Obama: Hey Romney, Europe and I go way back
Dear Britain: The White House wants you know that even if Mitt Romney may harbor doubts about your ability to pull off the Olympics, President Barack Obama "has the utmost confidence" in you. In fact, the Obama administration would also like Israel and Poland—the two countries the Republican standard-bearer will visit next—to know it has their back, too.
White House press secretary Jay Carney kicked off his daily briefing Thursday by describing in some detail how Obama's top homeland security and counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, had led a discussion with key security officials "to take stock of our efforts, working with the United Kingdom, to prepare for the London 2012 Olympic Games."
Brennan then discussed the issue with Obama, who "directed that we continue to ensure that we are doing everything possible to keep the American people safe and to continue close cooperation with our British counterparts," Carney said. "In keeping with our special relationship, the president also made it clear that he has the utmost confidence in our close friend and ally the United Kingdom as they finalize preparations to host the London Olympics," Carney told reporters.
That none-too-subtle message came after Romney, who often cites his experience running the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, ruffled feathers in Britain by telling NBC in an interview Wednesday he wasn't sure London was ready.
"You know, it's hard to know just how well it will turn out," Romney told NBC. "There are a few things that were disconcerting. The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials … that obviously is not something which is encouraging."
On Thursday, in apparent damage-control mode, Romney emerged from a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron with a different message. "What I see shows imagination and forethought and a lot of organization, and I expect the Games to be highly successful," Romney said.
So was the White House announcement of Brennan's security briefing linked to Romney's trip?
"The answer is no," Carney said. "I'm just trying to fill you in on the president's day."
That remark drew laughter from reporters. But there's no evidence of any political motive. The United States has no stauncher allies than Britain, Israel or Poland—as many a president has said before—and top officials are virtually in constant contact. And Obama doesn't control the schedule of the Olympics, much less the timetable for the recent bomb attack that killed Israelis in Bulgaria. But the timing seems sure to stoke resentment among Republicans who already charge that the president has been mixing politics and public policy too freely.
So what about Israel? On Wednesday the White House issued a written statement noting that Brennan had visited Israel. His mission? "To consult with senior Israeli officials about a range of shared security concerns, including the recent wave of terrorist plots against Israeli and other interests," according to a White House statement. "He also had a productive meeting with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Fayyad in Jerusalem."
Romney's schedule calls for meeting with top Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom Obama has a testy personal relationship, as well as separate talks with Fayyad.
Poland? On Wednesday, the Pentagon issued a statement highlighting Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's meeting with Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak.
They discussed "issues of mutual interest, including Afghanistan, NATO missile defense and the ongoing crisis in Syria," according to Pentagon spokesman George Little, who noted it was their "third in-person meeting."
"Panetta believes the strong defense relationship between Poland and the United States underpins a strategic partnership that helps provide for the security of the North Atlantic community. Siemoniak expressed full confidence in the United States-Polish friendship and alliance," Little said in a statement.
Panetta "hailed" Poland's role in Afghanistan and "thanked" Poland for its work there, and the two officials discussed the pending arrival of a U.S. Air Force detachment—the first U.S. service personnel stationed on Polish soil.
"The arrival of this detachment will mark a new step forward in the relationship between United States and Poland and enable closer military cooperation," Little said.
Panetta and his guest also discussed U.S. missile defense plans—a subject on which Romney has previously blasted the administration, accusing the president of rolling back American strategic objectives in the face of Russian opposition.
"The leaders discussed how the recently announced U.S. strategic guidance preserves investments in these kinds of capabilities," said Little. "The two nations are working closely together to establish an SM-3 ballistic missile interceptor site in Poland by 2018."