By Michael Mathes (AFP) – Jul 23, 2012
WASHINGTON — White House hopeful Mitt Romney heads to Europe and the Middle East this week to burnish his diplomatic credentials but President Barack Obama and his re-election team declared the Republican too inexperienced in foreign policy.
The six-day overseas trip to Britain, Israel and Poland, Romney's first since clinching the Republican Party nomination in April, will provide him a chance to attack Obama's foreign policy while seeking to burnish his own stature.
Romney will try to show Israel -- and Jewish voters back home -- that he would be a better friend in the White House than the incumbent and to reassure Poland after Obama scrapped recent plans for a missile defense system.
Obama's re-election team pounced on Romney's plans, painting their rival as a diplomacy neophyte and saying it was not time to "play politics" with US foreign policy in the volatile Middle East.
The race has largely focused on domestic issues like the struggling economy, and Romney's trip will temporarily shift the attention, though his team insists there will be "no major policy pronouncements."
"He is really abroad to learn and to listen," Romney's policy director Lanhee Chen said.
Chen described the voyage, which starts Thursday in London, as a chance to show the value of "locking arms with our allies."
But it's also a bid -- as it was when candidate Obama traveled to Europe in July 2008 -- to portray Romney as having the foreign policy chops for the job.
Romney has a tough act to follow. Obama was greeted like a rock star in July 2008 by a 200,000 crowd who gathered in Berlin to hear him speak.
And a visit by a Republican candidate may serve to remind Europeans of policy decisions by the last Republican in the White House, George W. Bush, something Obama campaign officials seized on Monday.
"Given his lack of experience on these issues and his support for failed policies that were pursued during the Bush administration, I think this trip should be judged on the type of substantive ideas that Mitt Romney outlines," former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters.
The American people, he said, deserve to know "whether he would continue the proven policies of President Obama or return us to a time in which our foreign policy was a sore spot quite honestly in the world."
Obama touted his own record of foreign policy success, telling the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) that he has fulfilled his vow from four years ago to "take the fight to our enemies, and renew our leadership in the world."
"You don't just have my words, you have my deeds," Obama said, citing his ending of the Iraq war, the drawdown from Afghanistan, and restoration of alliances that had frayed over the fight against Al-Qaeda and a devastating global recession.
And without mentioning Romney by name, he called out opponents of his ending the war in Iraq.
"Some said that bringing our troops home last year was a mistake. They would have kept tens of thousands of our forces in Iraq indefinitely without a clear mission," Obama said.
Romney, who addresses the VFW on Tuesday after a two-day fundraising swing through California, travels on Thursday to Britain where he meets Prime Minister David Cameron and other top officials.
Romney will attend the Olympics' opening ceremonies on Friday, a move calculated to remind voters of his most successful foray to date into the global arena -- his stewardship of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.
He then travels to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and he will also talk with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
On July 30 Romney heads to Poland to meet its leaders as well as former president Lech Walesa, the icon of Poland's 1980s anti-communist freedom drive.
Poland could serve as a platform from which Romney could hit out at Russia, a country the candidate has repeatedly labeled a key geopolitical foe.
Washington scaled back a US missile shield planned for Poland, and critics say the move is a win for Moscow, which saw the system as a security threat.
It is perhaps in Israel where Romney could score the most points with US voters.
Romney has consistently attacked what he says is Obama's weak Middle East policy, saying the Democrat "threw Israel under the bus" in terms of defining the 1967 borders as a starting point for Israel-Palestinian negotiations.
And Romney has warned that Obama's policy toward Iran is too weighted toward engagement with an enemy of Israel with nuclear ambitions.
Jewish voters supported Obama by about three to one in 2008, but polls show Romney faring slightly better with that segment of the electorate, which could help him carry Florida, a swing state with a large Jewish population.
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