Instead of showcasing Romney’s talents, the trip so far has focused attention on his lack of foreign policy experience, his overseas investments and his record at the 2002 Olympics he led.
Before his trip could even get started, Romney was already on the defensive as he had to explain why one of his foreign-policy advisers boasted to the London Telegraph about the candidate’s appreciation for America’s “Anglo-Saxon heritage.” Romney denied the racially provocative statement, then claimed he didn’t know who the adviser was, then tried to explain his way out of it.
But as the Romney campaign tried to change the subject, they suffered another self-inflicted wound as the former Massachusetts governor managed to offend the British prime minister, the mayor of London and the British Olympic committee on his first day overseas.
After Romney insulted the British by describing the Olympic security preparations as “disconcerting” and misidentified the leader of the Labour Party,” he tried to backpedal the best way he knew — by pandering. He flip-flopped on his concerns and announced the Olympics would be “fabulous.” Then, the man who recently boasted to Latinos that his father was born in Mexico, suddenly declared that he was just “a guy from Great Britain” who happens to be “married to a girl from Wales.”
The trip has also highlighted Romney’s mysterious overseas investments. For a candidate with a Swiss bank account, overseas tax havens and a record of outsourcing U.S. jobs, traveling to Europe was always fraught with peril. Some would joke that Romney was going to Europe to check on his money, while others would closely watch his dancing horse Rafalca in the dressage competition as an indication of why his wealth makes it difficult for him to understand the lives of ordinary Americans.
That brings us to Romney’s third problem for his trip abroad — his record at the Salt Lake City Olympics. Romney took $1.3 billion in government money to run the most expensive Olympics in history and then bragged about getting federal taxpayer dollars to subsidize his venture. He outsourced the U.S. Olympic uniforms to Burma and then may have destroyed records that would reveal what took place under his leadership. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright even acknowledged that Romney thanked her for “keeping my mouth shut” about the uniforms.
The 2002 Winter Olympics also set a record for the most U.S. tax dollars ($625,000) spent per athlete. But the money didn’t go to the athletes. Sports Illustrated noted at the time that a “blizzard” of federal money was used to help out wealthy businessmen operating in Utah. We don’t know what Romney did or thought about all that because, despite a vow of transparency, the Olympic records still haven’t been released from 10 years ago.
But we do know what happened in 2002. As Romney pretends that rich businessmen built their empires without help from the government or anyone else, Mormon billionaire Earl Holding received public land to build up his ski resort for the games. And as Romney complains about people who want “free stuff” from the government, millionaire real estate developers got the government to build roads for them for the 2002 Olympics. Republican Sen. John McCain called the Olympics controversy a "national disgrace" and called for a federal investigation.
After his debacle at the Olympics, Romney is looking to find a friendlier audience in Israel, where he hopes to argue that President Obama has somehow failed America’s strongest ally in the Middle East. It’s a tough argument when Israel’s own defense minister, Ehud Barak, has called President Obama an "extremely strong supporter of Israel."
Still, the Romney camp complains that President Obama hasn’t visited Israel since taking office, but neither did George W. Bush in his first term, and Ronald Reagan didn’t visit Israel at all during his entire eight years in office. Not to mention that then Sen. Obama visited Israel twice before he became president.
Two places where you won’t find Mitt Romney on his overseas tour are Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which Sen. Obama visited when he was running for president. Maybe that’s because Romney doesn’t have a clear position on what he would do differently in those countries. Maybe that’s because Obama kept his promise to end the war in Iraq. Or maybe because Obama’s biggest foreign policy achievement is something that might never have happened if Romney had been president.
When asked how he would track down Osama Bin Laden, Romney claimed "it’s not worth moving heaven and earth, spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.” So when Romney accuses President Obama of “appeasement,” the president himself offers the best response: Ask Osama Bin Laden if I engage in appeasement.
Yes, when it comes to the Olympics, Romney might go for the gold in horse dancing, but he won’t be winning any medals for foreign policy.
Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes political commentary for BET.com each week.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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