WASHINGTON — The world according to Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney: Europeans are socialists. The Chinese are currency manipulators. Russia can't be trusted to abide by nuclear agreements. The Palestinians are out to destroy Israel. And the U.S. is too generous with humanitarian aid.
It often appears that Romney is targeting the rest of the world as fiercely as he does his rivals for the party nomination and President Barack Obama. It's not just expected foils like Iran that are in his line of attack. He takes aim at European allies, who are seen as slipping the capitalist leash.
The tough talk drives home Romney's criticism that Obama is an apologist for America, soft on its enemies and too forgiving of its friends. It's a message that might resonate with Republican voters, who sometimes tend to be wary of the rest of the world.
It also raises questions about whether the rhetoric could damage U.S. relations abroad in the event that the former venture capitalist and Massachusetts governor wins the White House.
A Romney foreign policy adviser discounts any potential problems.
"Other governments are not naive, and they understand the rough-and-tumble of U.S. politics just as we understand the rough-and-tumble of politics in other countries," said former Ambassador Richard Williamson, who held many top diplomatic jobs in Republican administrations.
That's true, but only so far, said John Pantzalis, a professor and expert in international relations at Florida's St. Leo University.
"If he repeats these things when he gets to a debate with Obama, that would create problems," Pantzalis said, adding that at this stage of the campaign, "he can get away with it."
Romney's two main rivals, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, take similar tough stands on foreign policy. They all portray Obama as soft on American enemies, glossing over the president's order for the risky mission that killed Osama bin Laden and a policy that has wiped out much of the al-Qaida leadership cadre.
But Romney's views are particularly noteworthy because he remains the favorite in the Republican race despite losses in recent nominating contests and a surge by Santorum in some polls. He has a big advantage in money and organization and an early lead in delegates who will ultimately determine the party's nominee.
The economy, not foreign affairs, has dominated the presidential race. But sometimes the two issues overlap. Romney says China's monetary policies have hurt Americans and has promised that on the first day as president, he would designate China a currency manipulator, subjecting it to sanctions.
Pantzalis cautioned Romney on his China remarks, especially with the communist giant and No. 2 world economy about to go through a leadership change.
"The Chinese have become incredibly nationalistic," Pantzalis said. "There is a major danger of messing up relations with China with hardline rhetoric later in the campaign, especially with a new leader trying to consolidate his power and prove his strength."
Romney described this week's meetings in Washington between Obama and the likely new leader, Vice President Xi Jinping, as "empty pomp and ceremony." In a column published in The Wall Street Journal, Romney wrote: "A nation that represses its own people cannot ultimately be a trusted partner in an international system based on economic and political freedom."
Among Romney's foreign affairs comments:
—Obama's "worst foreign policy mistake yet" was signing a new treaty with Russia to limit nuclear arsenals further.
—The Palestinians are out to destroy Israel, not negotiate their way to a peaceful two-state solution.
—The U.S. should cut humanitarian aid — and China should pick up the slack.
Romney's tough stance on illegal immigration is unlikely to garner much favor in Latin America, the source of most of the immigrants. The position comes despite Romney's family history: His father was born in Mexico and the candidate has relatives there.
Romney's criticism of Obama's Iran policy is particularly relevant as the administration scrambles to head off a feared Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear installations.
Obama says he's not ruled out using military force, but he has not been so directly threatening. Romney takes a far harder line and says he would stand much closer to Israel.
As if to draw a line under his Iran policy, Romney said in one Republican debate: "If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if we elect Mitt Romney, if you elect me as the next president, they will not have a nuclear weapon."27 comments on this story
In U.S. presidential elections, it remains axiomatic that a candidate trying to win a party's nomination plays more to the extremes when seeking a place on the ballot and then charts a more moderate course in the final election campaign. Even at that, however, history teaches that it often is far easier to make campaign promises than to fulfill them once in office.
Just ask Obama, who vowed he would close the U.S. military prison for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during his first year in office. That still hasn't happened — Congress has stood in the way of such action — and the pledge lives on mostly as an issue the Republicans use against the president."