Photo: CBS / Screengrab
The 2012 campaign debate is briefly pivoting to foreign policy this week, as Republican nominee Mitt Romney prepares to take his first trip overseas as a presidential candidate. The trip — which includes stops in London, Israel, and Poland — has been billed as a “listening and learning” mission, and the candidate’s advisors have said that no major policy speeches or announcements have been planned in conjunction with trip.
The goal, it seems, is to give Romney an opportunity to cast himself to voters as a statesman, and hopefully offset criticisms about his lack of foreign policy experience going into the fall campaign.
But President Barack Obama‘s re-election campaign doesn’t plan on making that task easy.
The campaign made its first effort to discredit the president’s opponent this morning, with a conference call featuring senior campaign officials — including former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs — challenging Romney to reveal details about his foreign policy positions, including a timetable for withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan.
“Instead of offering specifics, he’s so far talked only in platitudes and criticised the president,” Gibbs told reporters. “Given his lack of experience on these issues, and his support for failed policies that were pursued during the Bush Administration, I think this trip should be judged on the type of substantive ideas that Mitt Romney outlines, and whether he would continue the proven policies of President Obama or return us to a time in which our foreign policy was a sore spot, quite honestly, in the world.”
“The question,” Gibbs said later, “is whether this is one long photo-op and fundraising tour. It will be interesting if he will confront these issues on his first stop in London when he meets with David Cameron to discuss, I presume, things such as Afghanistan.”
Later in the call, Obama’s former Deputy Assistant Secretary of defence for the Middle East Colin Kahl added that “this really isn’t the time for anyone to be playing politics with our foreign policy” in the Middle East, given the conflict in Syria and recent political upheavals in Egypt and Libya.
The Romney camp immediately hit back, sending out an email that accused Obama of abandoning relationships with Eastern European allies, allowing relations with Israel to deteriorate, and ignoring the escalating crisis in Syria.
“In no region of the world is our country’s influence any stronger than it was four years ago,” Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams said in a statement. “President Obama has failed to restore our economy, is weakening our military with devastating defence cuts, and has diminished our moral authority. Governor Romney will restore the pillars of American strength to secure our interests and defend our values.“
Regardless of whether Romney explains how he plans to go about restoring those pillars, his trip overseas does put the Obama campaign in a slightly awkward position with regards to Israel, if only by highlighting the fact that the President has not traveled to Israel during his first term.
And as Politico reporter Josh Gerstein pointed out on today’s conference call, the Obama administration’s relationship with Israel have not been totally “hunky-dory” — a fact that Romney will no doubt seek to highlight by emphasising his own personal friendship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Obama campaign sought to downplay these contrasts, telling reporters this morning that “we can expect [Obama] to visit Israel in the second term.”
“It’s relevant to point out that Ronald Reagan never visited Israel. George W. Bush didn’t visit Israel until the final year in office, the final year of his second term,” Kahl said. “So I don’t really think this is a serious policy difference. I think it’s basically a distraction.”
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