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Romney’s European Vacation

Politico reports on Romney’s plans for an expanded foreign trip including Germany and Poland: Romney next would fly to Israel for a series of meetings and appearances with key Israeli and Palestinian officials. Then, under the plan being considered, he would return to Europe for a stop in Germany and a public address in Poland, […]

Politico reports on Romney’s plans for an expanded foreign trip including Germany and Poland:

Romney next would fly to Israel for a series of meetings and appearances with key Israeli and Palestinian officials. Then, under the plan being considered, he would return to Europe for a stop in Germany and a public address in Poland, a steadfast American ally during the Bush years and a country that shares Romney’s wariness toward Russia. Romney officials had considered a stop in Afghanistan on the journey, but that’s now unlikely.

Drezner thinks Romney’s choices make sense:

The stops in Israel and Poland highlight the frictions the Obama administration’s rebalancing and reset strategies have created in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Going to Germany allows Romney to ding Obama on economic policy, as Romney is clearly more sympatico with Angela Merkel’s austerity strategy.

I know why Romney chose Poland, but it’s not a good choice. Romney’s hang-ups about U.S. Russia policy are going to collide with inconvenient realities once he gets there. The first of these is that Polish-Russian relations today are much improved from the previous decade, and the current government in Poland has no real interest in Romney’s adversarial approach to Russia. Poland was taken for a ride by the Bush administration, and isn’t likely to want to repeat the experience.

Romney can’t stop talking about the 2009 missile defense decision, which a plurality of Poles welcomed as “good for Poland” because the missile defense plan was never popular there. There is a constituency in Polish politics that will be happy to see Romney, but it is presently a minority in Poland. As recently as September 2011, Obama’s handling of international affairs had a 65% approval rating in Poland. That was admittedly below-average for Obama among EU nations, but Obama’s foreign policy has generally been very popular even in those European countries that Romney thinks Obama has “betrayed.” Approval of “the job performance of the leadership of the United States” is also slightly higher in Poland than it was during the Bush years.

Germany might be a more understandable choice, but it is probably not going to do much for him. According to that same survey from last year, Obama’s approval rating in Germany was 81%. If he says anything while he’s there, Romney will likely echo the view his adviser expressed in that Handelsblatt op-ed, which treats the monetary union’s problems primarily as problems of debt. As Scott Galupo recently pointed out, this is mistaken:

The example of Spain (a Mediterranean European country, according to my atlas) proves this is not necessarily the case. The country was running budget surpluses before the Eurozone’s financial crisis began. Spain is not suffering because of big-government profligacy, but rather because it is party to an ill-conceived transnational currency.

So it may not be very useful for Romney to go to Germany. His preferred idea of even more spending reductions will not be well-received there by Merkel or her critics, and it will raise the earlier issue of the Romney campaign’s criticism of Obama in a foreign newspaper.

The omission of Afghanistan from Romney’s list is curious. The other destinations might or might not make sense, but not going to the one country where the U.S. is fighting a major war seems odd. I am aware that Romney has previously traveled to Afghanistan, but that makes this decision harder to understand. I don’t think Romney needs to be wasting his time overseas in the first place, but if he’s going to go he may as well not overlook one of the obvious stops. According to the report, he isn’t going to Afghanistan because the campaign doesn’t want Romney to be forced to explain his position on the war:

Romney has not articulated his Afghanistan policy beyond saying he’d listen to the generals on the ground. Were he to visit the war zone, his team fears, he’d pressed to say more about his plans for the country.

In short, Romney is leaving the most obvious destination for a foreign trip off of his itinerary so that he won’t have to define his position on the war in Afghanistan more clearly, which simply reinforces the impression of “vagueness” and lack of policy substance that the trip is supposed to help eliminate. This trip isn’t solving any of the Romney campaign’s problems, and it represents a huge waste of the campaign’s limited time between now and the convention.

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