Monday’s debate: Watch for what Romney says about Europe

REUTERS/Jason Reed
Mitt Romney speaking to the press following his meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron outside 10 Downing Street in July.

There’s not a binder of Europeans ready to support Gov. Mitt Romney.

If residents of the European Union could vote today in the U.S. presidential election, 75 percent would vote for President Obama and 8 percent for Romney. He doesn’t care. Polls indicate that most of you reading this don’t care.

Let me, first of all, admit that I am a bit Eurocentric and that I speak some French (You will see the point below) and, secondly, suggest why we should care.

In mid-September, a poll by Transatlantic Trends of the German Marshall Fund found that 82 percent of Europeans have a favorable opinion of Obama while 23 percent hold a favorable opinion of Romney. In the wake of the first presidential debates in early October, Obama’s support in France was 89 percent and in Germany, 87 percent.

Although the October poll had Obama down 3 points in France from his September approval rating, Romney cannot argue that momentum is on his side. The slight slippage in Obama’s favorability rating in Europe has come from European objections to his increased use of drone strikes, one aspect of Obama’s strategy that Romney’s neocon supporters at least secretly admire.

Romney has gotten his message across to Russia.  Recent public opinion polls in Russia, our “No. 1 geopolitical enemy,” show 42 percent of the country favoring a victory for Obama, with  4 percent of Russians favor Romney.

Our last presidential debate comes Monday and will focus on foreign policy. On policy toward Europe, watch for three things. First, Romney won’t show off his French. Second, he will promise a “missile shield” for Poland and the Czech Republic where public opinion polls show majorities are clearly against the system. Lastly, he will accuse Obama of leading us down the path of Greece or Spain.

A knack for offending Europeans

The European polls confirm that at least one aspect of the Romney campaign is working well.

Think back to the summer and Romney’s gaffe-prone trip to Britain, Israel, and Poland. Romney has a knack for offending Europeans.  To re-phrase one of his earlier malapropisms, Romney is “severely” neocon when it comes to Europe.

It manifests itself in peculiar ways. For starters, Romney has hypocritically embraced the new right’s contempt for speaking French. President George W. Bush set this standard. In the 2004 campaign, “W” seized upon Sen. John Kerry’s ability to speak fluent French to call him a Francophile. “W” sneered that Kerry even “looks French.”

Like many references to his past, Romney has a problem here. A legacy from his youthful days as a Mormon missionary in France, Romney speaks excellent French. YouTube has preserved Romney’s 2002 video welcome in French to the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.  His French is excellent and, ah well, he does look a bit French.  Last January, Newt Gingrich put out attack ads criticizing Romney for speaking French, “just like John Kerry.”

In the course of the Republican primary battles, Romney ‘s French went the way of his record on pro-choice issues and health care in Massachusetts and was erased from the campaign’s version of his biography.

Speaking French was not always a liability in U.S. presidential politics. Others, who actually made it to the White House, showed off a far weaker command of French. Theodore Roosevelt flaunted his French, which some complained carried a heavy German accent.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt refused a translator and spoke to France’s General Charles de Gaulle in French. Decades later, in his memoirs, de Gaulle wrote that he never understood a word FDR said. One of the charms of the American Camelot was that its first lady spoke French so well that she could even charm old Gen. de Gaulle.

Obama does not claim to speak any French other than “merci beaucoup.”  On camera in France, he once tripped up and was unable to pronounce the “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” on his teleprompter. He can, however, claim as one of his greatest achievements in foreign policy that his administration stemmed the tide and turned back the rising anti-Americanism that rose with the Bush administration and peaked with the war in Iraq.

His popularity in Europe has remained fairly consistent and strong since his historic 2008 trip to Berlin. Obama was therefore able to translate this better image of the U.S. in Europe into NATO’s participation in the war in Afghanistan, the intervention in Libya and the tougher sanctions against Iran.

 However, the Pew Global Attitudes Project confirms that his Cairo speech in 2009 did not have the effect in the Muslim world that his 2008 speech in Berlin had on European opinion. Anti-Americanism continued to rise and exploded into the riots that shook the Muslim world this fall.

European unpopularity may help at home

Romney’s not fretting about how he polls in Europe. His unpopularity in Europe probably has given a boost to his often-lagging popularity among neocons and the new right who delight in trashing the “EuroWeenies.”

Besides, foreign policy will not decide this election. Last May, a Washington Post-ABC News Poll revealed that only 1 percent of Americans viewed foreign policy as their most important issue in the campaign.

