Steffen Schmidt, IAFC Blogger
Steffen W. Schmidt, University Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Iowa State University, WNYC blogger, and chief Political correspondent of Insider Iowa.
When the heat from not releasing his income taxes got too intense Team Romney decided to do what politicians under pressure always do—go abroad! Romney starts Wednesday with a trip to London, before moving on to Poland and Israel. It's the first major overseas trip of his campaign.
Notoriously, presidents who are under siege for their domestic troubles often take a rejuvenating "vacation" to foreign countries where the US is popular and respected. The scenes of cheering crowds and well-orchestrated “official receptions,” with a review of the troops and stunning scenes, offers a relief from the daily pounding of the media at home.
Candidates also normally dip their toe into foreign waters, as Obama did during his 2008 campaign. Remember his speech to 200,000 people at the Victory Column in Berlin? It’s de rigueur.
Romney no doubt was banking on the same—or, as The Hill put it, he hopes his “trip to Israel, Poland and the United Kingdom will burnish his stature, and that the Israel leg in particular might help capture extra support from a constituency—Jewish voters—that traditionally leans heavily toward the Democratic Party.”
No doubt Israel is an important symbolic pilgrimage for Romney since President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu have an iffy and tense relationship. Romney and Netanyahu, on the other hand, have known each other for almost three decades. They worked together in Massachusetts in the mid-1970s for the Boston Consulting Group. Bibi will have some nice things to say about Romney, which never hurts.
As far as Poland and the UK are concerned my reaction is...nah, not so smart.
No one gives a hoot about Poland. Lech Wałęsa is old and gray. No doubt Poland is a good place for Romney to repeat that “Russia is our number one geopolitical foe" line, but that statement drew criticism from both Republicans and Democrats—except for a hard core of anti-Communists, most Americans are happy that the Cold War is over. Maybe a trip to the DMZ in South Korea and a guarantee the US will hold hard against any North Korean aggression or “nuclear adventures” would have been more helpful.
As to the UK, he will make no visible impact. The country is in the middle of “Olympic Kvetch.” The private-sector security contractor in London is an embarrassment—they had to call out the government forces: Coldstream Guards, the Bobbies, and MI5. The private-sector contractor built beds that are too short for most athletes. The private-sector ATM industry did not plan well and there is expected to be a huge shortage of cash for the Olympics. There will be unfavorable comparisons to Beijing’s Communist-run Olympics! All in all not good side stories for the venture capitalist candidate.
Maybe a trip to Berlin to meet with the head of the only sensible and responsible government in Europe would make more sense. Or even a stop in Athens for a lesson to the slovenly Greeks on how to use capitalist market forces to power their way out of the disaster they’ve created—that would have been brilliant.
Why didn’t he plan a trip to Afghanistan, where he could tell the troops he would increase the US military budget if elected? Or how about a quick in-and-out of Baghdad to secure oil for American energy companies? Why didn’t he visit China, Brazil, or India, all of them crucial economies in the world?
I’m sure it will be suggested by the ever-snarky news media that he could have taken a side trip to Geneva and closed out his numbered bank accounts, then hopped by Grand Cayman to divest himself of those offshore investments, or at least show the photographers the empty safety deposit box.
No doubt Americans want a president who has foreign connections and experience. On the other hand, Obama showed in 2008 that they are more than willing to elect one who does not. Then again, Obama is an Indonesian-Kenyan, so I suppose we can argue that he has that foreign experience in his blood.
I’m not holding my breath for Mr. Romney to stake out some new and significant initiatives that would form the core of a Romney administration foreign policy for the United States. Will he outline a “Romney Doctrine” for dealing with instability in the Middle East? Will he declare a new international economic order in which 21st-century capitalism will usher in a new era of prosperity by using the tools of the market economy and private sector business?
No, I’m afraid there will be no major policy initiatives. We will know nothing more about a Romney foreign policy than we knew before this trip. These foreign forays by Presidential candidates are actually nothing more than the search for political visuals.
And from what I heard last week from several Democrats, the demand that Romney release more tax returns will resume the minute his jet lands again on American soil. It’s just too big and juicy a target.