What Do These Three Countries Have In Common?

Personally, I tend to think Mitt Romney’s overseas trip represented an opportunity (botched, as it turns out) to draw attention to the one part of his biography that still looked bright and shiny (his stewardship of the 2002 Winter Olympics), with opportunistic stops in Israel and Poland tacked on to make it look like a real tour de horizon. But it’s understandable that Romney and his supporters would try to make the case that the trip and his itinerary represented a coherent foreign policy message of some sort, and via The Weekly Standard‘s William Kristol, it looks like Mitt’s big Warsaw speech essayed that:

Romney suggests a theme for his trip as a whole and a rationale for visiting the three nations he chose to visit, and sketches the national qualities he finds worthy of praise….

I’d call attention to these passages, near the top of the speech, as particularly noteworthy:

“I began this trip in Britain and end it here in Poland: the two bookends of NATO, history’s greatest military alliance that has kept the peace for over half a century. While at 10 Downing Street I thought back to the days of Winston Churchill, the man who first spoke of the Iron Curtain that had descended across Europe. What an honor to stand in Poland, among the men and women who helped lift that curtain.

“After that stay in England, I visited the State of Israel – a friend of your country and mine. It’s been a trip to three places far apart on the map. But for an American, you can’t get much closer to the ideals and convictions of my own country. Our nations belong to the great fellowship of democracies. We speak the same language of freedom and justice. We uphold the right of every person to live in peace.

“Yesterday, I saw the memorial at Westerplatte and the gate at the Gdansk Shipyard, where Polish citizens stood with courage and determination against daunting odds. And today, on the eve of the 68th anniversary of this city’s uprising against the Nazis, I will pay tribute at the monument to that historic struggle. Over 200,000 Poles were killed in those weeks, and this city was nearly destroyed. But your enduring spirit survived.

“Free men and women everywhere, whether they have been here or not, already know this about Poland: In some desperate hours of the last century, your people were the witnesses to hope, led onward by strength of heart and faith in God. Not only by force of arms, but by the power of truth, in villages and parishes across this land, you shamed the oppressor and gave light to the darkness….

“And here, in 1979, a son of Poland, Pope John Paul the Second, spoke words that would bring down an empire and bring freedom to millions who lived in bondage. ‘Be not afraid’—those words changed the world.”

Now you can just write off the lines as poorly connected panders to Polish-Americans, conservative Catholics and Jews, or try to take them seriously. If they are serious, it’s pretty remarkable how strongly Romney wants to convey the sense that the “struggle for freedom” associated with World War II and the Cold War is still being waged. If so, who is the enemy? Socialists? Mitt did spend a lot of time talking about the Israeli economy and then the Polish economy, though at the price of being mocked heavily for expressing ideological solidarity with not one or two but three countries with universal health care systems depending on mandatory participation. Or is the enemy non-westerners, whether it’s Arabs or Russians or Chinese or crypto-Kenyans?

Romney doesn’t tell us, and neither does Kristol. But whatever else it represents, Romney’s speech shows how very hard it is for conservatives to imagine a foreign policy that does not revolve around tangible and demonic enemies.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.