There are several reasons why American presidential candidates include overseas trips as part of their campaigning. First, and particularly important for those aspirants who lack significant foreign policy experience, it allows American voters to get a preview as to how the candidate might represent the United States on the global stage by interacting with foreign leaders and communicating with international audiences. In 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama's jaunt across the Atlantic, especially his "rock star" rally in Berlin's Tiergarten and his visit to U.S. troops in Iraq, was quite successful in positioning the junior senator from Illinois as a plausible world leader. Second, a candidate may travel abroad to signal what his foreign policy priorities would be, or to draw contrasts with his predecessor or his rival. Then-Gov. George W. Bush's trip to Mexico in 2000 was designed to signal, both to Latin America as well as to a rising Latino constituency in the United States, that he would place more emphasis on America's hemispheric orientation, something that was indeed reflected in U.S. policy for the first months of the new administration, until the attacks of Sept. 11 dramatically shifted the focus elsewhere. Finally, to paraphrase Clausewitz, foreign travel is the continuation of domestic politics by other means. The overseas trip is but another venue to concentrate on key domestic constituencies.
Mitt Romney's trip to Britain, Israel and Poland this week attempted to combine all three of these purposes -- with mixed results.
Certainly, there was a desire to emulate Obama's successful 2008 circuit. Back then, Obama sought to demonstrate that the "international community" still wanted American global leadership, just not the leadership exercised by George W. Bush and proffered by Sen. John McCain. Romney wanted to amplify the narrative of the Obama administration having "abandoned allies" by visiting three stalwart friends of the United States who, he argues, have been neglected or endangered by the policies of the current White House incumbent.