Romney's rise may be producing yawns at home, but the Republican frontrunner has touched a nerve (make that several nerves) overseas.
- By Uri Friedman
Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland.
Mitt Romney’s recent primary victories in Iowa and New Hampshire have bolstered the perception — both at home and overseas — that the former Massachusetts governor has all but locked up the Republican presidential nomination. And while the foreign press is picking up on all the familiar tropes about Romney (a dull but determined Mormon moderate millionaire with solid business credentials and protean political views), some news outlets are going further — expressing outright anger with the GOP candidate over his foreign-policy views.
Romney, to be sure, hasn’t said anything as incendiary as, say, Newt Gingrich calling the Palestinians an “invented” people or Herman Cain sneering at Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan. But he has ruffled feathers abroad by coming out strongly against Russian aggression, European socialism, Iranian nuclear ambitions, Chinese economic policy, and illegal immigration. We’ve already heard from Eric Pape about why life in Paris isn’t nearly as bad as Romney makes it out to be, but there’s plenty more indignation out there to survey.
Romney, perhaps more than any other GOP candidate, has been a vocal critic of the Obama administration’s “reset” with Russia, calling the New START nuclear arms reduction agreement Obama’s “worst foreign-policy mistake,” criticizing the president for abandoning Eastern European allies like Poland and the Czech Republic, and arguing that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin threatens global stability by dreaming of “rebuilding the Russian empire.”
Those comments haven’t gone unnoticed in the Russian press. Many news outlets have picked up Romney’s comments, and the tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda reports that Romney is a “hawk” on Russia even though he’s generally considered a moderate on other issues. The World Policy Institute’s Michele Wucker, however, assures Izvestia that Romney and his rivals are tailoring their anti-Russia rhetoric for domestic consumption — “not battling against Putin, but Obama.”
Russian coverage isn’t all negative. The state-run radio station Voice of Russia, for example, points out that Romney has an “IQ of 122 while Obama has scored 140,” which could make the 2012 elections “the most intellectual ones in America’s contemporary history.” Citing experts, the news outlet adds that the United States “is tired of wars” and “doesn’t want tension with Russia and China and involvement in new Middle East campaigns.”
The Polish press, not surprisingly, is generally friendly to Romney. At the journalist forum Salon24, historian Michael Krupa observes that Romney is the only Republican candidate to have thoroughly outlined his foreign-policy vision, particularly when it comes to Europe. Krupa says Romney wants to elevate the importance of U.S.-Polish relations by executing a plan scrapped by Obama to locate U.S. missile defense systems in Poland and working to decrease Eastern European dependence on Russian gas supplies. Gazeta Wyborcza writes that while Romney may be “colorless and wooden,” he can boast of “real achievements” as a businessman and governor.
Above, Romney speaks at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library at Texas A&M University in April 2007.
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Romney may have expressed interest in Switzerland’s health care model, lived in France as a Mormon missionary in the late 1960s, and spoken French while promoting the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002 (as Newt Gingrich, a French speaker himself, gleefully points out in a new attack ad), but his assaults on Europe, coming amid a worsening European debt crisis, have only ramped up since he launched his campaign. In his victory speech in New Hampshire this week, Romney accused President Obama of wanting “to turn America into a European-style entitlement society.”
European society, needless to say, isn’t thrilled with these statements. France’s Le Figaro, which has compared Romney’s blandness to Socialist presidential candidate François Hollande’s (the socialism-bashing Romney probably wouldn’t appreciate the comparison), laments that France and “old Europe” have become “punching bags” in the Republican primary, noting that Romney may have developed his “European allergy” as he watched a “nation of cynical disbelievers” slam doors in his face as a young missionary. But the French paper adds that the Republican candidates, with all their anti-European rhetoric, seem to forget that it was Wall Street deregulation and the collapse of the U.S. housing market that triggered the current financial crisis.
Der Spiegel, meanwhile, claims that the Republican focus on Europe is as much a “cultural confrontation” as it is an economic one, and that Romney has framed the confrontation “as a battle for the soul of America.” These statements, the German paper argues, sound “absurd from a European point of view — even more so given the current state of the U.S. economy. The American dream of being able to rise from being a dishwasher to millionaire hasn’t been reality for years, perhaps decades.”
