If Romney is trying to prove his foreign policy bonafides, he is failing miserably. As reported by Sarah Jones, Romney claimed that Israel’s cultural superiority was responsible for the country’s relative economic superiority to the Palestinians. That was after his embarrassing comments at the Olympics, snubbing the American press at the Olympics; and breaking diplomatic protocol by cancelling a meeting with Israel’s Labor party. Aside from proving he doesn’t have the people skills to be our diplomat in chief, Romney proved himself to be an equal opportunity anti-Semite.
Oh how we should have seen this coming. When it comes to appearing on the world stage, it doesn’t get any easier than the Olympics. Someone who can’t handle that, is only going to get into more trouble when he actually tries to prove he can handle serious issues – like peace in the Middle East. Hint to Romney: brokering peace between nations in conflict entails being an honest broker. You sort of lose that cred, when you claim one of the countries in conflict is culturally superior to the other country in that conflict. Romney proved that concept eludes him in spades with his speech on the alleged nexus between cultural superiority and economic prosperity. Aside from showing himself to be buffoon in the area of diplomacy, Romney made the sort of comments that I imagine would be made at a KKK meeting.
As you come here and you see the GDP [gross domestic product] 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,” Romney said.
While Israel does have a significantly higher GDP per capita, Romney not only erred in the “cause” of the economic disparity between Israel and Gaza/The West Bank, he was also way off in the numbers.
According to the World Bank, Israel’s per capita GDP in 2011 was $28,930 while the per capita GDP of the occupied Gaza Strip and the West Bank was $1250. Just to give some perspective, the U.S. per capita GDP is $48.450 for the same year.
Citing the thesis offered in “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations”, to defend his claim that Israel is culturally superior, Romney also referred to “the hand of providence“ and unspecified “other things”. According to Romney, the author’s thesis was:
”If you can learn anything from the economic history of the world, it’s this: culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference. And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things,” Romney said, citing an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and “the hand of providence.”
Perhaps those “other things” weren’t worth mentioning during this particular fundraiser because that would involve recognizing that Israel’s occupation, not its alleged cultural superiority, has limited the Palestinians ability to match their occupier’s per capital GDP.
It would also be problematic to claim that Israel, as an occupying force in the West Bank and Gaza, has embraced what Romney called “economic liberty.”
You have embraced economic liberty. […] And today, your innovators and entrepreneurs have made the desert bloom and have made for a better world. The citizens of our countries are fortunate to share in the rewards of economic freedom and in the creativity of our entrepreneurs. What you have built here, with your own hands, is a tribute to your people, and a model for others.
As observed in Time, when they aren’t shackled by occupation, Palestinians are very capable of embracing economic liberty, utilizing their skills and creativity to thrive as entrepreneurs.
The fact is, when Palestinians are not living under occupation, they tend to write business success stories. In neighboring Jordan, Palestinians utterly dominate the economy, so much so that their success as onetime refugees has fueled resentment among so-called East Bank Jordanians. In El Salvador, Palestinian businessmen and -women amount to an oligarchy, so thoroughly do they hold the Establishment in their hands. The Palestinian community there and in other Latin American nations, including Brazil, has been in place for nearly a century, having fled during World War I to avoid becoming cannon fodder for the Ottoman Empire as it threw in its lot with the Kaiser. The Palestinians have done very well for themselves.
Without question, Romney’s comments were offensive to Palestinians. However, as Abraham Diskin, a political science professor at the Inter-Disciplinary Center outside of Tel Aviv, observed:
you can understand this remark in several ways,” he added. “You can say it’s anti-Semitic. ‘Jews and money.’
Perhaps that interpretation went over the heads of attendees at the fundraiser – including Sheldon Adelson, who was reported to be seated beside Romney at the event. Or maybe it simply didn’t matter to him.
However, this equal opportunity anti-Semitism doesn’t end there. To extrapolate from Romney’s logic about culture and economic prosperity, if it is true that Israel is culturally superior to Palestine because it has a higher per capita GDP, then he also said that the United States is culturally superior to Israel. However true that may be in Romney’s mind, it isn’t the best thing to say to a hosting country while trying to prove you are more pro that country than your political opponent is.
The more likely explanation is this is further evidence of Romney’s class obsession. He can’t relate to the average person, whether they are in America or anywhere else in the world because he thinks he is better than them. He really can’t relate to poor people, so the simpler explanation is to dismiss them as culturally inferior, jealous or simply blame the hand of providence for poverty.
While Romney may be tone death when it comes to the offensive and rude nature of his comments, some members of the campaign recognized that as flattered as his audience at the fundraiser might have been, the comments were both controversial and unbecoming of a presidential candidate.
Yet, their attempt to spin Romney’s comments made things worse at least if the objective was for Romney to prove that he is a statesman – someone who can play a leadership role in resolving conflicts between nations, rather than provoking them. Romney’s spokeswoman, Andrea Saul told NPR:
The Republican’s campaign contends Romney’s comparison of countries that are close to each other and have wide income disparities — the U.S. and Mexico, Chile and Ecuador — shows his comments were broader than just the comparison between Israel and Palestine.
If this trip really was about Romney proving that he has the chops to lead the world, resolve international conflicts, and re-establish the respect he claims the President lost, it was an abysmal failure.
Image from: Harvey Edwards