "there are many people who have a lot of interest in the euro not being stable and there are some who believe that the easiest thing to do is to attack Spain."
Of course, this was only the latest, so who knows what jaw droppers he will come up with at the foreign policy focused debate with President Obama on October 16th. As America and much of the world watch Romney's performance on that occasion, I suppose some good advice for friends and foe alike would be, 'Fore!'
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