But the European press stills harbors grudging respect for the smooth and steady (if exceedingly boring) way that Romney has seemingly locked up the Republican nomination. Der Spiegel calls Romney the “GOP’s Duracell Bunny” and the Telegraph observes that while “a Romney stump speech may be the political equivalent of watching paint dry,” the candidate’s “relentless focus on the economy and his own background in the private sector is exactly the right focus during a recession.” Germany’s Die Welt praises Romney and fellow Republican candidate Newt Gingrich as “experienced center-right politicians,” and observes that “one can’t help but be impressed by the new ideas emanating from the party following the demise of the Neocons.”
Above, Romney and former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt attend the lighting of the Olympic flame for the Salt Lake City Olympics at the Temple of Hera in Greece in November 2001 .
Romney has directed some of his most heated rhetoric at Iran, which he argues poses “the greatest immediate threat to the world since the fall of the Soviet Union” because of its nuclear ambitions, which Romney plans to halt through tough sanctions, support for domestic opposition groups, and the threat of military force.
Iran’s Press TV has fired back. In an article entitled “Romney the liar tells tall tales on Iran,” the state-run news outlet takes issue with a Romney stump speech claiming that Iran is “intent on becoming nuclear.” The article points out that Iran is already contending with international sanctions and U.S. covert operations, and that the International Atomic Energy Agency “has never pointed to any evidence indicating that Tehran’s civilian nuclear program has been diverted to nuclear weapons production.”
Reaction has been warmer in Israel, which Romney pledges to visit on his first official trip as president (he often accuses Obama of throwing Israel “under the bus”). A Ynet op-ed by an Israeli living in the United States praises Romney for emphasizing that the United States “should be willing to stand by its allies” and criticizing “Obama’s ambivalence towards Israel.” But another op-ed in Haaretz questions whether there is really much of a difference between Romney’s policy toward Iran and Obama’s. Romney’s declarations include “innumerable statements about military power,” the author notes. “But nothing is said about a firm commitment to an American strike against Iran, or about giving a green light to Jerusalem for an Israeli attack.”
Above, Romney meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in January 2011.
Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images
Romney’s pledge to designate China as a currency manipulator and pursue litigation against its “unfair trade practices” hasn’t won the Republican frontrunner much support in the Chinese press, which is generally of the opinion that Beijing becomes a scapegoat every U.S. election cycle. In an article entitled “GOP bashes China as vote nears,” China Daily discusses Jon Huntsman’s Mandarin-infused efforts to inform Romney that his policies would start a trade war with China. Citing an expert at Shanghai’s Fudan University, the paper explains that the “presidential candidates have no other choice but to criticize China in the election, as the U.S. is in a phase of relatively rapid decline.” Ouch.
The criticism of Romney isn’t limited to his positions on China, either. “The former Massachusetts governor is willing to say whatever pleases the Republican voters,” another China Daily analysis notes, in a refrain echoed across borders.
Above, Romney meets with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Boston in December 2003, on the second anniversary of a direct shipping route between Massachusetts and China.
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As Larry Kaplow noted at Foreign Policy this week, Romney’s ties with Mexico stretch back to 1885, when the candidate’s great-grandfather settled in a Mormon colony there. Romney’s father was born in Mexico and there are still Romneys in the northern state of Chihuahua, but that hasn’t stopped Romney from calling for a high-tech fence along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, pouncing on his GOP opponents for being soft on immigration, and coming out against “DREAM Act” legislation that would provide legal status for children of illegal immigrants who want to enroll in college or the military. (That aside, in an attempt to reach out to Latino voters in Florida, Romney did release a Spanish-language ad this week in which his son shows off some pretty sharp Spanish skills).
In addition to running pieces about the indignation of Latino activists over Romney’s lurch to the right on immigration (Romney’s Massachusetts health-care law allowed undocumented migrants to receive virtually free care), the Mexican press has published several pieces tweaking Romney for coming down hard on immigration despite his Mexican roots. As a journalist writing in the Ciudad Juárez-based El Diario put it, “It’s a great paradox of life that Romney has shown himself to be so anti-immigrant while being a de facto son of a Mexican immigrant.” Romney’s hardline stance, the journalist adds, stems from his desire to “satisfy the most intolerant sectors of his party” and secure the Republican nomination.
Above, Romney delivers a foreign-policy address to cadets at the Citadel in South Carolina in October 2011.
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