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On world stage, Romney showed smarts

By William J. Bennett, CNN Contributor
August 2, 2012 -- Updated 1915 GMT (0315 HKT)
Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, after a visit Tuesday to the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw, Poland.
Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, after a visit Tuesday to the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw, Poland.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • William Bennett: In his trip to England, Israel and Poland, Mitt Romney blazed his own trail
  • In Israel, he forcefully sought bolder action against Iran, Bennett says
  • Bennett: In Poland, Romney offered a full embrace of Lech Walesa and the Polish people
  • If you doubt Romney's political adroitness, note his respect for Catholicism, Bennett says

Editor's note: William J. Bennett, a CNN contributor, is the author of "The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood." He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.

(CNN) -- For the past week, Mitt Romney brought his presidential campaign abroad to England, Israel and Poland, leaving his initial footprint on the foreign policy landscape. He may have ventured off path once or twice, but, to paraphrase J.R.R Tolkien, not all those who travel are lost. He blazed his own trail, one that will do him much good at home and abroad.

Before he even left for London, liberal commentators, on both sides of the Atlantic, jumped all over his alleged gaffe on Britain's readiness for the Olympics. Romney was asked a question by Brian Williams, which he answered like a technocrat, an expert, and one of the few men in the world who has run an Olympic Games.

As Dorothy Rabinowitz so wisely noted, "He did what a man who prizes his authority on a subject does -- he answered. He reflected on possibilities. It was a serious subject -- his subject." If he's to be blamed for anything, it's speaking too much like an expert and not a politician.

Critics of Romney often patronize him for sounding too scripted and too much like a politician. Now, when he speaks openly and freely, they criticize him for not being enough of a politician or diplomat. They can't have it both ways.

William J. Bennett
William J. Bennett

From England he traveled to Israel, where he strongly backed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli people and subtly distanced himself from President Barack Obama by vocalizing bolder action against Iran.

"We must not delude ourselves into thinking that containment is an option," Romney said. "We must lead the effort to prevent Iran from building and possessing nuclear weapons capability. We should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course."

Opinion: Romney on Iran is just like Obama

But rather than focus on Iran, our most pressing foreign policy dilemma, the liberal media manufactured another alleged gaffe -- Romney's comments on the cultural differences between Israelis and Palestinians. Again, much ado about nothing. It's hard to dispute the powerful and rich culture of the Jewish people, especially when quoting "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations" by David Landes, an erudite Harvard professor.

Grading Romney's overseas trip
Is Romney's stance on Iran resonating?
Newsweek: Is Romney a wimp?

To his credit, Romney didn't let this slow him down. He concluded the trip by traveling to Poland for a full embrace of Lech Walesa and the Polish people, a strong contrast to the cold shoulder Obama gave to Poland earlier in his presidency. In 2008, despite direct threats from Russia, Poland agreed to accept U.S. missile defense sites. In 2009, Obama folded to Russian criticism and abandoned the missile system, in turn abandoning the Polish people.

In a not so subtle jab to the president, Romney declared in Poland, "I believe it is critical to stand by those who have stood by America. Solidarity was a great movement that freed a nation. And it is with solidarity that America and Poland face the future."

Romney's closeness to Walesa and the Polish freedom fighters is nothing short of Reaganesque. At a time when the president tries desperately to compare him to George W. Bush, Romney is making Obama look and feel more like Jimmy Carter.

Opinion: When did the GOP become the whiners?

To those who doubt Romney's political adroitness, examine his deep respect for Catholicism both in Poland and here in the United States. Speaking of the Soviet Union, Romney added, "The false gods of the all-powerful state claim the allegiance of a lonely few. It is for us, in this generation and beyond, to show all the world what free people and free economies can achieve for the good of all."

Given that the controversial Department of Health and Human Services' contraception mandate, viewed by many Catholics as a direct threat to their religious conscience, went into effect August 1 for all employers, other than churches and houses of worship (religiously affiliated institutions such as Catholic hospitals and universities have a one-year exemption before they must comply), this statement is timely and bold.

Romney also embraced Pope John Paul II, a Polish and Catholic hero, one of the men most responsible for the fall of Communism. "And here, in 1979, a son of Poland, Pope John Paul II, spoke words that would bring down an empire and bring freedom to millions who lived in bondage. 'Be not afraid' -- those words changed the world," Romney said.

The contrast could not be clearer -- "Be not afraid" or "You didn't build that" -- one man's vision of hope, resolution and encouragement versus condescension, apathy and inertness. If this is the electoral choice Romney can frame for the nation, he will be one step closer to the White House.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of William J. Bennett.

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