Over the weekend, I recorded a Bloggingheads episode with Conor Friedersdorf; in the first segment we discuss Mitt Romney’s performance on the first leg of his trip abroad, in the UK, where the British press didn’t take kindly to his comments about possible problems with the London Olympics. As I said to Conor, Romney’s comments were arguably correct, but unwise. Brits, like most groups of people (national, ethnic, or other), are uncomfortable with criticism from outside the family, so to speak, and the British press is always primed to magnify perceived discord in the Special Relationship. This has tripped up President Obama several times, and it was unfortunate that Romney couldn’t manage to draw a contrast.
I predicted that the leg of the trip in Israel would go better, and I was right. This was the most politically important leg of the trip, for reasons laid out beforehand by Walter Russell Mead (hint: it’s not about the Jewish vote). As Noah Pollak notes, Romney did succeed in drawing a contrast with Obama, both on Iran and on the status of Jerusalem. On the latter topic, much has been made of how US presidential candidates tend to hew closer to the State Department’s neutral line on Jerusalem’s final status once they’re elected, but that’s somewhat overstated. While I wouldn’t count on a President Romney moving the embassy (there is a lot of wiggle room in his statement on this), I doubt that a Romney administration would continue the Obama administration’s extreme, almost comical fastidiousness about never acknowledging that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, which is in fact a departure from previous practice (see J.E. Dyer and Omri Ceren for extensive documentation on this point). Romney is alleged to have committed a gaffe in his comments about the relative merits of Israeli and Palestinian culture, but offending the Palestinians isn’t like offending the British — it’s neither substantively nor politically troubling. As John Podhoretz puts it, “anyone who publicizes his remark is helping Romney win the election. Even those who foolishly think they’re hurting him.”
The third leg of the trip, in Poland, also went well; Romney received a warm welcome from Lech Walesa. Dave Weigel has a fairly good backgrounder on the political significance (although his juxtaposition of the unpopularity of Obama among the Polish political class with the popularity of the United States itself among the Polish public seems like something of a non sequitur).