WARSAW, Poland -- Fresh from a warm embrace from iconic Polish leader Lech Walesa, Mitt Romney will wrap up a three-country trip overseas Tuesday with a major speech that he hopes will send a message that he’s tough and more willing to take a harder line with rogue nations than President Barack Obama is.
Romney arrived in Warsaw late Monday after a day in Gdansk, where he enjoyed the most enthusiastic reception of his six-day trip, which was marred by controversies at the first two stops, in London and Jerusalem. He was greeted in Gdansk by crowds that swarmed in the streets, though some were apparently there for an arts festival and one group held a 10-foot-long banner supporting Romney’s primary rival for the GOP presidential nomination, Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul. Others in the crowd chanted Obama’s name.
But the mood seemed friendlier than those few voices indicated.
“Poland and many other countries will certainly do their best to help the U.S. restore its leadership position,” said Walesa, a former president of Poland who last year refused to meet with the visiting Obama.
“After our conversation I am quite confident that you will be quite successful in doing that,” Walesa assured Romney. “Individuals who have struggled all our lives really favor the kinds of views and perspectives that you share.”
He repeatedly said he wished Romney success.
"I wish you to be successful because this success is needed to the United States, of course, but to Europe and the rest of the world, too. Gov. Romney, get your success – be successful,” Walesa said emphatically.
Romney visited memorials at Solidarity Square at the gates of the Gdansk shipyard, and Westerplatte, where Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Each site has enormous importance in this country: Protests at the shipyards in 1980 triggered the Solidarity movement, which eventually led to a free Poland, and the Polish military held off the Germans at Westerplatte for a week before being overwhelmed.
At the World War II site, about 100 people cheered as Romney walked up hand in hand with his wife, Ann, and accompanied by their son Josh. Mitt Romney carried a bundle of roses to the monument’s base, and he and his family bowed their heads and shut their eyes. At Solidarity Square, they laid a wreath.
Underlying the Gdansk visits, as well as Romney’s stop Sunday and Monday morning in Israel, is an implicit message that he’s willing to get tough with threats to American allies.
Before leaving Israel on Monday, that stance stirred more turmoil. Romney hosted 40 wealthy donors at a fundraiser. He noted “a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and suggested that one reason was “the power of at least culture and a few other things” in Israel, such as a friendly business environment and an ability to survive in difficult times.
The comments angered Palestinian officials. “Isn’t this racism?” said Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, according to the Associated Press.
On Tuesday, Romney plans to visit historic sites in Warsaw and address an audience at the University of Warsaw that includes Polish officials and foreign policy experts.
Throughout his trip, Romney has been careful not to criticize Obama explicitly. But he’s come close, and his point is clear.
“This trip demonstrates Gov. Romney’s belief in the necessity of standing with our allies, of standing strong with our allies,” said Lanhee Chen, Romney’s policy director. “This trip is an opportunity to demonstrate a clear stand with nations that share our values.”
Poland is important to that argument, advisers believe, as conservatives think Obama was wrong to reverse President George W. Bush’s decision to base a missile-defense system partly in this country.
Critics counter that Obama has hardly abandoned Poland. A ballistic missile defense “just doesn’t exist,” said Sean Kay, an international politics expert at Ohio Wesleyan University. Obama has stressed more cooperation with other NATO countries. “The Poles are still covered,” said Kay, who was an Obama foreign-policy adviser in the 2008 campaign.
On the streets of Warsaw, opinion was divided over whether Obama has been strong enough for Poland, if people are paying attention at all.
“He’s trying to be a good president,” said Maciek Kudyba, a waiter. “I don’t know if the missile defense is good or not, but I know Poland’s very open to the USA., and I suspect there is a solution in between the one offered by Obama and Bush.”
But Bartosz Stepniewski, a University of Warsaw student, said he was “not a big fan of Obama,” and that Bush’s missile shield “would be safer for us.”
“Your opinion really depends on your view of what Russia might do,” said his friend Szymon Wierzejski, who’s also a student. “You might think if we had those rockets (missiles) they might be more prone to attack us.”