On Monday, I received an intriguing notice from the Mitt Romney camp that the candidate would begin a two-week trip abroad this week to England, Israel and Poland just as many trail-watchers figured a VP announcement was imminent.
Just as I was about to dig into the history of foreign trips for presidential candidates, I received another notice that the president's campaign staff planned a media call at 11:15 a.m. EST.
July 10, 2012 - Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S. - Republican presidential candidate MITT ROMNEY arrives at the Colorado Jet Center for a campaign visit Tuesday. Romney urged Americans to help fire victims by vacationing in Colorado Springs. (Credit Image: © Mark Reis/Colorado Springs Gazette/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com)
Since I'm (strangely) not on the Obama media list, I bit nails awaiting word on what I was sure would be a fistacuffs between the camps.
Thankfully, they delivered.
The delightful wordsmith Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post described the call with reporters as "petulant" as the campaign tried to "spin the media that Obama's trip abroad in 2008 was 'substantive.' "
Indeed, then-Senator Obama took a similar trip almost to the date back in 2008 in support of diplomatic and fundraising efforts.
An ABC News story printed the contents of a fundraising letter sent by then-campaign manager, David Plouffe.
"As you may have heard, Barack has been in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia this week. Today, he spoke in Berlin, Germany. In a city where a wall once divided the free from the oppressed, he talked about tearing down the walls that divide all peoples so we can address our common problems — the threats of terrorism and nuclear weapons, global warming and genocide, AIDS and poverty. Watch Barack’s historic speech and share it with your friends."
The campaign, naturally, didn't like the airing of such a transparent fundraising efforts and took issue with the writer noting the "email with its big, red 'DONATE' button as a "fundraising soliciation." The Obama camp said the writer's description was "misleading."
Rubin noted the Berlin speech today remarking that it's a grim reminder of Obama's foreign policy failures once promised oh so long ago in his charge that we must "answer the call for a new dawn in the Middle East."
After gobbling up the juicy political tennis match, another email from Romney's camp arrived returning fire on their own opportunity to highlight the President's foreign policies:
“President Obama thinks visiting our closest ally in the Middle East is a ‘distraction,’ that Hugo Chavez is not a ‘serious’ threat, and that the right response to Russia is to promise more ‘flexibility’ in exchange for giving him ‘space’ before the election. It is clear that President Obama’s foreign policy is confused, ineffective, and has weakened our influence in every region of the world.
"In no region of the world is our country’s influence any stronger than it was four years ago. President Obama has failed to restore our economy, is weakening our military with devastating defense cuts, and has diminished our moral authority. Governor Romney will restore the pillars of American strength to secure our interests and defend our values.”
What seems most telling in the Romney itinerary is his stop in Israel, where the president has not stepped foot since his election and upon which rests a long-protected and important foreign relationship.
As former U.S. Senator Norm Coleman wrote for the Arizon Jewish Post, Romney's visit to Jerusalem will demonstrate his "old and personal" friendship with Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Natanyahu.
"The failed record of Barack Obama’s diplomacy suggests he does not take seriously the threatening words of the Iranians and is therefore not taking seriously the threat they present to both Israel and the United States. If Iran is permitted to acquire nuclear weapons, it will dominate the Middle East, igniting proxy wars with impunity and making nuclear terrorism a perpetual and horrific danger."
It's just the sort of problem that might, say, cause the opposition to rally the media via some bogus conference call agenda.
The issue did not escape questioning during today's call with Obama's campaign, as The Daily Caller's Neil Munro noted this exchange:
"When asked why Obama has not visited Israel since 2008, (Colin) Kahl dismissed the question.
'We can expect him to visit Israel in his second term if he is reelected,' Kahl said, adding that the criticism of Obama for not visiting Israel — even though he also visited next-door Egypt and the nearby Turkey — 'is basically a distraction.' "
It's a troubling answer for a number of reasons, but let's be honest- the fate of the presidency never rests on the issues of foreign policy.
Back in 2000, then-Gov. George W. Bush took a trip to Russia as the presumptive nominee where eventhough he managed to present well in his meetings with the Russian foreign minister Igor S. Ivanov, the New York Times still squeezed this in at the end:
"When his campaign for president began, Mr. Bush made several missteps on foreign policy, mispronouncing the names of various nationalities and failing a quiz on lesser known world leaders that was sprung on him by a reporter."
We all know how that election (and the next) ended.
So, foreign policy's probably not at the top of the list of priorities, but we do know that Americans pay attention to it. Just ask some folks about Ron Paul's foreign policy ideas and see what they say.
Overall, the day was a win for Romney. His team fended off Obama's attacks, which really only pointed out its own weaknesses and the media saw through the silly conference call tactic for what it was: spin.
A successful foreign trip would help tee Romney up nicely before the 2012 Republican National Convention coronation ceremony in Tampa next month. Republicans would love nothing more than material a plenty to tear Obama's term apart.
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