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The Real Romney Trip

With the Republican candidate abroad

Aug 13, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 44 • By FRED BARNES
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But it came in response to a question not about Romney, but about how well public transportation was holding up in London. Asked specifically about Romney, Cameron was gracious. “I think we’ll show the whole world … we are extremely good at welcoming people from across the world,” he said. “I will obviously make those points to Mitt Romney. I’m looking forward to our meeting.” Cameron later joked about Romney’s comment.

Yet the American media insisted Romney had suffered a setback in London. He needs “a breakout moment … to salvage his overseas tour, which got off to a rocky start,” the Washington Post said. “Rookie mistakes,” The Week concluded. “The British were offended,” the AP said. 

Gaffe #2. It wasn’t really a gaffe but a misunderstanding of what Romney adviser Dan Senor meant when he told reporters Romney would “respect” a decision by Israel to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. Without asking for clarification, the AP sent out an alert saying Romney would “back” a military strike by Israel, and others followed with similar stories.

Senor, while previewing Romney’s speech in Jerusalem, was merely repeating Romney’s long-held view that Israel has a right to defend itself against Iran’s nuclear threat. He was not suggesting Romney would announce a change in his position, much less a tougher attitude toward Iran. Nor was he trying to make news. That was Romney’s job. Here’s what Senor said: 

“We in the West partnering with Israel should do everything we can from stopping Iran from developing that [nuclear] weapons capability. And if Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would respect that decision.”

Asked about Senor’s statement a few hours later by CBS’s Jan Crawford, Romney twice used the word “respect” and added: “Because I’m on foreign soil I don’t want to be creating new foreign policy for my country.”

In his speech, Romney said, “We recognize Israel’s right to defend itself, and it is right for America to stand with you.” A Romney aide called the notion that, at this point, he backs or supports an Israel raid “absurd.”

Gaffe #3. This, too, was a gaffe that wasn’t—or at least wasn’t Romney’s fault. At the fundraiser at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, he delivered a riff he often includes in speeches, only this time he added a mention of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Given the location of his speech, this made sense, but it wound up backfiring on Romney.

Romney noted the wide disparity in GDP per capita between Israel and the Palestinian territory. “You notice a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality,” he said. “And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador. Mexico and the United States.” Then, after citing a scholarly book he’d read, Romney said, “If you could learn anything from the economic history of the world it’s this: Culture makes all the difference.”

He’d been making this point, in exactly those words, as far back as his 2008 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. In his book No Apology, published in 2010, he wrote that despite a decline in educational standards, “we are fortunate that other factors, such as culture, also play a vital role” in America’s success. And at the University of Chicago in March, he again cited culture and listed the cultural traits he believes are most important. “Our work ethic,” he said. “Our appreciation for education. The willingness of Americans to take risk. Our commitment to honor contract oath, our family devotion. Our commitment to purposes greater than ourselves. Our patriotism.”

Romney didn’t repeat these attributes in his Jerusalem speech, but if he had, it probably wouldn’t have affected what happened next. Most of the press had left before the speech and, joined later by Romney and his entourage, were flying to Poland when the AP put out a story. “Mitt Romney told Jewish donors Monday that their culture is part of what has allowed them to be more economically successful than the nearby Palestinians,” it said in the first paragraph. Two other direct quotations followed. A Romney adviser said the AP story had to have been written without the benefit of a transcript because the only recordings of the speech were on the plane to Poland.

Nonetheless, based on the AP story, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat denounced Romney. “Oh my God, this man needs a lot of education,” he said in a telephone interview. “What he said about the culture is racism.” Erekat said Romney had ignored the effect of the “Israeli occupation” in blocking commerce in the West Bank and limiting economic growth.

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