Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign event in Bow, N.H., on Friday. (Charles Dharapak / Associated…)
BOSTON — Mitt Romney’s seven-day foreign tour this week promises to be an elaborate show of statesmanship — from his meetings with more than a dozen leaders from Britain, Israel and Poland to his attendance at the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in London.
But his advisors cautioned that voters should not expect any major policy pronouncements. The former Massachusetts governor, they said, is mainly traveling abroad to "learn and listen."
In a campaign dominated by the economy, the international trip offers Romney a rare chance to show voters that he would be a capable leader on the world stage. Not only will he have the chance to brush up his foreign policy credentials — a weak spot in his résumé — but his presence at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics on Friday will allow his campaign to spotlight his experience turning around the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games at a time when the organization faced scandal and financial crisis.
Mindful that it would be considered bad form for a presidential candidate to criticize of the nation’s commander-in-chief on foreign soil, Romney's aides said that he would not make direct policy contrasts with President Obama while abroad. But he plans to frame his foreign policy goals and the purpose of his trip in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Tuesday in Nevada.
The unofficial Republican nominee chose to visit Britain, Israel and Poland, Romney policy director Lanhee Chen said, because of those nations' “strong and important” relationship with the United States. “This trip demonstrates Gov. Romney’s belief in the words and necessity of standing with our allies, and locking arms with our allies, and that indeed is the common theme uniting the United Kingdom, Israel and Poland,” Chen told reporters during a conference call last week.
The three countries are “pillars of liberty and fought through periods where liberty was under siege,” Chen added. “So this trip is an opportunity for us to demonstrate a clear and resolute stand with nations that share our values and possess the fortitude to defend those values in the name of a more peaceful world.”
Romney will have a full slate of meetings in London, where he plans to visit with Prime Minister David Cameron, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and Labor Party leader Ed Miliband. And he is expected to have public events in Poland, which he is visiting at the invitation of Lech Walesa, the co-founder of the Solidarity movement that led the drive to bring down communist rule a generation ago.
But perhaps the most significant portion of Romney’s trip will be his visit to Israel, part of a carefully orchestrated effort by his campaign to connect with Jewish and evangelical voters, who were initially cool to his candidacy. Romney has spoken publicly about his friendship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which extends back to his early days at the Boston Consulting Group.
In addition to meeting with Netanyahu, Romney will spend time with President Shimon Peres, as well as Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. His advisors noted that he met with many of the same leaders during his prior visits to Israel. His first visit was with his family; he was accompanied during his second visit by the Republican Jewish Coalition, and he traveled to Israel again last year after spending time in Afghanistan and Jordan.
During Romney’s second trip, in which he spoke at the Herzliya conference about the threat of a nuclear Iran, he toured Israel by helicopter to complement his security briefings, and visited Israel’s borders with the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.
Romney has sharply criticized Obama’s approach to Israel, arguing that he would be a better friend to the nation. He has also faulted the president for not moving swiftly enough to enforce crippling sanctions on Iran, a policy that he said put Israel in greater danger.
“We stand with the Israeli people. We link arms with them,” Romney said during an ABC Republican primary debate last year in which he said he would lean on Netanyahu for guidance on a host of issues, from the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to the tensions with Iran. “If we disagree with them, like this president has time and time again, we don't do it in public like he's done it, we do it in private.”
Dan Senor, one of Romney’s foreign policy advisors, said that the candidate had developed relationships with Israeli and Palestinian leaders during those past trips and was looking forward to reconnecting with them.
“He feels strongly about the importance of locking arms with a number of these leaders,” Senor said. “In the case of Israel, he feels strongly that threats to Israel are threats to America.”