By Gregor Peter Schmitz in Washington
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is considering a visit to Germany as an extension of his trip to Britain for the Olympics, and he is hoping to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the US political website Politico is reporting. The site said Romney first plans to travel to London, where he intends to give a foreign policy address. He would then fly to Israel before returning to Europe for visits to Poland and Germany. France, a country Romney knows well from the time he spent there as a missionary for the Mormon Church, doesn't appear to be part of his itinerary.
His precise schedule hasn't yet been determined, and it remains uncertain whether the trip will actually take place. However, it is expected that a decision will be made soon. Romney's plan is reminiscent of a trip to Europe made by Barack Obama in 2008 when he was the Democratic presidential candidate. At the time, Obama wanted to emphasize that his election would represent a fresh start for United States foreign policy. He succeeded in conveying that message, with more than 200,000 enthusiastic Germans attending his speech at Berlin's Siegessäule monument, where he presented himself as a "citizen of the world."
But even Obama's trip wasn't without controversy. Initially, Obama had wanted to speak in front of the Brandenburg Gate, as Ronald Reagan had done in 1987 when he uttered the famous line: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." But the grandness of the gesture by Obama, who hadn't even been elected yet, annoyed some, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Republican rival John McCain even poked fun at Obama in an ad after his return in which he suggested the Democratic candidate was some kind of empty starlet like Britney Spears and that people abroad were celebrating Obama despite the fact that he hadn't achieved anything yet.
Romney would also face a number of pitfalls on a trip abroad. In Britain, he can certainly emphasize his country's "special relationship" with the United Kingdom -- one that the Brits have felt Obama hasn't appreciated sufficiently. Romney could also score points in Poland, where government officials have repeatedly felt neglected by the Obama administration. He stands to gain even more in Israel, a country that Obama has yet to visit as president. The trips also provide candidates an opportunity to present themselves as statesman on the world stage and to convey the kind of foreign policy vision that Romney's detractors say he lacks.
At the same time, foreign policy hasn't played much of a role in the US election so far -- and Romney's days spent abroad could distract from the main message of his campaign, namely, that Obama is to blame for poor economic conditions at home. In addition, Obama is considered to be a strong president when it comes to foreign policy. America managed to locate and kill Osama bin Laden on his watch, and a clear majority of Americans believe the Democrats are more competent when it comes to international issues.
But Romney may also be hoping that, during his trip to Europe, he can effectively link the fight against the global economic crisis and foreign policy. After all, the course of the euro crisis could also prove to be decisive in the US election. In that sense, a meeting between Romney and Merkel has the potential to be highly charged -- particularly given relations between the German chancellor and Obama.
The German leader and the US president consult with each other about the crisis often, and Obama is also expected to bestow Merkel with the US's "Medal of Freedom" before the end of the year. At the same time, many in Washington have rejected Merkel's strict austerity policies, and Obama has repeatedly urged the chancellor to focus more on economic growth.
Split over Economic Policies
In an editorial in Germany's Handelsblatt financial daily published last month, Romney's economic adviser, Glenn Hubbard, criticized such admonitions from Obama. "President Obama's advice to Germany and to Europe shares a flaw with his own economic policy -- that the long run will work itself out if we focus on short-term 'stimulus,'" Hubbard wrote. He also argued that Obama's advice was "unwise and reflects a limited understanding of the source of the crisis and a growth-oriented economic path forward."
The essay provoked Obama to lash back, saying: "We have one president at a time and one administration at a time. And I think, traditionally, the notion has been that America's political differences end at the water's edge."
It is also possible that Romney, if elected, would also take a tough stance against Europe's policies in dealing with the euro crisis. Robert Zoellick, the departing head of the World Bank whose name has circulated as a possible treasury secretary if Romney were elected, recently criticized Europe's crisis management in a SPIEGEL interview. The Europeans, he said, "seem a day too late and a euro short."
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