The press had a field day with Mitt Romney’s Olympic gaffe in London. But the real story of Romney’s foreign trip is how the GOP candidate is deftly exploiting a string of foreign policy gaffes by President Obama that have damaged relations with two key U.S. allies — Israel and Poland.
Gaffe 1: President Obama failed to warn Israeli officials before declaring last year, over the objections of senior advisers, that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” Worse, Obama’s speech was specifically timed by the White House to preempt an address by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Congress. In other words, it was a premediated decision to publicly stick it to Netanyahu. The gaffe caused an uproar in Israel and prompted a terse exchange in the Oval Office the next day, where Netanyahu — with Obama glaring beside him — explained that the 1967 borders were “indefensible.”
Gaffe 2: President Obama and then-French President Nicholas Sarkozy were overheard trash-talking Netanyahu at the G-20 summit in Cannes. Unaware reporters were listening, Sarkozy reportedly told Obama, “Netanyahu, I can’t stand him. He’s a liar,” to which Obama reportedly replied, “You are sick of him, but I have to work with him every day.” It has long been an open secret that Obama loathes Netanyahu, but Obama inadvertently confirmed it.
Gaffe 3: President Obama chose Sept. 17, 2009 — the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland — to tell Poland that he was caving in to Russian demands and abandoning their missile defense agreement. In 2008, Poland agreed to host U.S. missile defense interceptors designed to protect against the long-range threat from Iran and other rogue states. Russia threatened to target Poland with nuclear weapons if it cooperated with the American plan. But the Poles went ahead despite the threats — only to see Obama throw them under the bus to curry favor with Moscow.
Gaffe 4: The one fig leaf in Obama’s missile defense decision was his promise that he would deploy some form of European anti-missile shield in the future, possibly in Poland. But in March, Obama was once again overheard by reporters, this time telling then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him [then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin] to give me space.. . . This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.” Medvedev famously replied “I will transmit this to Vladimir.” After being betrayed in Obama’s first term, the Poles were left wondering how he might betray them with the added “flexibility” of a second term.
Gaffe 5: In a speech honoring Polish World War II resistance hero Jan Karski, President Obama referred to Karski’s having visited a “Polish death camp.” There were no “Polish death camps.” There were “Nazi death camps” on the occupied Polish soil. Big difference. The gaffe caused a major diplomatic row with Poland, with Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski blasting the White House’s “ignorance and incompetence.” Obama eventually had to write a letter of apology. Taken in isolation, perhaps the reaction from Warsaw would have been less severe. But in light of the missile defense betrayal and other slights (such as Obama’s decision to go golfing the day of Polish President Lech Kaczynski’s funeral), it caused severe damage to Polish-American relations.
On his trip this week, Romney is quietly highlighting these Obama gaffes by showing how his administration would be different. In Poland, Romney is signaling that while Obama may have sacrificed Poland on the altar of his “reset” policy with Russia, as president, Romney will pursue a “reset” policy, not with Russia but with Poland and the United States’s other central European allies. It is a message that will resonate from Warsaw to Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio — swing-states with large Polish-American populations.
In Israel, Romney signaled that the days of trash-talking and back-stabbing Israeli leaders will end if he becomes president. Obama’s gaffes at Israel’s expense have helped cement the impression that, as one former Palestinian official recently told The Post, Obama has shown “a complete lack of an emotion-based relationship with Israel.” Indeed, when Obama met with Jewish leaders at the White House recently and was told that was told he was not being “evenhanded,” he admitted: “You are absolutely right and we are going to fix that … the sense of evenhandedness has to be restored.” Romney’s unspoken message this week is that if Israel’s supporters back home want “evenhandedness,” the best way to get it is to replace Obama in the White House. It is a message that will resonate with Jewish voters (whose support for Obama has dropped 10 points since 2008) and pro-Israel evangelicals in the United States.
No doubt Romney’s foreign trip got off to a difficult start in London. But in the annals of gaffes, which is worse: One slip of the tongue suggesting London might not be ready for the Olympics or five major gaffes that have severely undermined this country’s relations with two of its most important allies?