By Ben Cohen: Diplomacy is a delicate art that can determine the difference between war and peace. Anyone who has read about the negotiations between John F Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban missile crisis understands just how important thoughtfulness and sensitivity can be in highly volatile political climates.
Enter Mitt Romney - the Mormon robo-politician and GOP Presidential hopeful. In his first foreign 'diplomacy' tour of Britain, Israel and Poland, Romney has committed blunder after blunder in what can only be described as a complete disaster. He managed to insult Britain by claiming that London wasn't prepared to host the Olympics, offend the entire Arab and Muslim world by claiming ethnic superiority and God were responsible for Israel's economic success and the Palestinians poverty, irritate Poles with a lecture on free markets, and allow his staff to swear at reporters.
There's an argument to be made that this was all completely deliberate - the Republican base loves belligerence on the world scene, and the more offensive their politicians, the better. George Bush and Dick Cheney invaded who they pleased, pissed off all their historic allies, then hired a Christian soccer-mom to lecture the world on American family values. Romney it seems, is following this tradition and doing his best to present the very worst side of America.
Romney has declared Russia to be an enemy, China a pariah, promised to assist Israel in attacking Iran and stated he would move the US embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. If you were to put a strategy together to annoy the world, you'd pretty much come up with Mitt Romney's Presidential platform.
There are many people who believe there are no serious differences between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. And when you look at actual policy, it's probably true. The candidates differ slightly on domestic and foreign issues, Romney wanting more free markets and more pressure on countries like Iran, and Obama wanting a little bit less. But these minor differences and the way they are presented can have hugely different outcomes in the real world.
Regardless of your thoughts on his policies, Obama is an extremely skillful politician and is highly adept at handling American foreign relations, particularly after the disastrous Bush years when America's name was trawled through the dirt. This makes a difference. Obama has managed to navigate the country through some pretty serious conflicts without alienating allies, irritating major blocks of power or creating unnecessary enemies. You don't have to agree with all his foreign policy decisions (and I certainly don't), but Obama has brought America back into the world of realpolitik where diplomacy and the soft use of power reign. As Noam Chomsky stated in an interview on the Presidential choice for 2012,"I’m not a great enthusiast for Obama, as you know, from way back, but at least he’s somewhere in the real world." Of the Republican Presidential candidates Chomsky called them "Off the International Spectrum of Sane Behavior."
If Romney's language and recent foreign tour is anything to go by, his policies as President will be about as sane as a Rick Santorum speech. The country can ill afford another bout of train wreck diplomacy given the fragile global economy, volatile conflicts in the Middle East, and rapidly changing climate. Countries will need to work closely together if they are to stand a chance of avoiding some of the many pitfalls in the coming years, and Romney is clearly not the man to do it.