T he United Kingdom, America’s closest friend in peace and ally in war for nearly a century, has spent seven years and £9 billion on hosting this year’s Summer Olympic Games — a very big deal for a proud people.
Try to imagine the impression Republican president wannabe Mitt Romney made shortly after arriving in London yesterday when he told NBC’s Brian Williams:
“There are a few things that were disconcerting, The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials — that obviously is not something which is encouraging.”
If you have trouble appreciating what an arrogant, ignorant thing Romney did by uttering those words, let’s put the shoe on the other foot.
State dinners are exquisite affairs hosted by heads of government and attended by the highest officials of government, including Cabinet secretaries congressional leaders, top-rank military officers, high-level diplomats, and so on. Generally, state dinners are held to fete heads of state of friendly countries. They’re considered one of the highest diplomatic honors a country can bestow on a guest.
Suppose the U.K.’s Prime Minister David Cameron were to be guest of honor at a state dinner at the White House. President Obama offers a gracious toast welcoming Cameron and lauding British-American friendship. Cameron then rises to offer a toast in return:
“Thank you for the kind words, Mr. President, and for inviting me to dinner. I just hope the chef knows what he’s doing because I’ve heard White House food is sometimes as greasy as it is bland. I guess we’ll just have to see once the meal is served.”
Casting doubt on the U.K.’s preparedness to host the Olympics wasn’t Romney’s only screw-up. He also announced to the world he had been briefed by the head of MI-6, the U.K.’s secretive intelligence service — a colossal breach of protocol. The British press noted it’s highly unusual for the candidate of a foreign country’s opposition party to receive such a briefing, and unheard of for anyone who’s received such a briefing to blab about it to the media.
Even before Romney’s gaffe-a-thon trip began one of his neocon aides had made a racially tainted overture to the British. He claimed Romney would be better able to conduct America’s relationship with the U.K. because of a “shared Anglo-Saxon heritage.” That was a slap at President Barack Obama, whose dark skin is emblematic of a partially different heritage.
Cameron, London’s mayor and the British media understandably reacted to Romney’s affronts with varying degrees of umbrage and disdain.
Undaunted, Romney pressed on toward the fund-raising event that was undoubtedly the primary objective of his assault on the U.K. Held at the Mandarin Hotel, it might not have gone much better than the rest of his visit.
His campaign team claimed the event took $2m in donations, but there were reports earlier that ticket prices had been lowered, and that some people had been offered free passes.
You might think Romney’s London remarks were enough Republican arrogance and ignorance for one day, but you’d be wrong. Back home, Romney surrogates sent out to douse the fire used gasoline instead of water.
Romney’s campaign team set up a conference call with US reporters in an attempt to limit the damage from the faltering UK visit. The campaign fielded Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell in Romney’s defence. “We’re not worried about overseas headlines. We’re worried about voters back here in America,” Jindal said in comments reported by Talking Points Memo.
In other words, screw the Brits and other foreigners, and what they think. All we care about is what American voters think.
As we learned during George W. Bush’s reign of error, conservative Republicans have a distinctively perverse approach to foreign affairs. It’s one that dispenses with manners and diplomacy in favor of displays of ignorance, arrogance and the uttering of gratuitous insults.