Mitt Romney in Poland

It seemed like a pretty straightforward photo-op. After a meeting with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk at Gdansk’s historic town hall, Mitt Romney stopped to talk to a large and enthusiastic crowd of local residents of this Baltic port city made forever famous as the birthplace of “Solidarity.” But even here, five thousand miles away from America, this informal occasion ended up feeling like the campaign trail back home, with some of the gathered chanting “Obama” while a few members of the New Right Congress held up a banner with a likeness of Ron Paul and a caption “Polish choice.” Romney campaign workers unsuccessfully tried to obscure the banner with their red umbrellas.

At least that’s what the media focused on. If, as P.J. O’Rourke once said, journalists follow the president waiting for him to take a fall or say the F-word, Romney certainly got the foretaste of the high office and the scribes got their stumbles and profanity, or at least an “ass.”

Romney’s overseas trip was meant to enhance his foreign policy cred, in what has otherwise been a very domestically focused election campaign. The choice of the destinations, the tripod of old and new allies in Europe and the Middle East, was carefully chosen to contrast and compare Mitt’s approach with that of President Obama, who has managed to repeatedly snub all three.

Poland, the last leg of Romney’s trip, is becoming a serious player in European politics, due to its size as well as the robustness of its economy, which has so far bucked the doom-and-gloom trend of the rest of the continent. Polish elites in general are both Atlanticist and European in their outlook; the sentiments that often don’t sit easily together. The population, disenchanted by the involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan and by the continuing refusal of the U.S. to grant them the same visa treatment as accorded to other allies, is increasingly cynical of America; a great pity for a country with such rich history of trans-Atlantic connections and sympathies. “The relations with the U.S. are at their lowest point in twenty years,” observed Polish daily Rzeczpospolita. “It can only get better.”

“Why Poland?” asked Polish commentators Michał Kolanko and Paulina Kozłowska. “Because President Obama withdrew from the proposed missile shield and announced it on September 17 [the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939]. Because Obama misspoke about the ‘Polish death camps.’ The Romney campaign decided that Poland will be a good destination as it will serve to remind of the fact that Obama ignores allies and forgets about them. ... Romney’s visit is to show that in contrast to the current president, Romney will look after allies, even smaller ones like Poland.”