President Barack Obama's campaign torched Mitt Romney's foreign policy trip as a disaster today, contending that the Republican frontrunner embarrassed himself and failed to show he was ready to be commander in chief, although the campaign stepped gingerly into the controversy over Romney's comments about the importance of "culture" in the wealth of nations.
Robert Gibbs, a senior adviser to the campaign, said the trip was an audition to be commander in chief and ended up as nothing short of "an embarrassing disaster" for Romney and noted that Romney took just three questions from reporters on the trip, compared with 25 questions at four press conferences by then-candidate Obama during a foreign trip in 2008.
Colin Kahl, a former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for the Middle East, said Romney whiffed on a series of statements in a trip that was designed to be easy, with gaffes including questioning London's readiness for the Olympics.
"Here he struck out playing T-ball," he said. "It should have been easy for him."
Kahl also said Romney had not articulated much in the way of differences between his foreign policy and that of the president. Romney, he said, likes to sound tougher on Iran, for example, but "there's not a lot of there there," he said. (The administration separately announced new sanctions on Iran on Tuesday.)
Kahl also said that Romney failed to choose his words carefully in Israel. A Palestinian official accused Romney of making a "racist" statement by pointing to "culture" as a reason Israel has a wealthier economy than the Palestinians, and why some countries are wealthier than others.
"It's up to Gov. Romney to explain" how his comment will make it easier to reach peace, Kahl said.
In an interview with Fox News, Romney tried to walk back his comments, saying he wasn't criticizing Palestinians' culture.
But the Obama campaign didn't want to wade in beyond that. "The president hasn't really weighed in on the causes of the Palestinians' plight," Kahl said.
The Romney campaign dismissed the criticism.
“Mitt Romney will be a president who unapologetically stands up for America and the enduring values of freedom," spokesman Ryan Williams said. "President Obama has weakened America’s position in the world and frayed relationships with our closest allies — all while earning effusive praise from the likes of Hugo Chavez. Gov. Romney has laid out a foreign policy that will strengthen our interests, ensure our security and let our friends know they have a partner in the White House.”