Mitt Romney began his three-nation goodwill swing in a curious manner Thursday by criticizing Washington's closest ally over what he sees as its poor planning for the Summer Olympics.
British media was humming with questions about what the presumptive GOP candidate was thinking when he told NBC News "there are a few things that were disconcerting" about the U.K.'s Olympic-planning efforts.
Romney highlighted U.K. officials' decision to significantly increase the number of British military troops that will be on security duty after a private firm, G4S, needed reinforcements during the games, which officially kick off Friday and run until Aug. 12.
"The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials – that obviously is not something which is encouraging," Romney told the network. "It is hard to know just how well it will turn out."
Romney—who often cites his success "saving" the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah—even took a shot at the British public.
"Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment?" Romney said. "That's something which we only find out once the Games actually begin."
British Prime Minister David Cameron entered into a bit of a verbal tete-a-tete with Romney, saying later Thursday: "We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere," according to the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph.
Such a back-and-forth with Cameron was not on the Romney's camp's agenda for a trip intended to restore what it sees as lost American friendliness toward Great Britain, Poland and Israel.
Romney's comments came just days after the campaign and its surrogates were saying that the presumptive GOP nominee would be telling British, Polish and Israeli leaders that his administration would be more friendly and less publicly critical than Republicans believe the Obama administration has been.
The presidential candidate himself even alluded to a need to repair America's friendships in his public comments before heading to London.
During a Tuesday speech in Nevada before a Veterans of Foreign Wars audience, Romney said: "[Under Obama] has our ability to shape world events been enhanced or diminished? Have we gained greater confidence among our allies, and greater respect among our adversaries?"
Republican foreign policy insiders say Obama and his foreign policy aides have too often criticized America's closest allies. Danielle Pletka of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told U.S. News & World Report this week that "there are people in these [three] governments that are very unhappy."
Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress said Romney's comments are politically odd.
"I think Romney's trying to show how good of a job he did in 2002 with the Winter Games," Korb says. "To say before the games really get started that there are problems shows he's trying to make a point about his own record at the Brits' expense."
Asked if Romney made a calculated decision to criticize America's best friend to score political points, Korb said: "There's no doubt about it."
John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter.
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