Obama’s aides retreat from Romney’s ‘culture’ comments

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama‘s aides have quickly retreated from their initial complaints about Gov. Mitt Romney’s sharp-edged criticism of Arab culture.

“The ball is really in [Romney’s] court for him to explain whether he thinks those comments … would be helpful to resolving the issue,” Colin Kahl, a foreign policy expert for the Obama campaign, said during a July 31 press conference in which he was asked about the accuracy of Romney’s comments.

The call was scheduled by Obama’s campaign office to slam Romney’s tour of the United Kingdom, Israel and Poland.

Obama’s spokesman used the press event to complain about Romney’s statement that Israel’s culture is superior to the culture of the Arabs in adjacent territories.

“As I come here and I look out over this [Israeli] city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things,” Romney told an Israeli audience.

The statement was applauded by many conservatives, who say Arab societies are crippled by an outdated culture that elevates tribalism, clan rivalries and hatred for Israelis, while suppressing entrepreneurship, democracy, women, non-Muslim minorities, free speech, art and science.

Obama’s deputies complained about Romney’s statement.

“This is a very delicate issue. … Those comments would not be helpful” to a peace deal between Israel and the surrounding Arabs, Kahl said during the press event.

But Kahl and Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs quickly backtracked when pressed by reporters to justify their criticism of Romney’s statement.

“The person who needs to talk more about what he meant there isn’t us. … It’s Gov. Romney,” Gibbs said during the phone-conference.

Kahl acknowledged the U.S. government’s long-standing effort to build a modern culture in the Arab-government territories alongside Israel.

“The administration has been committed to the international effort to build up Palestinian institution from the ground up,” Kahl acknowledged.

“Whether that is training their police and security forces, improving their judicial institutions, laying the foundations for more economic growth,” he said, adding that “the president hasn’t really weighed in on the balance of causes of the Palestinian’s plight.”

Israel has grown rapidly since its establishment in 1948, and now far outpaces the surrounding Arab countries in wealth, science, democracy and freedoms.

Israel’s government also maintains a Western-style legal environment and prevents local radicals from attacking foreign soldiers or civilians with rockets, sneak attacks, antitank missiles and suicide bombs.

Arabs immediately complained about Romney’s recognition of the widening cultural gap and blamed Israel for their plight.

“It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation,” claimed Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Mahmoud Abbas, the ruling president of Palestinian Arabs.

Abbas’ five-year term expired in 2010, but he has stayed in office.

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