Obama campaign aides portray Romney foreign tour as lightweight


Obama campaign advisors set out Monday to cast GOP challenger Mitt Romney’s upcoming foreign tour as a series of offshore fundraisers that lack much in the way of substance.

“We in the United States, Britain and NATO have agreed to a plan to end the war in Afghanistan in 2014,” Michele Flournoy, the Obama campaign’s top foreign policy advisor and former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, told journalists on a call arranged  by the Obama for America campaign Monday.  “The transition process is already underway.”

“Gov. Romney has articulated opposition to that timeline,” Flournoy continued. “So  he fundamentally disagrees with our British friends.”

Romney plans to depart this week for the UK, where he will attend the London Olympics, and meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron. Then he will travel to Israel and Poland, his campaign said. “He is really abroad to learn and to listen,” Romney policy director Lahnee Chen told reporters on a conference call, the AFP reported.

Robert Gibbs, Obama campaign senior advisor, portrayed the Romney itinerary as lightweight compared to candidate Sen. Barack Obama’s 2008 world tour in which he traveled to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Jordan, Israel, as well as Germany, France and the UK. Obama “made it a priority to visit and talk with our troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait,” Gibbs said. “It was important during the trip to meet servicemen and women, as well as consult commanders in the region to get a sense of the situation on the ground.”

On Iran, which is expected to be a major focus of Romney’s discussions with Israeli leaders, “all we have gotten from Romney is tough talk,” said Colin Kahl, who served as Obama’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, on the campaign call.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he’ll tell candidate Romney, as he did candidate Obama in 2008, “about Israel’s desire for peace and also about Israel’s concern with the arming of Iran with nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said in an interview with CBS’ Face the Nation Sunday. “Unfortunately, it’s still with us four years later.”

Kahl called Romney’s recent pledge to “do the opposite” of Obama on Israel as “odd,” given, he said, that Obama had secured a “record-high” $10 billion in U.S. security support for Israel, additional funding for Israel’s deployment of the Iron Dome anti-rocket system, stood up for Israel at the United Nations, and intervened to save the lives of Israeli diplomats trapped last year at the Israeli embassy in Cairo.

Asked about the fact that Obama has not visited Israel since becoming president, Kahl said “we can expect him to visit Israel in a second term, if he is elected.” But he called the issue mostly “a distraction.” President George W. Bush didn’t visit Israel until the last year of his second term, and President Ronald Reagan never visited Israel.

Some Israelis have expressed disappointment that Obama skipped Israel while traveling to Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, suggesting that the substance of US support to Israel under his presidency can sometimes be overshadowed by atmospherics.

Meantime, a “cavalcade” of senior US officials have been traveling to Israel for high-level consultations in recent weeks–most recently National Security Advisor Tom  Donilon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to travel there in the coming days. Kahl said that in the three years he served as the top Obama administration Pentagon Middle East official, he personally traveled 14 times to Israel and had over 100 meetings with Israeli policymakers.

(Photo: Then U.S. Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy (L) met ith Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie in Beijing June 24, 2009. REUTERS/Greg Baker/Pool.)