Washington Watch: Is Romney ready for prime time?

If Romney becomes president and decides to pursue Israeli-Palestinian negotiations he will start with a great disadvantage.

Mitt Romney gives foreign policy speech in Jerusalem 370 (photo credit: Screenshot)
Mitt Romney gives foreign policy speech in Jerusalem 370
(photo credit: Screenshot)
Mitt Romney’s overseas tour got off to a poor start in London, where he succeeded in insulting nearly the entire country, but did little harm beyond getting a headline in the country’s largest newspaper calling him “Mitt the twit,” and sullying his reputation as not being ready for prime time.
But his rhetoric took a dangerous turn in Israel, where he gave his friend Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu a virtual green light to attack Iran. That may have delighted his host and both men’s hawkish supporters, but it has most Israelis – starting with the defense and intelligence establishment – and many friends of the Jewish state in this country, worried.
Romney also managed to insult the Palestinians on several counts, which also may play well with the hardline political base here and delight his billionaire backer Sheldon Adelson, but could prove disastrous should he become president.
Adelson, however, could not have been happy about his boy’s endorsement of the two-state approach to Middle East peace, which the casino mogul stridently opposes as a threat to Israel’s very survival.
Romney’s Jerusalem speech was short on substance. In general, its broad themes attacked the Obama administration’s policies but were delivered with a measure of emotion largely missing when the president speaks of Israel.
Both are committed to making sure Iran does not get a nuclear weapon, using military force if necessary, but Obama has said he would act to prevent Iran from producing nukes while Romney adopts Netanyahu’s insistence that the world must prevent Iran from even getting the capability to build the bomb.
Dan Senor, a Romney senior foreign policy adviser, told reporters, “If Israel has to take action on its own in order to stop Iran from developing the capability, the governor would respect that decision.”
Senor tried to back off a bit later by saying Romney “believes we should employ any and all measures” to discourage Iran but ultimately “no option should be excluded.” Still, that didn’t turn off the green light.
Romney embraced Obama’s basic policies: Israel’s security is in America’s vital national security interest, the military option with Iran is on the table and containment is not an option.
The presumptive GOP presidential nominee took a verbal poke at Obama, who earlier this year had warned against “loose talk of war” and that “now is not the time to bluster.” Romney apparently took that personally and protested he is not being “reckless and provocative and inviting war” but being one of “the true peacemakers.”
SPEAKING OF peace, if Romney becomes president and decides to pursue Israeli- Palestinian negotiations he will start with a great disadvantage and that won’t be good for the United States or Israel.
He managed to insult the Palestinians by refusing to see their president, Mahmoud Abbas, and summoning Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to a brief meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem instead of going to Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government.
He pleased Israelis by declaring Jerusalem the capital of the Jewish state – but Palestinians, who want the city’s eastern section for their capital, called Romney’s statement “unacceptable” and “harmful.”
But the gaffe-prone former Massachusetts governor didn’t stop there. He told a group of wealthy donors at a $50,000-ahead Jerusalem fundraiser that Israel is more economically successful than the Palestinians territories because “culture makes all the difference” Saeb Erekat, the chief PA negotiator, called Romney’s remarks “racist,” adding, “It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people.”
Questions are being raised about whether Romney’s dismissing the Palestinians was deliberate to pander to his target audiences back home or just a matter of ignorance, ineptitude and bad staffing.
Time magazine’s Fareed Zakaria said Romney’s blunders are a sign of poor staff work and the need to enlist some “heavyweight” foreign-policy advisers.
“[Romney] has been strangely amateurish on foreign policy,” Zakaria wrote.
“[He] has tried to dredge up the standard issue Cold War Republican attack on Democrats: the world is dangerous, our enemies are growing strong and Obama is weak. The problem is, most Americans recognize that none of this is true.”
“President Obama is the first Democrat in nearly 50 years to enter an election with a dramatic advantage in foreign policy,” he added.
ALSO IMPRESSED with Obama’s performance are Israeli President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, both former prime ministers.
Peres told Romney that Obama’s Iran policies are the right ones.
Barak, who has been more closely coordinating Iran policy with more American officials than any other Israeli, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer this White House is doing “more than anything I can remember in the past.” Relations between the two countries, he said, “are extremely good, extremely deep and profound.”
From Israel, Romney’s grand gaffe gallivant went to Poland, where he quickly got the endorsement of former president and Obama critic Lech Walesa, who led the Solidarity Union movement that overthrew Communist rule. Solidarity immediately distanced itself from its former leader, saying it was distressed by “Mitt Romney’s support for the attacks against trade unions and labor rights” and wanted it known “we did not invite him to visit Poland.”
Romney’s initial foreign trip as the presumptive Republican nominee was intended to create the impression of foreign policy expertise, despite his lack of any relevant experience. Instead, a succession of mistakes only reinforced the impression that, at least in the foreign policy realm, this candidate is not ready for prime time.