LONDON – Mitt Romney – a one-term governor untested on the world’s political stage – faces high stakes in the coming week during visits to England, Israel and Poland. It’s a trip that amounts to an international audition.
The Republican presidential candidate is seeking to persuade voters back home to elect him their leader in a complex, dangerous world. His trip will invite comparisons to Barack Obama’s successful overseas 2008 tour before he won the White House.
Romney, whose decades in private business gave him ample exposure to international affairs, hopes to prove that he is no novice on foreign policy. At the same time he’ll be highlighting a key part of his résumé – the successful Salt Lake City Olympics he managed – with a visit to the opening days of the London Games. He’s also planned a series of meetings – and photo events – with political leaders in the three countries he’s visiting in hopes of projecting an image of leadership.
His itinerary is limited to a few tightly controlled appearances in countries that are close allies of the United States, suggesting that Romney knows there are risks as well as potential benefits to his trip.
Romney will be visiting two countries in Europe, a region he’s spent most of his campaign criticizing. Beyond that, he’s certain to face pressure to outline where he stands on such weighty matters as missile defense, Afghanistan troop levels, violence raging in Syria, the nuclear threat from Iran and the Middle East peace process, putting him on the spot to add details to a foreign policy vision that so far has been short on them.
He also faces the tricky task of contrasting himself with Obama while staying true to his promise not to openly assail the president while on foreign soil, honoring longstanding tradition that American politicians don’t criticize their government while abroad. Drawing implicit contrasts with the president also could be difficult because Romney has so far not outlined sharp foreign policy differences with his Democratic opponent.
“I don’t want to be in any way critical of the president or to be fashioning foreign policy departure from the president, while I’m on foreign soil,” Romney told NBC News during a Wednesday interview in London when asked about how he would help Israel as president. “But I can tell you that, that with regards to any nation that, that feels its security is at risk that they should have a firm conviction that America is securely behind them.”