Romney Gets Owned By The Economist

Ouch.

The Economist seems to have taken an even dimmer view of Mitt Romney’s recent foreign excursion than I did. In a scorching piece subtitled “Like Bush, but without the cosmopolitan flair”, the newspaper rips Romney for what they call his “horn-honking, floppy-shoed clown show” of a foreign trip.

The newspaper rightly lays into Romney for stating before he left on his ill-fated trip that he would not comment on foreign policy matters while on foreign soil (in accordance with usual protocol), but then reneging on his promise and doing precisely that while in Israel. They note:

… he moved on to Israel, where his campaign promptly involved itself in a diplomatic scandal (this time with actual consequences) over whether it had said that Mr Romney would back a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran. Mr Romney went on to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel, a position no American administration has ever taken because discussions over the final status of the city are the most explosive subject in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Then this morning, at a fund-raising breakfast largely populated by ultra-rich Jewish Americans, Mr Romney managed to suggest that Palestinians are poor because their culture is inferior to that of Jews.

Sigh. Presidential candidates are just not supposed to do that. Aside from the fact that it is highly irresponsible to start announcing an alternate US foreign policy abroad before the votes have been counted and you have been sworn in to office, explicitly backing the policies of one foreign political party (Likud), or a coalition, unnecessarily meddles in Israel’s domestic politics. It is a blunder committed by someone with no sense of diplomacy and no thought to the consequences of his actions, save for the effect it would have on shoring up his base at home.

The Economist takes particular exception to Romney’s speech at a fundraiser:

“As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” the Republican presidential candidate told about 40 wealthy donors who breakfasted around a U-shaped table at the luxurious King David Hotel.

Don’t say things like that when The Economist is listening. They have facts and figures to hand, and both the time and brainpower to use these facts and figures to make you look like an ass hat:

To make matters worse, Mr Romney got his numbers wrong. Per capita income in Israel is over $31,000; in the Palestinian territories it is closer to $1,500. Those aren’t the kinds of numbers that divide industrious Protestants from happy-go-lucky Catholics. They’re the kind of numbers that divide South Korea from Ghana. You don’t get those kinds of divisions because of cultural differences.

Comparing the income of the average Israeli to that of the average Palestinian, as though their prospects at birth had been equivalent and their fortunes today are largely the result of their own efforts and their “culture”, is gratuitously insulting and wreaks damage to American diplomacy.

It really does wreak damage to American diplomacy. Yes, to some extent Obama did the same thing with his own foreign tour in 2008 – his speech in Berlin where he talked of the need to engage better with the world and partner with other nations, while quite true to my mind, was also perhaps an inappropriate repudiation of the existing American policy under then-president Bush – but this is of a different order altogether. At some point, a future hypothetical President Romney would have to engage with the Middle East peace process, and enraging one half of the debate with needless and groundless attacks on their “culture” are only going to make that already vexing job even more complicated.

Furthermore, the idea that some ethereal thing such as “culture” accounts primarily for the disparity in per capita wealth between the two populations is so absurd as to be ridiculous. A man as supposedly intelligent as Mitt Romney surely understands that, regardless of  your views on where responsibility for the troubles lies, Palestinians and Israelis are not born with equal prospects at birth, diverging only because of one culture’s superiority over the other.

As The Economist wryly notes at the end:

Perhaps at a fund-raising breakfast in New York, Mr Romney might compliment the city’s wealthy Jews and Hindus on their culture of educational excellence, which has made them so much richer and more accomplished, on average, than America’s evangelical Christians and Mormons.

I think we all know that Romney won’t be saying anything of the kind. Calling Palestinian culture inferior carries no penalties back home. Criticising evangelical Christians, on the other hand…

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