Mitt needs 
a photo-op

A 3-pointer at a gym full of U.S. troops in a war zone, or a crowd of 250,000 at a speech in Europe — neither is likely, and certainly not necessary. But Mitt Romney needs a helicopter moment for sure.

Four years ago, Barack Obama — a former state senator with mere months in the U.S. Senate who had no foreign-policy experience whatsoever — went overseas to bolster his credentials as potential commander in chief. He traveled to Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Jordan, Germany, France and England. In the midst of two active wars, Obama met with the prime minister of Iraq and the president of Afghanistan and was famously photographed with Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, in a helicopter over Baghdad.

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Dan Schnur, a former aide for GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — then strongly preferred by voters over Obama on foreign-policy and defense matters — wrote in The New York Times that because the Iraqi prime minister announced support for the same timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq that Obama outlined, a Bush administration official was heading to multi-nation talks with Iran and a consensus was emerging in favor of a stronger military presence in Afghanistan, “the three most important pillars of Mr. Obama’s international platform had been endorsed from a variety of unexpected sources.” Schnur added, “That’s a pretty good way to start a trip.”

The optics overpowered the picture of McCain back home — puttering around on a golf cart with former President George H.W. Bush — but the substance of Obama’s foreign-policy agenda made headlines as well.

Romney has arrived in England for the Olympic Games before he heads to Israel and Poland on his foreign trip, where he, too, hopes to build confidence and comfort among voters back home in his leadership ability abroad. Like Obama, he lacks experience, but unlike Obama he has yet to lay out a clear vision or even broad plans for how he would handle our most pressing foreign-policy challenges. In his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Nevada on Tuesday, Romney blasted the president’s foreign-policy record, suggested Obama has betrayed the nation by allowing leaks of classified information for political gain and lambasted cuts to military spending Obama has supported and that all GOP leaders and most of their rank and file in Congress voted for as well. Romney extolled the greatness of America, and said he was “not ashamed of American power,” but wasn’t specific. 

After criticizing Obama two years ago for “announcing the day he’s pulling out” of Afghanistan, Romney suddenly announced in his speech Tuesday that he too would advocate withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. His exact words: “As president, my goal in Afghanistan will be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.” Had he been on his way to the site of our nation’s longest-ever war, Romney would have spent the entire trip explaining his flip-flop.

While in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom Romney enjoys a decades-old friendship, Romney might offer a new policy prescription for stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons that differs from the Obama administration. He might have ideas about how to depose Syria’s Bashar Assad.

Perhaps in Poland, as he criticizes the Russians, whom he has called “our No. 1 geopolitical foe,” Romney will announce just how he would counter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe and how he might convince the Russians — as well as the Chinese — to help the United States, Israel and our allies confront Iran and Syria.

Perhaps not. But the Israeli border of war-torn Syria would be the perfect spot for a helicopter ride with Netanyahu.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.