Mitt Romney is taking a lot of heat today for questioning Britain’s readiness to host the Olympic games — a sign, critics say, of his discomfort with the nuances of international relations on the first day of a trip designed to showcase his comfort on the world stage.
But speaking to reporters today in London, Romney said something else that Dems may pounce on — he appeared to say that he doesn’t think it’s appropriate to discuss foreign policy while on a foreign trip.
From CNN’s report on Romney’s meeting with David Cameron:
Romney said he and Cameron discussed volatile situations in Syria and Iran, though he declined to describe the discussion in detail.
“We did speak at some length about Syria, about Iran, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya as well as Pakistan, Afghanistan, among other places in the world,” Romney said. “I don’t want to refer to any comments made by leaders representing other nations. Nor do I want to describe foreign policy positions I might have while I’m on foreign soil. I think discussions of foreign policy should be made by the president and the current administration not by those that are seeking office.”
If a foreign trip is not a good time to discuss foreign policy, why take the trip at all? This raises questions as to whether the trip is only about staging political theatrics for a domestic audience.
“It does not make sense that one would go on an explicitly described foreign policy trip overseas and not discuss the details of what a Romney administration would do in the world,” Mark Jacobson, a senior fellow with the Obama-supporting Truman National Security Project, told me.
To be as charitable as possible, Romney may have conflated discussions of his own foreign policy with criticism of Obama’s foreign policy, which would violate longstanding norms against criticism of the president while abroad. But even read this way, the remarks are questionable — because of what his failure to make this distinction tells us about how he views the function of such a trip, and how it might be received by foreign audiences.
“There’s a fundamental distinction between not criticizing the president overseas and articulating to your audiences at home and abroad what a Romney foreign policy would look like,” Jacobson continued. “You have to understand the signals you are sending by failing to articulate details. Europeans are going to take away that what Romney is offering is going back to the first term of Bush. He comes over, tells the British they can’t handle the Olympics, and says, `We’ve got a plan for the world, we’re just not going to tell you what it is.’”
Romney has a couple more days to right things and to open up a bit about his foreign policy intentions, but this is a bad start. Romney has been criticized for failing to detail his policies, and for failing to say how they would differ from Obama’s. This trip was designed to demonstrate Romney’s comfort level on these issues. As Daniel Drezner puts it, this trip is supposed to be Romney’s “see, I do too know something about foreign policy” tour. It won’t inspire confidence that he doesn’t see this tour as the right venue to tell us what he does know, or what his own foreign policy would actually look like.