It’s not about the election. It’s about how the next administration would govern. As the last Republican administration learned, foreign policy issues unexpectedly and often define a presidency.

 A recent poll by the Guardian shows that a Romney victory on Nov. 6 would bring anti-American opinion in Europe back to its pre-Obama, Bush-era levels. Romney appears to want a new Cold War that substitutes the Muslim world for the Russians but seems to have forgotten the European allies who were essential to our victory in the original Cold War.

In any case, in foreign policy, Romney needs to understand that you can’t bring a reluctant ally along by tying it to the top of your car.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Steve Aschburner on 10/19/2012 - 11:04 am.


    Romney answered a reporter’s question in Britain about Olympic security, drawn from his experience at actually running an Olympics. Better that he had simply stroked the locals? Or that he give an honest opinion? No Olympics ever can be too secure, especially with public workers there threatening to go on strike at the time he spoke. That’s not a “gaffe” — you must be thinking again of Biden.

    Wringing hands over what the “Euroweenies” (hadn’t heard it, not bad) might think of us seems to me less of a problem than knowing what Middle East threats to our nation think of us given current administration’s policy of cajoling and weakness. I’ll take not-being-liked over not-being-safe any day.

    • Submitted by Pat Igo on 10/19/2012 - 12:45 pm.

      Cajoling & Weakness

      ………and I’ll take “Respect” over not being “Liked”

    • Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 10/19/2012 - 12:54 pm.

      Remember 2002?

      Bush had a tough time getting European support for his Iraq follies after he and Rumsfeld insulted Europe. Romney’s comments about the Olympics were ill thought out and that is exactly something you look for in a President? Wars have started over misunderstandings, many times in history. What you say on other countries counts, when you aspire to the biggest stage in the world.

    • Submitted by Lance Groth on 10/19/2012 - 04:09 pm.

      not-being-liked over not-being-safe

      Well, it is, at least, a time honored position, expressed by Caligula (quoting Cicero) as “oderint dum metuant”.

      Then again, it is hatred that leads to not-being-safe.

  2. Submitted by David Frenkel on 10/19/2012 - 11:24 am.


    US political candidates reflect the parochialism of most Americans and really don’t care to know much about the world unless they run for political office. US schools teach very little about world history and current world affairs, how would our current and future politicians care about foreign policy if they are never educated about it. One of the most important exports of the US is agricultural products of which MN is a major exporter. I was flabbergasted to hear US Congressman Paulsen from MN admits to knowing very little about the US Farm Bill which includes export issues.

  3. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/19/2012 - 08:58 pm.

    Would the American consulate in Benghazi have been less likely to be attacked if America had supported Israeli efforts to expand its settlements on the West Bank? How about if we had been more aggressive over the past two years in explicitly threatening to bomb Iran? Would America’s standing in the Arab world be higher had we been more enthusiastically pro-Israel? It’s a theory.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/20/2012 - 02:45 pm.

    If you want to be popular in Europe

    an American politician must be willing to 1) embrace the nanny state model of high taxes and maximum government benefits and 2) put ample daylight between you and the State of Israel, two things Romney nor any republican president would ever be willing to do.

  5. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 10/22/2012 - 08:21 am.

    This debate may be no better than a spelling bee…

    Here’s a question that will never be asked and the pic above certainly fortifies the vacuous nature of the face so exposed:

    How many nuclear missiles does it take to destroy our ‘enemies’ or our perceived enemies?

    Is Uncle Sam an old codger suffering from nuclear bulimia in some cockamamie attempt to defend himself…precariously trying to secure peace by intervention that is essentially exploitation…yet we store N weapons that could destroy this great globe a thousand times over. Hopefully we won’t trip ourselves and shoot ourselves in the foot and become our own worst enemy in the process?

    Foreign policy debate hopefully has a moderator or an audience that asks a few serious questions, but we have developed an insular attitude in our concern for ourselves over others, so probably no great expectations…lots of generalities with little substance as we train our troops with Israel on their soil?

    Will the plight of the Palestinian even be approached seriously? I doubt it.

    And what are sanctions but a slow starvation of the people rather than instant bombing to secure our perceived exceptionalism and super power status in a world that does not love us anymore…anybody wonder why…

    I will listen but with few grand expectations?

  6. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 10/22/2012 - 08:55 am.

    But Romney

    Loved to frolic in France in the past.

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