Scant hours after Mitt Romney touched down in London to kick off an overseas tour, Vice President Joe Biden blasted the Republican's campaign for "playing politics with international diplomacy" by claiming President Barack Obama has let relations with Britain drift.
Biden's comments came after the Daily Telegraph quoted unnamed Romney advisers as saying their man would restore the "special relationship" between Washington and London and one made a comment the newspaper warned "may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity."
"We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special," the adviser said of Romney, adding: "The White House didn't fully appreciate the shared history we have."
"The comments reported this morning are a disturbing start to a trip designed to demonstrate Gov. Romney's readiness to represent the United States on the world's stage," said Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Not surprisingly, this is just another feeble attempt by the Romney campaign to score political points at the expense of this critical partnership. This assertion is beneath a presidential campaign." Aides to Romney—whose trip will also take him to Israel and Poland—have reportedly denied that the comments came from the campaign.
But the British news report undermined Romney's plan to mute his criticism of Obama's foreign policy while overseas under a (frequently poorly observed) tradition that "politics stops at the water's edge." Instead, the Republican standard-bearer opened up with both barrels at the president in a speech Tuesday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and his campaign hit out at Obama on other issues. As the Telegraph noted: "The advisers spoke on the condition of anonymity because Mr Romney's campaign requested that they not criticise the President to foreign media."
"Despite his promises that politics stops at the water's edge, Gov. Romney's wheels hadn't even touched down in London before his advisers were reportedly playing politics with international diplomacy, attempting to create daylight between the United States and the United Kingdom where none exists," Biden said. "Our special relationship with the British is stronger than ever."
"On every major issue—from Afghanistan to missile defense, from the fight against international terrorism to our success in isolating countries like Iran whose nuclear programs threaten peace and stability—we've never been more in sync," said Biden.
As the Telegraph points out, relations between Britain and the Obama White House haven't exactly been flawlessly wonderful—though the setbacks have mostly been symbolic.
Here's the Telegraph's account:
The two advisers said Mr Romney would seek to reinstate the Churchill bust displayed in the Oval Office by George W. Bush but returned to British diplomats by Mr. Obama when he took office in 2009. One said Mr Romney viewed the move as "symbolically important" while the other said it was "just for starters", adding: "He is naturally more Atlanticist".
Mr Obama has appeared less interested in relations with London than Mr Bush. He repeatedly rebuffed Gordon Brown when the then-prime minister sought a meeting at the UN in 2009 and was criticised for responding to an elaborate gift with a set of DVDs that did not work in Britain.
At the same time, it's hard to imagine any world leader topping the praise British Prime Minister David Cameron lavished on Obama during a March visit to the White House.
"There are three things about Barack that really stand out for me: Strength, moral authority and wisdom," the British leader said. "He has pressed the reset button on the moral authority of the entire free world."