Thursday, August 2, 2012

Romney's Tour of Europe a Success

Mitt Romney has returned from his tour of Europe, and is shrugging off the US press dogging him for what it characterizes as a series of gaffes.  The accusations were repeated almost daily in headlines and editorials in the MSM, and recently by reporters screaming at him in Pilsudski Square in Warsaw during his visit to the Polish Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  I confess to being somewhat perplexed at the steady kettle drumbeat (‘confined to a few points, and repeated over and over’) about what serious mistakes that Romney supposedly made.  What are these? 

United Kingdom 

The first instance was during Romney’s interview with NBC’s Brian Williams in London, after Williams asked him about the chance of success of the London Olympics.  Romney, having run his own Olympics in 2004, was uniquely qualified to comment and he candidly replied that it was “hard to tell” (he is like other sane people in that he doesn’t claim omniscience), that there is “disconcerting” news about the failure of the British Olympic private security firm and threats of a strike by immigration and customs officials, but there are “great volunteers” and the answer about the Games will come from the British people.  The British press, which is oddly so opposite of the stereotypical stoic British attitude, lambasted him, gleefully reproduced by the American press.  But Romney said nothing that wasn’t already widely proclaimed – almost word for word – by the British press themselves, and expressed the likelihood (somewhat ambiguously if one only relies on a printed transcript) that the British people would come through.  What did he say that was so wrong?  Some would want him to be more diplomatic, but his candor is rather refreshing in comparison to the claim of transparency by the Obama White House. 

Not so widely reported was the exchange when Williams droningly asked Romney about whether he was looking to choose an “incredibly boring white guy” for his vice presidential running mate.  Romney smilingly shot back to Williams, “You told me you weren’t available.”  What partly makes this so funny is that it’s true.  As far as I’m concerned, Brian Williams henceforth will always be the incredibly boring white guy. 

Romney also later stated that he had spoken with the director of the UK’s MI6, the equivalent to the CIA.  Faithful readers will know that security is an important consideration to me, so that could be placed into the category of an unforced foul, but it was already widely reported the year before that Romney had spoken with MI6 and MI5 (akin to the FBI) and Olympic officials to discuss security matters about their upcoming Olympics.  Would this be news – briefing an American presidential candidate?  Not likely, but best left unsaid.

Romney and Prime Minister David Cameron

Remember also that the news about Romney in Britain was loudly proclaimed against the background of the White House denying that the bust of Sir Winston Churchill, on loan to the White House since 9/11 to symbolize our special relationship, particularly during wartime, was returned by Obama, despite the British offer that he could continue to display it in the Oval Office.  The administration spokesman said that the story was a false and malicious political jab, that the bust was still in the residence portion of the White House.  The White House had previously ignored the story of the returned bust (with the help of the press) to the point that the press considered it a non-story, but now (talk about an unforced foul) they themselves opened up the story and were embarrassed to find that there were two busts (the one in the residence being a much earlier gift) and that the bust in question – as reported by the British Embassy – had indeed been returned.  (During the administration’s high dudgeon, it strongly criticized Dr Charles Krauthammer for bringing it up again.  When they were found to be demonstrably in error, a spokesman apologized.  Krauthammer responded graciously, but quipped that he was “the only entity on earth, other than rouge states, that has received an apology from this White House.”) 


The media’s gaffe meme followed Romney to his next stop in Israel, where he enjoyed a pleasant time with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as the two have been friends since they worked together in New York in 1976.  But here the press jumped on Romney’s remarks that Israel has seen such enormous success because of its culture.  The Palestinians immediately accused Romney of racism for pointing this out, and the New York Times claimed that the Palestinian economy was oppressed by the Israelis.  But Romney did not address the Palestinian side of the cultural question, although, as Charles Krauthammer very effectively points out, no less than the United Nations has.  Marc Thiessen, writing a column in the Washington Post, provides ample sources to back up Romney’s conclusions on the part of Israel, and the failures of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in Gaza.

Romney and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israel has suffered from the abandonment by Obama in order to curry favor with the Palestinians.  His remarks about returning to the pre-1967 borders, only hours before the visit of Netanyahu to Washington last year, were breathtaking in their contemptuous audacity, and Netanyahu’s  reaction to Obama in the Oval Office was practically palpable in its sense of restrained anger. 


