x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Romney's ramblings stir up rumblings

Mitt Romney has added to the bumbling characteristics he has exhibited on an error-strewn and gaffe-fuelled romp overseas that was meant to build his foreign-policy credentials.

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney pauses next to the Western Wall, in Jerusalem. There appears to be little political blowback in America from demeaning Palestinians.
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney pauses next to the Western Wall, in Jerusalem. There appears to be little political blowback in America from demeaning Palestinians.

There is little political blowback in America from demeaning Palestinians. Even so, with his pandering in Jerusalem, Mitt Romney has added to the bumbling characteristics he has exhibited on an error-strewn and gaffe-fuelled romp overseas that was meant to build his foreign-policy credentials.

Mr Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, may have thought he was on safe ground when flattering his Israeli hosts and buttering up prospective Jewish donors to support his bid to oust Barack Obama, the US president, from the White House. After all, singing Israel's praises never hurt an American politician.

On Friday, in fact, and just ahead of Mr Romney's visit to the country, Mr Obama signed into law a bill to strengthen US and Israeli military cooperation. The bill had passed the US Congress but the presidential signature was undoubtedly delayed for maximum effect and as a reminder that this year's direct American aid to Israel tops US$3 billion (Dh11bn), the most ever.

Nevertheless, with remarks that suggested that Jewish culture, "providence" and "some other things" were responsible for Israel's wealth relative to that of the Palestinians, Mr Romney really outdid himself. The remarks came on a tour in which he had previously managed to offend the British by questioning whether the country was ready for the Olympic Games, and non-whites in the United States, after an adviser suggested that the first African-American president did not understand "Anglo-Saxon culture".

It was not so much that the wealth remarks seemed, as Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said, patently "racist". Nor was it that they ignored the Israeli stranglehold over those same territories that Mr Romney appears to think suffer from a cultural deficency that explains their lack of economic development.

It wasn't even that the remarks were spoken at the King David Hotel, the site of the one of the most devastating terrorist attacks in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: a 1946 bombing that killed 91 people, mostly Brits, and was carried out by the Jewish Irgun group.

Nor was it that Mr Romney, by declaring Jerusalem Israel's capital, contradicted decades of US foreign policy.

It was that by managing to do all this in less than 48 hours, Mr Romney showed a mind-boggling lack of knowledge about one of the world's most pressing international conflicts and one in which, should he be successful in his bid for the US presidency, he would be expected to play the "honest broker".

An endorsement from Lech Walesa, the former Polish president, aside, Mr Romney's three-nation overseas trip has in fact been a diplomatic disaster. If taken at face value, his combined pronouncements overseas suggest a rather frightening world view of cultural supremacies and ethno-specific characteristics.

Perhaps more damaging to his credentials as presidential hopeful is the suggestion that he misspoke. Anyone can misspeak. But to do so three times in as many days offending millions of people across the world does not look good.

And this is perhaps Mr Romney's biggest sin: suggesting that he misspoke repeatedly.

No one in Washington sets much store in Palestinian anger. Pandering to the worst of Israeli instincts often passes without comment: the columnist Wesley Pruden in yesterday's Washington Times, a conservative publication, lauded Mr Romney for giving "unadulterated full-throated support" for Israel, and suggested that Mr Obama "doesn't like Jews very much".

While Hussein Ibish characterised most of presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's comments on a recent overseas trip as "boilerplate campaign rhetoric", he singled out Mr Romney's culture remarks for condemnation, calling them a "snide, uncalled-for insult against the Palestinian people" that did not recognise the "onerous restrictions of the occupation."

But attracting so much controversy in such a short time does not speak well for Mr Romney's political instincts, a much more important commodity in Washington.

Though he chose a good time to stumble - foreign policy is not a priority in the campaign, everyone's watching the Olympics and, for those who are still paying attention to the region here, Syria is on fire - that must give room for pause.

okarmi@thenational.ae

 

This article has been changed since original publication. It mistakenly said that Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine has tried to gloss over Mr Romney’s culture remarks as “boilerplate campaign rhetoric”. In fact, Mr Ibish singled out the culture remark as “snide, uncalled-for insult against the Palestinian people” that did not recognize the “onerous restrictions of the occupation.” The National apologises for the mistake.