FrontPage | 8.1.12
By Alan W. Dowd
Gov. Mitt Romney finishes up his overseas trip to Britain,
Israel and Poland this week. The trip began inauspiciously, due to what some
called Romney’s “gaffe” about the London Olympic Games. “There are a few things
that were disconcerting,” said Romney, who organized the Salt Lake Games in
2002, when asked about London’s preparations. That rather bland remark—which
turned out to be at least partly accurate, as ticket and transportation
problems have plagued the Games—became the narrative for most major media
outlets. But if anyone cares to know what a gaffe really looks and sounds like,
consider President Barack Obama’s treatment of the very allies Romney visited.
It pays to recall that Obama began his presidency with a
series of major gaffes and outright insults to America’s closest ally.
With little fanfare—in fact, it was kept quiet for many
weeks—Obama discreetly returned a bust of Winston Churchill to the British
government soon after his inauguration. During his predecessor’s
administration, the statue rested in an honored place near the president’s
desk—an unmistakable symbol of the special relationship between these two
great, liberal democracies. When the Obama administration dismissed reports
that Sir Winston’s likeness had been tossed out like so much remodeling
debris—employing its trademark self-righteous rhetoric by calling those reports
“100 percent false”—it was discovered that the denials were false. As the
British Embassy in Washington reported,
the bust was loaned to the White House “in the wake of 9/11 as a signal of the
strong transatlantic relationship…The new president has decided not to continue
this loan and the bust has now been returned. It is on display at the
Obama White House officials vainly explained that they were talking about a
different Churchill bust—one was given in the 1960s, another after 9/11—but the
damage was already done. “Barack Obama Sends Bust of Winston Churchill on its
Way Back to Britain,” blasted a London Telegraph headline from February 2009.
Sadly, that would be the first of many slights and gaffes Obama directed
Britain’s way. In a terrible breach of protocol, Obama met with Tony Blair, the
former prime minister of Britain, before meeting with then-Prime Minister
Gordon Brown. Worse, Obama cut short a meeting with Brown to visit with the Boy
Scouts. British media described Brown as humiliated by the snub. Even worse, when
the two leaders met and engaged in the customary exchange of gifts, Obama gave
Brown 25 DVD movies. “The Prime Minister gave Mr. Obama an ornamental pen
holder made from the timbers of the Victorian anti-slave ship HMS Gannet…a framed
commission for HMS Resolute and a first edition of the seven-volume biography
of Churchill by Sir Martin Gilbert,” the Daily Mail reported. (“Rudeness
personified towards Britain,” howled The Daily Telegraph.) And worst of all, the
Obama administration offloaded a handful of GITMO detainees onto the British
colony of Bermuda—without consulting Britain. “This is not the kind of behavior
one expects from an ally,” a British official declared.
Indeed, in areas of shared interest, like NATO military
operations, Obama deeply disappointed Britain. Early on in Libya, the White
House talked about a “time-limited, scope-limited” mission. In fact, the U.S.
was so eager to step back from the lead role it played in the first week of Libya
operations that Britain and France had to request assistance from U.S. aircraft
before they could be deployed on strike missions. William Hague, Britain’s
foreign minister, urged allied nations to “expand” their efforts, pointedly
adding, “That is why the United Kingdom in the last weeks supplied additional
aircraft capable of striking ground targets that threaten the civilian population.
Of course, it would be welcome if other countries did the same.” Hague was
politely directing his message at Washington. The U.S. accounted for 90 of the
206 NATO planes initially deployed in support of Unified Protector, and an even
higher percentage of the planes capable of carrying out precision ground-attack
missions. However, the U.S. contribution plummeted to a tiny handful of planes
after the first two weeks. As a result, Britain and France were left straining
to play a lead role in NATO—a role they are simply not equipped to play.
Poland, too, knows how it feels to get the Obama treatment.
