Obama aide: Romney ‘struck out playing t-ball’ on foreign trip

Olivier Knox

The truce, such as it was, is over. Top Obama campaign aides blasted Mitt Romney's overseas trip on Tuesday, calling his foray on the world stage an "embarrassing disaster" and mocking the verbal stumbles that clouded his visit to staunch ally Britain.

"It's not that Romney struck out against a major league pitcher," Colin Kahl, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, told reporters on a conference call as Romney flew home. "I mean, here, he struck out playing t-ball. This should have been easy and it wasn't for him apparently."

Kahl underlined Romney's comments suggesting that Britain might not be ready to host the Olympics, which drew rebukes from British Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson.

"He managed to insult the leaders, citizens and press of the United Kingdom, probably our closest ally in the entire world on the eve of the Olympics, an event that they've been planning for years," Kahl said. "If Romney can't handle our special relationship with the British on the eve of the Olympic Games, what's going to happen when he has to deal with our enemies, or has to deal with really tough situations?" 

Romney's trip, which also took him to Israel and finally to Poland, was marred by a handful of verbal missteps. In addition to his comments about the Olympics—he later praised the "spectacular" opening ceremony—Romney angered Palestinians by suggesting their "culture" might be to blame for the disparity in income between them and their Israeli neighbors. One top Palestinian dubbed the claim "racist." And Romney's criticisms of Obama for scrapping a missile defense system in Eastern Europe drew a rebuke from the Slovak foreign minister.

"Romney was auditioning to be leader of the free world, and it's clear he was simply unable to represent America on the world stage," Obama advisor Robert Gibbs said on the same conference call. "It is clear that the opportunity to credential his beliefs with the American voters was nothing short for Mitt Romney of an embarrassing disaster on this trip."

But despite the cringe-inducing media coverage of his various stumbles, Romney also got much of what he wanted from the week-long tour. Notably, in Israel, the former Massachusetts governor highlighted his warm personal relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has famously testy ties with Obama. Romney also delivered a stern, presidential-style warning to Iran over its nuclear program, made a somber pilgrimage to the Western Wall and tweaked Obama by referring to Jerusalem as Israel's capital. (Official U.S. policy, going back decades, is that the status of Jerusalem must be part of a final peace deal with the Palestinians, who want Israel-annexed East Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state. But Obama attempted a similar gambit in the 2008 race.) In Poland, Romney effectively got the endorsement of anti-Soviet icon Lech Walesa during a visit that could appeal to Polish-Americans clustered in a few important battleground states.

"Mitt Romney will be a president who unapologetically stands up for America and the enduring values of freedom," Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams said in a statement. "Governor Romney has laid out a foreign policy that will strengthen our interests, ensure our security, and let our friends know they have a partner in the White House."

But Romney has struggled to lay out precisely how his foreign policy would differ from Obama's on issues like Iran. Romney has called for crippling sanctions coupled with the threat of force—essentially the Obama approach.

"A lot of this is Romney describing our current policy and masquerading it as criticism of the president," Kahl said.

But Kahl treaded carefully when it came to the "culture" spat with the Palestinians. "This is a very delicate issue, and I think ultimately our view is that it's up to Governor Romney to explain why those comments would be helpful at advancing the peace process in the Middle East," he said.

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney offered a considerably more veiled criticism of Romney's trip.

"When American Presidents, American senators and congressmen and would-be leaders go abroad, what they say is placed under a magnifying glass and it carries great impact," he said at his daily briefing. "And Presidents, senators, congressmen, former governors need to be very mindful of the impact because of the diplomatic implications of what you say overseas."

"Getting it right matters greatly to America's standing in the world and to the successful execution of American foreign policy," Carney said.

Asked whether he was saying that Romney's trip had somehow undermined American foreign policy, Carney said no—and got in a dig at the tour's troubles.

"There's nothing that I can say that's detrimental—at least not to the president," he quipped.