Obama’s team slams Romney’s foreign trip

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

President Barack Obama’s campaign team is throwing everything and the kitchen sink at Mitt Romney’s foreign-policy trip this week.

Romney is being too political but also not political enough, too aggressive and but also too timid, and will visit too few countries while holding too many fundraisers, according to three of Obama’s supporters during a July 23 telephone press conference arranged by the president’s re-election campaign.

The Romney campaign quickly pushed back. “In no region of the world is our country’s influence any stronger than it was four years ago,” said campaign spokesman Ryan Williams.

But Romney’s campaign response focused on Obama’s domestic role.

“President Obama has failed to restore our economy, is weakening our military with devastating defense cuts, and has diminished our moral authority [but] Governor Romney will restore the pillars of American strength to secure our interests and defend our values,” Williams said.

Obama’s aides used the July 23 press event to slam Romney for politicizing foreign-policy issues.

“This isn’t the time for anyone to be playing politics with our policy in the region,” said Colin Kahl, who formerly served as Obama’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East.

Egyptians are “navigating their transitions to democracy,” he said in reference to the recent electoral victory of the islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which has prompted increased threats against Israel.

However, the aides also slammed Romney for not being political enough.

“If Romney thinks it is time to take military action against Iran, and abandon diplomacy prematurely, he has a a responsibility to say so,” said Kahl.

Romney’s speeches are too vague, said Robert Gibbs, who served a Obama’s chief spokesman during his 2008 trip through Europe. Given his record and schedule, it is unclear “whether Mitt Romney is going to [use the trip to] shed a little light on what appears to be the secrecy of his foreign policy plans,” he added.

To show his readiness for the job, Romney should “prove to the American people that he sees foreign policy issues as worthy of discussions, rather than just generalities and sound-bites,” he said.

Next, Obama’s supporters said Romney is being too aggressive.

“All we’ve gotten for Romney is tough talk,” said Kahl.

But Romney is also being too timid, Kahl suggested.

Romney’s promise to “do the opposite” of Obama implies that he would have not tried to rescue Israel diplomats trapped by a mob in the Egyptian embassy, nor provide Israel funding to develop its anti-missile system, Kahl said.

According to Gibbs, Romney’s trip includes too many fundraisers, and appears to be “almost entirely built around fundraising.” Gibbs then said he would prefer not to comment about the subject, and instead would let Obama’s “surrogates get into that.”

“We did not do fund-raisers on our [European] trip,” he said.

Obama’s 2012 campaign, however, has scheduled several fundraisers in China and Europe, and the president has attended a record number of domestic fund-raisers for the 2012 election.

Gibbs also said Romney’s trip could merely amount to “one long photo-opportunity.”

During Obama’s 2008 trip, Obama gave a speech at a mass rally in Berlin’s central park, sat for interviews the anchors of three TV-networks, and also talked with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Gibbs.

The 2008 tour “wasn’t a political trip, it was a substantive trip,” Gibbs insisted.

Obama’s campaign aides said Romney will visit fewer countries than Obama did in 2008. During that trip, the then-Senator went to Germany, France, Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq, however, was arguably safer for a U.S. politician to visit in 2008 due to the presence of American military forces, which have since been withdrawn by the Obama administration.

Romney’s trip will take him to the United Kingdom on July 27, to Israel on July 29 and to Poland on July 30.

When asked why Obama has not visited Israel since 2008, 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.”

Follow Neil on Twitter