THAT HE should offend the British and the Palestinians will not be of the slightest concern to Mitt Romney’s campaign team. The intended audience for what a Washington Post columnist called the candidate’s “Look At Me, Im a Statesman” overseas tour was closer to home, voters in November’s election. Those he met on his travels were just bit players in the real drama unless they were billionaire donors opening their wallets at a campaign dinner in Jerusalem.
The big-picture message was twofold: a positioning of the candidate on the foreign policy stage, and a more specific bid to prove his hawkishness on Israel, as Likud’s reliable friend. Romney’s team has tried to caricature Barack Obama’s foreign policy as little more than the repeated slighting of the US’s best allies and appeasing of enemies or, at best, fairweather friends whether Arab or Russian. So, pointedly, Romney visited the allies, Britain, Israel, and Poland. And, for the most part, what he said hardly mattered – his disparaging slip about the Olympics was picked up by the liberal media in the US but will not have lost him any voters.
That may have been a foot-in-mouth moment but his comments in Israel on three issues were clearly deliberate. Romney spoke of Israel’s right to strike preemptively against Iran’s nuclear threat without, as Obama does, urging it to stay its hand pending negotiations. Music to the ears of primemMinister Binyamin Netanyahu, as was Romney’s reference to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a hugely contentious issue. US policy, in line with UN resolutions, is not to recognise the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem and to keep its embassy in Tel Aviv. Romney compounded his hawkish message with a disparaging reference to Palestinian culture as inferior to Israel’s, remarks that brought accusations of racism from their representatives.
His posturing is a none too subtle attempt to woo the Jewish vote, 76-80 per cent of which has voted loyally for Democratic presidential candidates since 1992, and most crucially in the key swing state of Florida with its 600,000 Jewish voters. Elsewhere the Jewish vote is small, and probably not for shifting. But strong support for Israel’s conservatives has also become a key platform for Evangelicals, an essential part of the Republican constituency whose distrust of Romney’s Mormonism may make them less ready to turn out in November. As for the effect of his comments on the peace process, notably in hardening Israeli obduracy, presumably that is regarded as a price worth paying.