Posted July 31, 2012 by Andrew Haggard in North America

Mitt Romney: The Foreign Policy Speech that Wasn’t

In an attempt to show off his foreign policy credentials, Mitt Romney visited the United Kingdom, Israel, and Poland this week. Romney’s trip was marred by controversy after he made comments in both the United Kingdom and Israel. In London, Romney called the shortfalls in security guards that were supposed to be provided by a private security contractor at the Olympics as well as a planned strike by customs and immigration officials coinciding with the 2012 Olympics in London as “disconcerting,” which drew a retort from British Prime Minister David Cameron that “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course, it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.” In Israel, Romney suggested the cultural differences between Palestinians and Israelis is the reason for the a strong Israeli economy while the Palestinian economy is a non-starter. His comments were quickly criticized by Palestinians, who were quick to point out that the Palestinian territories faced the challenge of an Israeli blockade. Romney’s campaign responded to the criticism by saying that the candidate did not intend to slight the Palestinians and that his words were misinterpreted.

Mitt Romney gives a speech at the University of Warsaw’s Library on July 31st, 2012.

Mitt Romney gives a speech at the University of Warsaw’s Library on July 31st, 2012.

Romney’s opportunity for redemption was in Poland, a country that is staunchly pro-American.

Romney spent Monday in Gdansk, a city on the Baltic Sea. There, he met with former President Lech Walesa and current Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who is from nearby Sopot. According to Piotr Gulczynski, the Director of the Lech Walesa Institute, “there is a really good understanding” between Romney and Walesa.

On Tuesday, July 31st, Romney traveled with his wife to Warsaw, where he met with President Bronislaw Komorowski and Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, both of whom, along with Tusk, are politicians from the ruling political party is Platforma Obywatelska (PO), which translates as Civic Platform, a center-right party. Romney stayed away from the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party, which is deeply skeptical of Russia. It was in 2010 that the Polish President Lech Kaczynski and a presidential entourage consisting of Poland’s political elite and some of the most prominent members of the Polish intelligentsia died in a plane crash near Smolensk, Russia on a visit to commemorate the massacre of Polish soldiers by the Soviets during the Second World War. PiS and its supporters allege that Russia purposely killed Lech Kaczynski and the other 95 persons on board the plane and that PO is complicit in a cover up. Not meeting with the opposition’s leaders was a smart call on the part of the Romney campaign, who would very likely have to face questions about how a Romney administration could help uncover the alleged “truth” behind the plane crash.

Romney also visited Poland’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Piłsudski Square. After paying his respects to Poland’s fallen troops, Romney was hounded by the American press corp for his thoughts on missteps that had plagued the candidate’s foreign trip, which prompted Rick Gorka, Romney’s traveling press secretary, to tell reporters, “Kiss my ass; This is a holy site for the Polish people.” Gorka went on to tell reporters “shove it.” Later, Gorka apologized.

Governor Romney also spoke to a crowded hall at the University of Warsaw’s Library on Tuesday. The speech entitled “Freedom and Friendship” had been billed as a policy speech.

There’s little clarity to Romney’s foreign policy views outside of Romney’s approach to China and Russia, which Romney has labeled as America’s “number one geopolitical foe,” and the speech as well as his trip abroad was an opportunity to help clarify his positions or the peculiarities of the Romney campaign’s foreign policy white paper. In the white paper, entitled An American Century—A Strategy To Secure America’s Enduring Interests And Ideals, the Romney campaign criticizes President Obama for not doing enough to promote democracy, a topic on which Romney cited Poland as a successful example. Here’s one criticism from the Romney campaign:

[Obama] has allowed the march of authoritarianism to go unchecked. In some cases, he has actually encouraged it, as when he publicly backed former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya — a Hugo Chavez ally — despite Zelaya’s unconstitutional attempt to extend his term as president in defiance of the Honduran supreme court and legislature.

The problem with this is that President Manuel Zelaya was removed from office in a non-democratic coup d’etat by the Honduran military. Obama’s support for Zelaya was natural response; otherwise, the United States would be supporting an non-democratic military coup. It’s not clear how Romney would have responded.

Those present at Romney’s speech today must have been sorely disappointed if they were hoping to learn how a Romney administration would approach the bilateral relationship or any other foreign policy issue. The speech was little more than pandering to the Polish audience. Romney touched upon all the mandatory talking points while any politician visits Poland, i.e. the role of Poles in the American Revolution, Pope John Paul II, Poland’s contribution to the Afghan and Iraq wars, Lech Walesa and Solidarity, as well as the Warsaw Uprising. The speech fell on the eve of the 68th anniversary of the failed, but valiant Warsaw Uprising by the Polish Home Army to retake Warsaw from the German army.

Romney’s remarks in Warsaw were of little substance and failed to capitalize on Poland’s stalwart pro-American attitude to redeem his foreign trip. Romney’s trip abroad is unlikely to impress voters at home given the Romney campaign’s missteps. It’s worth noting that many of Romney’s foreign policy advisors are experienced, having served in senior-level positions in the U.S. Government; they just need to formulate the candidate’s positions more clearly. Then again, the economy will probably be the issue to win the election.Ron Paul Supporters Outside of Mitt Romney's Speech in Warsaw

The most curious aspect of Romney’s visit to Warsaw is the crowd of Ron Paul supporters that gathered outside of this speech today.

Ron Paul Supporters Outside of Mitt Romney's Speech in Warsaw

Ron Paul Supporters Outside of Mitt Romney’s Speech in Warsaw.

Andrew Haggard