A Tennessee athlete played two key roles in the 2012 Olympics. Amber Charles captains the Tennessee Temple University women’s basketball team, but she hails from London. In 2004, she presented London’s proposal to members of the International Olympic Committee. Recently, millions of people watched her carry the final torch at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics.
Tennessee is also represented by other athletes, including 2004 Olympic gold medalist Justin Gatlin, a world-class sprinter, and Candace Parker and Tamika Catchings, two world-class basketball players who won gold medals in the 2008 Olympics.
But unfortunately not all Americans are as exemplary. One less-than-world-class visitor threw a dark shadow over the opening ceremonies and left millions of otherwise ecstatic Brits feeling slighted by a prototypical “ugly American.”
Mitt Romney fumbled the ball in his first attempt at international diplomacy, when he suggested that London was not ready to host the Olympics. He called British preparations “disconcerting,” saying it’s “hard to know just how well it will turn out.” He seemed to be suggesting that England’s organizers fell short of the Olympic gold standard: himself.
America’s Mr. Inappropriate shocked Downing Street with his bad manners and lack of grace. Prime Minister David Cameron rebuked Romney with typical British irony: “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities in the world. Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”
But Romney was not content to insult only the organizers. He also seemed to impugn the character of the English people, by asking if they would “come together and celebrate the Olympic moment,” as if only Americans under his leadership are capable of attending sporting events.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid justifiably questioned why an American presidential candidate would “go over and insult everybody.”
Then, as if determined to prove that what happened in London was no fluke, Romney proceeded to alienate most of the Muslim world when, during his next stop in Israel, he suggested that Israelis enjoy a better standard of living than Palestinians because they have a superior culture and enjoy the “hand of providence.”
The remarks understandably infuriated Palestinians, who accused Romney of racism and not taking into account the fact that Israel has established a military occupation of the West Bank and a naval blockade of Gaza, which have devastated the Palestinian economy. The consensus opinion of international economists, including the IMF and World Bank, is that the Palestinian economy will remain depressed until Israel ends restrictions on imports, exports and the movement of goods.
But that was not the end of Romney’s blunders. During a speech delivered later in the day, he said, “It’s a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.” The problem, of course, is that Israel has already wrested around 80 percent of the land of Palestine from the native population by force, hook and crook. If Israel claims all Jerusalem, the Palestinians will have no hope of a viable state of their own. So Israel claiming all Jerusalem with the backing of its superpower patron could inspire another intifada, more acts of terrorism like 9/11 and perhaps even World War III.
Later, Romney spoke of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, something saner world leaders have wisely refused to do. At times Sheldon Adelson, the Jewish-American billionaire casino magnate who has contributed millions to Newt Gingrich’s and Romney’s presidential campaigns, sat next to Mr. Inappropriate. It seems obvious to me that Adelson is making massive contributions to American politicians in return for them agreeing to support an American embassy in Jerusalem. But that could be seen as an act of war by people who demand independence from Israeli tyranny and oppression for Palestinians.
“We condemn his statements. Those who speak about the two-state solution should know that there can be no Palestinian state without East Jerusalem,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters. “What this man is doing here is just promoting extremism, violence and hatred, and this is absolutely unacceptable. His statements are just rewarding the occupation and aggression.”
Romney has criticized Barack Obama, alleging that the president had “thrown Israel under a bus” by pushing for a two-state solution. But the man most responsible for defending Israel, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, made it clear that the Obama administration has given “unprecedented backing to Israel’s security” and has “done a lot to maintain Israel’s qualitative [military] advantage” in the region.
So it seems that even Israeli Jews and Palestinians who agree about nothing else can agree about one thing: Mr. Inappropriate has no business trying to lead the free world.
Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary” at www.thehypertexts.com.