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Romney Drops The Torch In London

Policy Trip Becomes Diplomatic Obstacle

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Romney Drops The Torch In London

Mitt Romney walks by a British Bobby after meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron July 26, 2012.

Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Updated July 27, 2012

While trying to build the foundation of a seemingly non-existent foreign policy, presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney made a diplomatic blunder July 26 when he criticized Great Britain's preparations for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Romney made his comments after arriving in London on the same day that pre-opening Olympic events began.

Romney's Olympic Background

Aside from begin governor of Massachusetts (and signing economic legislation from which Republicans are constantly trying to distance themselves), Romney also served as an organizer of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.

(Preparation for those Olympics were scandal ridden. Romney likes to say that he "saved" them.)

That experience apparently gave Romney the authority to speak when an NBC reporter asked him whether the thought London was ready for the Games.

Romney cited news stories about a private firm hired to handle Olympic security that had not hired enough employees, and about a possible strike of British immigration and customs officials. He called them "disconcerting" and "obviously . . . not encouraging."

Romney concluded that, "You know, you never know just how well it will turn out."

Brits Strike Back

Romney's comments irritated British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was to meet with Romney shortly. Cameron quickly threw back a retort like a well aimed javelin: "We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere." The final barb of Cameron's comment, of course, was aimed at Salt Lake City.

Romney also irritated London Mayor Boris Johnson. He staged an impromptu rally and said to the crowd, "I hear there's a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we're ready. Are we ready? Yes we are."

After his meeting with Cameron at 10 Downing Street, Romney emerged for some awkward photographs and gave an equally awkward statement. "I am very delighted with the prospects of a highly successful Olympic Games," he said. "What I have seen shows imagination and forethought and a lot of organization and expect the games to be highly successful."

Romney's Other Troubles

That was not Romney's only campaign faux pas. Earlier, a British newspaper reported that an anonymous source within the Romney campaign said Romney understood the "Anglo-Saxon heritage" of the special relationship between the U.S. and Great Britain better than President Barack Obama does.

Romney immediately distanced himself the report and its obvious racial connotations.

Romney also apparently breached diplomatic protocol. NPR reports that he revealed he had a meeting with a top British intelligence officer. Such meetings usually remain secret.

Romney's Goals

Romney embarked on the trip, which will include stops in Poland and the Czech Republic, after blasting Obama's foreign policy at a meeting of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Reno, Nevada, July 24.

Romney has charged that Obama abandoned Poland and the Czech Republic by halting plans for Bush-era missile defense sites in those countries. Romney hopes the trip will let him establish good relations with those nations.

The Obama Administration has said that the Bush plan was more theoretical than actual. Obama has instead promised a different type of defense system to both countries.

Romney's trip to Great Britain was to acquaint him with British officials and raise campaign money.

Romney has made only two foreign policy speeches in the entire presidential campaign. Neither they, nor a "white paper" on his campaign website, have offered any substantial foreign policy difference from Barack Obama's. Romney has settled for leveling criticism at Obama, such as in the eastern European missile defense issue, budget cuts to the Pentagon, and what Romney sees as lack of support for Israel.

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