On his first campaign trip overseas, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney learned the first rule of diplomacy: Never say what you’re really thinking.
Romney is getting heat from some of the press in London for telling an American news outlet (NBC Nightly News) on Wednesday that there were “disconcerting” signs about the city’s readiness for the Summer Olympic Games, which open officially Friday night. In particular, Romney noted reports that faulted the private security company hired for the Games for “not having enough people,” as well as the “supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials.”
He then went on to wonder whether the people of London would “come together and celebrate the Olympic moment,” adding, “That’s something which we only find out once the Games actually begin.”
Everything he said was true, although the strike threat by immigration workers evaporated early Wednesday. And as the former head of the committee that staged the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Romney is uniquely qualified to comment on whether London is up to the challenge that the host city of an Olympics faces. So why shouldn’t he say what he thinks?
Evidently that’s just not done at the “leader of the free world” level. And that’s a shame. It shouldn’t be impolitic for Romney to share his expert judgment about the Games simply because his opinion sounds like something less than fulsome praise. Otherwise, the implicit message is that London can’t handle the truth.
Compare his comments to NBC’s Brian Williams with what he said Thursday after meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron: “I am very delighted with the prospects of a highly successful Olympic Games. What I have seen shows imagination and forethought and a lot of organization, and [I] expect the Games to be highly successful.”
You or I could have said the same thing, and we don’t know anything about what it takes to run an event of this magnitude.
Granted, one element of diplomacy is sharing hard truths with one’s friends privately, not publicly. But commenting on Olympic preparations is hardly the same thing as discussing military threats or looming economic problems.
The Games have already witnessed one real gaffe: As members of the North Korean women’s soccer team were introduced Wednesday night before their match in Scotland against Colombia, the scoreboard displayed their faces next to an image of the South Korean flag. The North Korean players were so offended, they threatened to withdraw from the Olympics. They eventually agreed to take the field, winning 2-0.
When asked about that screw-up, Romney said it’s “impossible for absolutely no mistakes to occur,” adding that they’re overshadowed ultimately by the performance of the athletes. Now that was diplomatic.
Cameron’s response to Romney’s initial remarks seemed to be properly in keeping with the spirit of the Olympics. In other words, he talked smack. According to Fox News, Cameron said, “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world, and of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”
See? No hard feelings.
I’ll give the last words to a spokesman for Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, who gave Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins this answer to Cameron: “He can stop by any time. We’d love to have him and are happy to send a map so he doesn’t run into any trouble locating the middle of nowhere.”