Does anyone remember Otto, the brain damaged ex-CIA assassin played so deliciously by Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda? Otto cruised around London in a massive old Chrysler, driving on the right and forcing British drivers off the road while screaming that they were a**holes. Described by one reviewer as a walking id, Otto’s most famous line was “Oh, you English are so superior, aren’t you? Well, would you like to know what you’d be without us, the good ol’ US of A to protect you? I’ll tell you. The smallest f***king province in the Russian Empire, that’s what! If it wasn’t for us, you’d all be speaking German! Singing ‘Deutschland, Deutschland über alles’….”
Exit Otto, who is a fictional character, enter stage right Mitt Romney, who is, unfortunately, all too real. Mitt demonstrated his international savoir faire shortly after arriving in London by telling NBC’s Brian Williams that he had concerns about the preparations for the Olympics. This presumably was at least in part intended to highlight the splendid job he did in Salt Lake City after receiving massive subsidies from the federal government to prevent the total collapse of the enterprise. He wanted to compare that well-oiled machine to the work of the hapless Brits who, per Mitt, seem to be unable to control their own labor unions. Labor unions are a bit scarce in Utah. Unfortunately, the hapless Brits found out about the interview and Romney learned that the first rule in visiting foreign countries is not to insult your hosts.
Mitt followed up with several gaffes worthy of our last Republican president, the greatly missed W. He forgot the name of Labor Party head Ed Miliband and referred to him as “Mr. Leader,” and he later expressed his admiration for the Olympic venues visible from the “backside” of the prime minister’s residence. Though his wife’s horse is participating in the Olympic dressage event, Mitt belatedly discovered that he actually knows little about horses and horsemanship despite riding frequently, thus demonstrating his common-man credentials even if his spouse has allowed herself certain aristocratic airs. It was a poker-faced denial worthy of Michael Corleone taking the Fifth Amendment in front of the Kefauver Committee. Mitt then tried to explain himself with characteristic flip-flopping on what he had actually said or meant to say and also let slip that he had met privately with the head of the British intelligence service MI6, a definite no-no, as such meetings are strictly confidential. Fortunately, he kept his mouth shut on his last day in the British capital.
Then Mitt was off to Israel to consult with Benjamin Netanyahu before attending a $25,000-a-plate fundraiser to which the media was initially not invited despite an earlier pledge to open all fundraisers to the press. Romney may have wanted to speak candidly to casino mega-mogul Sheldon Adelson and his friends, i.e., tell an adoring group of potential big donors how he would squash Iran like a cockroach. Two weeks ago at the VFW convention in Reno, Mitt (or was it Otto?) set the stage for his fireworks display by stating his view that an Iran with the capability to develop a nuclear weapon would be the greatest threat facing the world. Actually, as Iran already has that capability, Mitt was either poorly informed or knowingly giving a green light for the military option.
But after arriving in Israel, Romney also went several steps further. His Middle East spokesman Dan Senor, a former AIPAC employee, endorsed an Israeli unilateral attack on Iran sooner rather than later because there are reports that the mullahs are hardening their nuclear sites. Mitt said that as president he would support whatever the Israelis see fit to do. And then, with an over-the-top flourish, he denounced Iran’s “radical theocracy” as the “leading state sponsor of terrorism and the most destabilizing nation in the world. We have a solid duty and a moral imperative to deny Iran’s leaders the means to follow through on their malevolent intentions.” Otto could not have expressed it better, giving short shrift to the pinkos and appeasers who seem to have forgotten that it is actually 1938 and we are in Munich. Along the way, Mitt made sure that everyone heard him assert that Jerusalem really is Israel’s capital, pledging himself to move the U.S. embassy there if he is elected. It might be a bit lonely there, as it would be the only foreign mission in the city.
Romney did not directly mention the Palestinians except to note that their poverty is their own fault, a direct result of their despicable culture, while the Israelis benefit from their entrepreneurial spirit and the hand of Providence. It was a version of “with God on our side,” or, as the kaiser’s army belt buckles used to proclaim, “Gott Mit Uns,” which from now on might be translated “God and Mitt are with us.”
Through all the perfectly coiffed, serious-demeanor photo ops culminating in a solemn march to the Wailing Wall escorted by a squadron of rabbis, Mitt regularly dropped thoughtful, carefully scripted asides meant to provoke deep contemplation. But he did not bother to explain exactly what American national interests might be served by endorsing a shooting war while angering every Muslim in the world by granting Jerusalem to Israel and denigrating Islamic culture. Nor did he linger over what consequences America might face if a major armed conflict were to erupt. But Otto was not big on explanations either, and he would have approved of America’s leader again promising to kick ass.
Mitt ended his Innocents Abroad tour in Poland, where he praised the Polish people while carefully avoiding taking a swipe at Russia, which he has called “public enemy number one.” That’s a bit confusing, actually, since he has also said the same thing about Iran and it is hard to envision a world with two number-one enemies. And what about China deliberately unbalancing American trade? And Mexico, which suffers from the same culture deficit as the Palestinians, according to Mitt, and has been corrupting America’s youth with all those drugs it sends up north of the border?
Romney had assiduously avoided the press throughout his pilgrim’s progress, allowing them only three questions in London and never drifting back to the tail end of his plane to talk to them. At the conclusion of his time in Poland, he refused to hold a press conference afterward, and his media spokesman Rick Gorka told a group of waiting reporters to kiss his ass and “shove it” when they shouted out some questions. Otto, who understands that American exceptionalism means never having to say you’re sorry, must have been proud.