Now that Mitt Romney is on the way back from his weeklong trip overseas, the Obama campaign is moving to slam his performance — which included rows with both British and Palestinian leaders — as un-presidential.
“He both offended our closest ally and triggered a troubling reaction in the most sensitive region in the world,” Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs said in a call with reporters. “He certainly didnt prove to anyone that he passed the commander-in-chief test.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron and London mayor Boris Johnson both condemned Romney’s comments in London last week suggesting that the United Kingdom may have been unprepared for the Olympics. On Monday, Romney drew angry rebukes from Palestinian officials after suggesting in Jerusalem that Israelis were more prosperous than Palestinians economically thanks in part to “culture” and “providence.” Romney has claimed he was misinterpreted.
Colin Kahl, a former defense official, said on the call that Romney’s Olympics gaffe was disturbing in that it was so easily avoidable.
“If Romney can’t handle our special relationship with the British on the eve of the Olympic games, what’s going to happen when he has to deal with our enemies?” he asked. “It’s not like Romney struck out against a major league pitcher, he struck out playing tee ball.”
The Obama campaign carefully avoided debating the substance of Romney’s comments regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but chided Romney for needlessly causing controversy in a particularly troubled region.
“Clearly when we’re dealing with a highly charged international issue like the Middle East peace process and the relationship between the Israelis and Palestinians, it’s really really important to be careful about choosing your words,” Kahl said. He added that the Obama administration was working to help build up the Palestinian economy.
Gibbs also said Romney blew it by not visiting Afghanistan or US troops during his time abroad, noting Obama included a delegation trip to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008. Romney visited Afghanistan in 2011, however, and Obama canceled visiting troops in Germany in 2008 (drawing heavy criticism from Republicans) after determining it was inappropriate to do so in the context of his campaign. As for Romney’s overseas tour this year, the Romney campaign told TPM the candidate was concerned about creating a distraction for troops and commanders in the middle of fighting season.
Romney complained to FOX News on Tuesday that the press was making too big a deal of his travails abroad, saying they were not relevant to the larger issues of the campaign.
“I realize that there will be some in the Fourth Estate, or whichever estate, who are far more interested in finding something to write about that is unrelated to the economy, to geopolitics, to the threat of war, to the reality of conflict in Afghanistan today, to a nuclearization of Iran,” Romney said. “They’ll instead try and find anything else to divert from the fact that these last four years have been tough years for our country.”
While he acknowledged the economy would be “front and center” in the election, Gibbs said that “you do not spend 7 days on an international trip if it doesn’t matter.”
Romney spokesman Ryan Williams defended the candidate’s foreign policy experience in a statement responding to the call.
“Mitt Romney will be a president who unapologetically stands up for America and the enduring values of freedom,” Williams said. “President Obama has weakened America’s position in the world and frayed relationships with our closest allies - all while earning effusive praise from the likes of Hugo Chavez. Governor Romney has laid out a foreign policy that will strengthen our interests, ensure our security, and let our friends know they have a partner in the White House.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.