It is a good thing the ever-cool First Lady Michelle Obama arrived when she did, because the other American visitor to London this week stunk up the place. From the Olympics comments, to his awkward meeting with Prime Minster David Cameron, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney hasn’t exactly started off his foreign tour with a bang. As the quick-witted Andrew Exum tweeted yesterday, “When British ‘conservatives’ are up in arms at what you said, it kind of defeats the purpose of the whole trip.”
Romney’s performance during the second and third stops on his itinerary, Israel and Poland respectively, should go more smoothly. But if you can’t even mildly impress our English cousins across the pond, one wonders who in the world would welcome Mitt’s not only affable and easy-going charm, but more importantly, his hawkish, albeit nebulous, foreign policy outlook. Here are five countries that might actually welcome a visit from the man looking to unseat President Obama (N.B. I reserve the right to mention countries included on his present foreign tour):
1. Israel: There is no better friend to Israel than Mitt Romney, and having been chided by the likes of Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson, Romney will undoubtedly welcome the warmer embrace of close friend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Romney has made plain his stance on Iran, which he called the “most severe security threat” the world faces at a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars this week (it’s hard to keep up with Romney’s flavor of the month, by the way. I thought Russia occupied the “most severe” category?)
Romney has also criticized President Obama for “undermining” Israel’s position in the world and for “lecturing” their leaders, a charge the Netanyahu crowd is certain to quietly applaud. As for the Palestinian question, Romney has been characteristically unclear. Though he plans to meet with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad during his visit, it is unlikely he has any affinity for a two-state solution, particularly given the backing by Sheldon Adelson.
2. Germany: Though Chancellor Angela Merkel was reportedly unavailable to meet with Romney; German businesses have been making sizeable donations to his campaign. Pharmaceutical conglomerate Bayer has contributed the most at over $300,000, while Deutsche Bank has reportedly contributed over $86,000. Though Romney has hinted at support for a trans-Atlantic free trade agreement, which Merkel would surely welcome, he has made no mention of how he -- as president -- would address the ongoing euro zone crisis, in which the U.S. is inevitably entangled. President Obama remains popular in Germany, but clashes over euro policy have certainly soured the Merkel/Obama entente. The Chancellor’s center-right, strict austerity outlook might find a willing partner in Romney.
3. Vietnam: What a shame Romney clearly didn’t read Robert Kaplan’s must-read piece in The Atlantic on Vietnam as America’s secret weapon in thwarting China’s rise before planning his foreign tour. Otherwise, he might have met a warm reception. China of course is also on the Romney list of “greatest strategic threats,” but there’s nothing facetious about the China-Vietnam debacle. Kaplan says it best: “The Vietnamese fear of China is profound precisely because Vietnam cannot escape from the embrace of its gargantuan northern neighbor, whose population is 15 times as large. Vietnamese know that geography dictates the terms of their relationship: they may win the battle, but then they are always off to Beijing to pay tribute. That kind of situation is alien to a virtual island nation like America.” The China section of Romney’s VFW speech would have gone over well in Ho Chi Minh City.
4. Poland: Much (though not enough) has been made of Romney’s decidedly Cold War foreign policy outlook. Russia was the first to top Romney’s list as America’s “number one geopolitical foe,” so a trip to Poland might seem like a logical choice for the GOP candidate. But Peter Beinart in a recent column made another good point. A trip to Warsaw to condemn Moscow allows Romney to “audition for the role every Republican presidential candidate has been trying to play since the Cold War’s end: Ronald Reagan.” Whether or not that comparison is an apt one (not), it is a chance for Romney to highlight an alliance “rich in history,” as well as an opportunity for him to “point to the country’s economic success, which he will say stems from free market principles and capitalism.” Romney arrives in Poland at the invitation of former Polish President and Nobel Prize winner Lech Walesa, the great anti-communist crusader.
5. India: The U.S. expects much (perhaps unreasonably) out of India. We would like it to be ready for a conflict with China, put pressure on Iran, help with the transition out of Afghanistan, and keep a watchful eye on Pakistan, to name but a few “demands.” And despite our mutual interest in all of the above, relations with India never seem particularly cozy. A Romney presidency that unequivocally condemns China, Iran and Pakistan, and for the moment, seems unclear about the next move in Afghanistan, might be appealing to Indian officials. President Obama has proven to be a thoughtful and measured partner, but Romney’s promises of even stronger U.S.-India ties might prick up a few ears in New Delhi.