Obama pulled the rug out from under Poland (and the Czech
Republic) in order to ink a bad arms control treaty with Russia. Worried about
Iran’s nukes and missiles, Europe had agreed to a NATO-wide missile defense
system during the Bush administration. It was a courageous decision on Poland’s
part (Warsaw was exposing itself to Russian ire by agreeing to allow
permanent U.S. missile-defense bases on its soil) and an impressive
diplomatic feat on the Bush administration’s part (most of NATO had taken an
agnostic stand on missile defense for decades).
But for Obama, a hard-earned diplomatic victory by previous
administrations and the fate of Poland were less important than his “Russian
reset.” So he abruptly scrapped NATO’s plans for a permanent defense against
missile threats. (Talk about unilateralism.) It pleased the Russians, but it
humiliated the Poles and Czechs. A Polish defense official called the decision
“catastrophic.” The Czech Republic announced that it was withdrawing from Obama’s
scaled-down alternative system, angrily rejecting Washington’s revised plans as
“a consolation prize.”
Some dismissed Poland’s reaction as paranoia. However,
as the old saying goes, it’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you.
Just consider that Russian war
games often involve simulated nuclear strikes against, and invasions
Just as bad, the perception that the U.S. had
taken Moscow’s side was a humiliating diplomatic blow for Poles and a
bitter reminder of the West’s indifference to their security before and after
World War II. As historian George Weigel concluded, “When the administration
announced this betrayal on the 70th anniversary of the 1939 Soviet invasion of
Poland, without even informing the Polish prime minister in a timely manner, it
raised a very large question mark in Polish minds about the administration’s
strategy, its grasp of the history of east-central Europe, and its
understanding of the linkage between the two.”
As to gaffes, Obama recently stunned and sickened Poland by using the term
“Polish death camps” in a speech. Poland has never run death camps. The Nazis
and the Soviets did, and many Poles died in those murder mills. As Polish
Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski observed, Obama’s word choice was a matter of “ignorance
And to that list, we might add “insensitivity.” Indeed, the
longer this goes on, the less we can blame Obama’s treatment of allies on
things like ignorance and incompetence. The harsh reality may be that he just
doesn’t care about allies.
Take the example of Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. In one of those “hot mic”
incidents that have come to haunt Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy, then the president of
France, called the Israeli PM “a liar.” Instead of gently correcting Sarkozy,
diplomatically changing the subject or better yet, defending Netanyahu and the
besieged nation of Israel, Obama joined in the gripe session. “You may be sick
of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day,” he sighed.
It was only one of many glimpses into Obama’s pettiness vis-à-vis Israel. In
2010, Obama made Netanyahu wait for an hour before meeting with the Israeli
leader. We didn’t hear much about it from Obama’s dutiful press here in the
States, but newspapers on the other side of the Atlantic took notice. A British
newspaper reported that Obama’s boorishness “appeared designed to show Mr.
Netanyahu how low his stock had fallen in Washington…Mr. Obama treated his
guest to a series of slights. Photographs of the meeting were forbidden and an
Israeli request to issue a joint-statement…was turned down.”
“There is no humiliation exercise that the Americans did not try on the prime
minister and his entourage,” declared an
During that same 2010 meeting, Obama reportedly presented
Netanyahu with “a list of 13 demands designed both to the end the feud with his
administration and to build Palestinian confidence.” Where were the demands on Hamas,
which pelts Israel with dozens of rocket attacks per month?
Indeed, perhaps nowhere is Obama’s postmodern moral
relativism more distressing than vis-à-vis Israel, a tiny island of free
government and free people in a sea of chaos, terror and autocracy. The White
House seems to equate the construction of housing settlements by Israel with
acts of terror by Hamas. And when Israel responds with force to those acts of
terror, Israel’s response is lumped in with the initial attacks.
If Obama was surly and cavalier with every nation, it would
be shortsighted and ugly—but at least consistent and fair. The fact that he
offers an extended hand to those at odds with U.S. interests, while close
allies in Britain, Israel and Poland are treated to snubs, slights and
backhands is not only shortsighted and ugly, but also inconsistent, incongruent,
unfair and just plain wrong.
Perhaps Romney’s foreign trip has sent a signal that things
can be different.