(AP) Romney praises Polish spirit, creativity in Warsaw
By KASIE HUNT
Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney said Tuesday that Poland's economy is a model of small government and free enterprise that other nations should emulate as they struggle with recession, an unspoken criticism of President Barack Obama's policies in the wake of the worst recession in decades.
Wrapping up an overseas trip, the former Massachusetts governor said that "rather than heeding the false promise" of a government-dominated economy, Poland sought to stimulate innovation, attract investment, expand trade and live within its means" after the end of the Communist era. He made the observation in remarks as he neared the end of a week-long trip marred by his own stumbles on the world stage.
Before departing Europe to resume his campaign in the United States, Romney also laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier in Warsaw and was paying tribute to the hundreds of thousands of Poles who died in a World War II ghetto uprising against the Nazis, traditional stops for dignitaries visiting Poland.
His speech seemed an attempt to link his overseas trip to the campaign at home.
He said that in his talks on Monday, one unnamed Polish leader "shared with me an economic truth that has been lost on much of the world. `It is simple. You don't borrow what you cannot pay back,' `' said Romney, who frequently criticizes Obama at home for the growth of the U.S. debt over the past four years.
"The world should pay close attention to the transformation of Poland's economy," Romney said. "A march toward economic liberty and smaller government has meant a march toward higher living standards, a strong military that defends liberty at home and abroad, and an important and growing role on the international stage."
Romney did not mention Obama by name, but he frequently accuses the president, while campaigning in the United States, of failing to understand the importance of the private economy and favoring government solutions to the nation's problems. Romney resumes his campaign at home with appearances Thursday in Colorado.
Controversy accompanied the former Massachusetts governor in Poland as in previous stops in Britain and Israel, and comments he made earlier in the trip drew criticism from China.
Xinhua News Agency said Romney's "hawkish remarks" made in Jerusalem could worsen an already tense Mideast situation, or even re-ignite a war between Palestinians and Israelis.
Earlier this week, he declared Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel, even though U.S. policy holds that the city's designation is a matter for negotiations between the Jewish state and the Palestinians. He also sparked a charge of racism from Palestinians when he told donors that the strength of Israel's economy was due in part to the country's culture.
The Republican presidential contender also has been been highly critical of China throughout his campaign, promising to challenge Beijing's growing influence in East Asia and get tougher with the communist government on its human rights record.
There was some tension between reporters and Romney aides as the campaign looked to Poland as a final opportunity to project the image of a leader ready to stand on the world's stage
Romney has stumbled during his trip, inadvertently insulting Brits and angering Palestinians. On Monday in Jerusalem, he told Jewish campaign donors that their culture is part of what has allowed them to be more economically successful than the Palestinians. Outraged Palestinian leaders suggested Romney's comments were racist and out of touch with the realities of the Middle East.
The two-day trip to Poland is aimed at Polish-American and Catholic voters in the U.S. and will highlight Romney's stance toward Russia. He has labeled Russia as America's "No. 1 geopolitical foe," a characterization that's not unwelcome in a country that still fears Russia.
Poles generally have been skeptical of Obama's "reset" with Russia, and Romney has cited Polish concerns in his criticism of Obama. Some in Poland and the neighboring Czech Republic were upset by the Obama administration's decision to revise the Bush-era missile defense plan for Europe, which included sites in both countries.
Romney delivered his remarks in a deeply Roman Catholic country that for years has favored Republicans over Democrats. This is partly a legacy of President Ronald Reagan, whose efforts helped bring down communism across Eastern Europe, for which Poles remain grateful.
Poland has been a stalwart U.S. ally and significant contributor to military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Romney met earlier Tuesday with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski. The two men discussed the longstanding ties between the two nations as well as the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.
"On behalf of our countrymen, I express deep appreciation for your willingness to fight with us, to stand with us, and to be our friends in times of crisis and military conflict," Romney said.
"Poland has excellent ties with the United States, regardless of which American party is in power," Sikorski said. "We remember Ronald Reagan's warm feelings for Poland's Solidarity and also the fact that we joined (NATO) during Bill Clinton's term."
Romney also stopped to view a memorial to Pope John Paul II, who was born in Poland. He then met with President Bronislaw Komorowski.
The candidate ignored shouted questions from reporters about his comments on Israel and the Palestinians. Asked why Romney has taken just three questions from American reporters during this trip, traveling press secretary Rick Gorka said, "Shove it."
Romney's visit, campaign officials said, was at the invitation of Lech Walesa, the Polish labor leader who co-founded the Solidarity movement and served as Poland's president during the country's transition out of communism.
Walesa effectively endorsed Romney when the Republican presidential candidate visited him Monday at the Artus Center in a historic neighborhood of Gdansk.
"I wish you to be successful because the success is needed to the United States, of course, but to Europe as well and to the rest of the world, too. So, Gov. Romney, get your success, be successful," Walesa told Romney through a translator.
Walesa suggested Romney's leadership was needed to restore America's position in the world.
Walesa's backing is meant to influence Catholics and labor union members in the U.S. But Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, told reporters Monday that the Polish visit "is nothing more than a superficial diversion and a desperate attempt to pander to Polish Americans and Catholics across our country."
"This trip is not going to change the November election," she said.
Romney's visit to Poland has not been without controversy.
Campaign officials said the visit to Poland came at the invitation of Walesa, but the current leadership of Solidarity distanced itself from the event and issued a statement critical of Romney on Monday.
Solidarity characterized Romney as being hostile to unions and against labor rights. It emphasized that it had no role in organizing Romney's visit and expressed support for American labor organizations.