Taking a brief turn from the domestic issues that have dominated the campaign, presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney kicks off a three-nation overseas trip Thursday that gives him the chance to showcase his differences with President Obama on the foreign policy front and to convince voters that he has the political chops to be a major world player.
Mr. Romney hopes to use the six-day swing to answer questions on voters’ minds about how he’d handle what remains a violent world — from the bloody civil war in Syria to the tensions over Iran’s disputed nuclear program, and the administration’s plan to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan in 2014.
The former Massachusetts governor’s campaign officials say their boss plans to leave politics at the water’s edge and instead use the trip to drive home the importance of “locking arms” with the nation’s allies — in particular England, Israel and Poland.
“The objective of Gov. Romney on this trip is to visit three stalwart allies and listen and learn about issues of importance to them — particularly those major challenges we are all facing with the Middle East in tumult right now, with Iran pursuing nuclear weapons and other issues of that nature,” said Alex Wong, Mr. Romney’s foreign policy director.
The trip, though, got off to a rocky start Wednesday after a British newspaper quoted an anonymous Romney campaign adviser who said the Republican’s “Anglo-Saxon heritage” would give him an edge over Mr. Obama when it comes to strengthening ties between the United States and Britain.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden seized the comments as proof Mr. Romney was backtracking on his promise “that politics stops at the water’s edge,” while the Romney camp countered that Mr. Biden was trying to “prop up their flailing campaign” with “an anonymous and false quote from a foreign newspaper.”
Whatever the case, Mr. Romney’s foray overseas is reminiscent of the multination tour that then-Sen. Obama took during the 2008 campaign, meeting with leaders in Israel, Afghanistan and Iraq as well as Britain and finally Germany, where he was treated as a rock star by tens of thousands in attendance.
The Republican camp is setting more modest goals for their trip.
It kicks off Thursday in Britain, where over the course of two days, he will meet with Prime Minister David Cameron, his predecessor, Tony Blair, and attend the 2012 Olympic opening ceremonies — which could serve as a reminder of how Mr. Romney is credited with rescuing the Winter Olympics in 2002.
From there, he flies to Israel to meet with, among others, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad — a stop that is sure to help him shore up support among evangelical and conservative Jewish voters back home. The final leg brings him to Poland and includes meetings with President Bronislaw Komorowski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
The Obama camp has blasted the trip as little more than a photo op and fundraising junket, and said that Mr. Romney has spoken in platitudes, refusing to spell out how exactly his policies are any different from those of Mr. Obama.
“He reflexively criticizes the president’s policies without offering any alternatives,” Mr. Biden said this week. “When he does venture a position, it’s a safe bet that he previously took exactly the opposite position and will probably change his mind again and land in the wrong place — far out of the mainstream. Or he mischaracterizes our record to create a nonexistent contrast.”
The Romney camp shrugs off the criticism, arguing their boss differs from Mr. Obama on everything, including their plans for the peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Bush-era missile-defense plan that Mr. Obama scrapped in 2009, and talks with Iran over its disputed nuclear program.
Mr. Romney launched his stiffest line of attack against Mr. Obama’s foreign policy moves in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars conference in Reno, Nev., on Tuesday, criticizing the president for giving “trust where it is not earned, insult where it is not deserved, and apology where it is not due.”
Mr. Romney argued that the president — in trying to appease Russia — abandoned Poland and the Czech Republic by walking away from the Bush-era missile-defense system. He also said the president dropped the ball on Iran and turned his back on Israel, claiming the Democrat is “fond of lecturing Israel’s leaders.”
“He has undermined their position, which was tough enough as it was. And even at the United Nations, to the enthusiastic applause of Israel’s enemies, he spoke as if our closest ally in the Middle East was the problem,” Mr. Romney said.