Romney’s stop in Poland was probably his most successful, receiving an endorsement from the famous Lech Walesa, one of the major players in winning the Cold War and freeing Poland from the Soviets through the Solidarity movement that he led.  (One doesn't typically receive endorsements from foreign leaders.  Obama will have to be content in the meantime with an endorsement from Hugo Chavez.)  But first, some background: Poland enjoyed a very close and mutually beneficial relationship with the United States during the terms of George W Bush, knowing that America ‘had its back’ in any showdown with the Russians, enthusiastically joining NATO in deliberately stark contrast to their enforced and subservient membership in the Soviet Warsaw Pact, and providing support and excellent troops to the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But in the minds of many Poles, that relationship was shattered almost from the beginning of the Obama administration, when plans for a promised anti-missile radar station (to counter the threat of a potential Iranian missile) were abandoned (along with one in the Czech Republic) in order to placate the Russians, a concession to them for what amounted to nothing more than a photo op for the Obama ‘reset’ policy.  The Poles had expended an enormous amount of political capital to stand with the US government (under Bush) on this point against the reviled Russians, only to have the rug pulled out from under them.  Sending Joe Biden to placate them afterwards just added insult to injury.

Romney and wife Ann with former President Lech Walesa

Walesa is by now a former President of Poland (1990-1995) and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 (back when it still meant something).  But Walesa was treated shabbily by some government figures after he left office – the next government, pledged like Walesa to move Poland to a more capitalist economy, was nevertheless composed principally of ex-Communists, like President Kwasniewski, and the relationship with the larger-than-life and contentious Walesa became strained – politics being the national sport of Poland.  (Solidarity, or Solidarność as it is known in Poland, while conservative, is nevertheless a labor union and was told by the AFL-CIO to reject the Romney visit.  No, seriously, that's exactly what they said.)  Walesa is nevertheless important to many within Poland and is a historical figure world-wide for his role in the demise of the Soviet empire.  (I was privileged to have met Walesa in 1998 when he received an honorary degree from Sam Houston State University.  He is far and away one of the most charismatic people I have ever met.) 

With that in mind, consider that when Obama swept through Poland on his European tour last year, he declined a visit to Walesa in his hometown of Gdansk, which was customary for visiting dignitaries.  Instead, Obama wanted Walesa to join with a group of other Polish figures and come to Warsaw for a meeting that would be more convenient to the American political rock star.  Imagine if a foreign leader came to America, say Putin for example, and he expected Bill Clinton to join in with a congressional delegation to visit him in Chicago.  Or do you think that Obama, were he to visit South Africa, would pass up an opportunity to pay his respects to Nelson Mandela in Qunu, requiring instead that Mandela join a delegation of the ANC and come to Pretoria?  That shows a blithering ignorance of protocol, not to mention an inflated sense of his ego.  Walesa, rightfully, rejected the invitation in a way that only barely concealed his disgust. 

Within a few months, the Polish government wanted to send Walesa to Washington to receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom for the late Jan Karski, hero of the Polish resistance against the Nazis.  The administration refused, saying that Walesa was “too political”.  Perhaps it ended up being a wise choice – it was during this ceremony that Obama referred to “Polish death camps” in World War II, and the Polish government reacted angrily, with the Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski accusing the Obama White House of being “ignorant and incompetent”.  While this may seem a minor semantic distinction – there were Nazi death camps in Poland – the Poles are extremely sensitive about this and insist that the reference is precise.  One would think that a group so dedicated to Political Correctness (imagine the exploding heads if a Polish diplomat referred to Obama as ‘mulatto’) would at least have the presence of mind to run the remarks past the Polish embassy.  (Imagine also, if Walesa had been on stage for the remarks.…)  Obama ended up having to send a letter of apology to the Polish government.  The MSM, once it catches its collective breath from yelling about Romney’s gaffes, characterizes this as Obama having “misspoke”.

Walesa remains an independent political force within Poland (some officials certainly are at a loss about what to do with him) but he commands an important following at home and abroad.  To him, the choice about the future American administration is stark, and he has no qualms whatsoever about the obvious choice.  An endorsement from a former foreign leader clearly ruffles some feathers, but he frankly doesn’t care.  In fact, I expect that he relishes it.

Romney has played his cards well, whether or not the MSM wants to admit it, or even consider it.  His visits to these three key allies, all politically betrayed by Obama, and his declaration of clear solidarity with them, will reap benefits far beyond the fact that it was simply the right thing to do.

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