Foreign policy is a political minefield–the world is a big, complicated place, and naming countries things like Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan make embarrassment inevitable. Some politicians are uncommonly adept at navigating the intricacies of international relations, but many err on the side of disaster, giving us countless laughs as we vaguely wonder how these morons became responsible for representing us to the world.
In honor of these morons, I have compiled a list of some of my favorite foreign policy gaffes. But lest anyone think that I am looking down on them, I should say that I too have been known to deliver the occasional zinger. A few weeks ago I confused the President of Russia with poutine, a Quebecois delicacy consisting of fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Also, one of my rambling diatribes somehow ended with me comparing myself to Gandhi (because my life has been long and difficult, according to me). I guess we all have these moments…just for some, they are not so much moments as a way of life.
Mitt Romney = Foreign Policy Gaffe
Mitt Romney didn’t invent the foreign policy gaffe, but he has personified it ever since his failed 2012 bid for the US presidency. My favorite nugget of wisdom from the Romney arsenal came when he attributed the fact that Israel is in better economic shape than Palestine to the Jewish culture. Never before has a politician so succinctly and deeply offended so many different groups of people while making himself sound like the biggest fool America has ever produced.
Other highlights of the trip include Romney questioning whether London was ready for the Olympics, calling Labour Party leader Ed Milliband “Mr Leader” (which is not a thing in England) after apparently forgetting his name, and congratulating Poland, which had an unemployment rate of 12%, on its flourishing economy. On the possibility of a conflict with Iran, he had this to say: “You sit down with your attorneys and [they] tell you what you have to do.” Holy shit. And he lost why….?
“I have to deal with him every day”
President Obama is probably still haunted by a hilarious private conversation he had with France’s former president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2011 regarding Israeli leader Binyamin Netanyahu. What’s the harm in a private exchange between colleagues, you ask? Their mics were on and everyone in the world heard the whole thing:
Sarkozy: I cannot stand him. He’s a liar.
Obama: You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him every day.
There’s something so charmingly schoolgirl-esque about this conversation that makes me laugh and laugh. Netanyahu probably begs to differ.
“Today I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever”
In 1984 President Ronald Reagan put the Kremlin on alert with some inappropriate comments made during a sound check before a radio show. He proclaimed: “my fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” Russia’s leaders were not amused, and had to be convinced that this was only a little-known facet of Reagan’s twisted sense of humor.
“Esta vieja es peor que el tuerto”
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica learned about the importance of making sure one’s mic is off when an offhand comment he made–loosely translated as “this old lady is worse than the cross-eyed guy”–made it to the ears of the “old lady” in question. He had been referring to his Argentine counterpart Cristina Fernandez and her late husband Nestor Kirchner, who suffered from an eye condition. The comment was received in customary Argentine fashion–that is, with a healthy dose of drama and its own jaunty theme song.
Joe Biden starts a war with Iran and kills the Irish PM’s mom
I believe Joe Biden is an extraordinarily competent politician, but you wouldn’t know it from his long history of gaffes. At a campaign rally last year, supporters were surprised to learn that the US was at war with Iran–Biden asked them if they knew anyone serving in “Iraq or Iran.” Oops!
Similarly disturbing was when, during an introduction of the Irish PM, he mentioned that the PM’s mom (God rest her soul) used to live on Long Island. Trouble was she still did, and it was actually the PM’s dad who had passed away. And that’s why Obama keeps him behind the scenes now.
This one’s almost too easy, but I’ve never enjoyed a challenge anyway. George W. Bush was famous for his quirky (read: asinine) comments, and, much to the consternation of Americans, he was loud and proud in the international arena. He greeted Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi with a cheery “Amigo! Amigo!”, clearly forgetting that Italian and Spanish are two separate languages. He famously gave German Chancellor Angela Merkel a creepy shoulder massage. He excused himself from his last G8 summit with the words “goodbye from the world’s biggest polluter” with an accompanying air punch as Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy stared in disbelief. Is it wrong to say I miss the humor that President Bush injected into US foreign policy? Probably, but I still do.
“The people of Peru deserve better”
Dick Cheney did nothing to help his relations with Venezuela when, while lamenting the harm that Hugo Chavez was doing, he declared that “the people of Peru deserve better.” Sure they do–and so do the people of Venezuela, the country that Chavez led. Not cool, dude.
I’m sorry if this list seems a little America/GOP-heavy, but they make themselves pretty easy targets. Any accounts of stupidity in other countries are welcome. Perhaps it seems wasteful to spend so much time on stupidity, but it will always be in the world; the only thing we can change is our reaction to it.