It was supposed to be Mitt Romney’s unveiling to the world as the presumptive republican nominee, his debut to the world as a possible future president, making an appearance at the London Olympics on his first world tour; it turned into a faux pas heard round the globe. When asked about the Olympics and their preparation, were they ready he responded that he was unsure, that he had heard some very disconcerting things, which sparked an utter firestorm in the British media and tabloids angering many Brits, provoking retaliatory responses from both London’s mayor and Britain’s Prime Minister. On both sides of the pond it was played like so many other of the presidential candidates statements, painting him as out of touch, uninformed, showcasing a lack of what it takes to do the job he is auditioning for, and almost immediately it became about damage control for Romney, clarifying, even walking back comments while press on both continents mainstream and tabloid media wondered into cameras what Romney was thinking, voicing the concept it is a bad idea to insult your hosts, saying if he was looking to make friends this certainly wasn’t the way to do it. But was it really a gaffe at all, was it really something he should be condemned for, seen as less presidential for or was it an acknowledgment of an embarrassing reality for a nation? Was he doing the right thing for a potential leader of the free world by one, being honest and two, not backing down from something just because the answer is a tough pill to swallow, difficult to deal with?
First and foremost Romney was asked a question and answered it; he did not just come out swinging, making disparaging comments about Olympic arrangements out of nowhere. At the same time the American and international press did not randomly ask the question to shame the British or make Romney appear better than them; they asked the question based on some very publicly reported security issues had leading up to and during the already starting games, questions presented to the mayor of London even to the Prime Minister about repeated lapses potentially putting everyone in danger. A mere 2 weeks before the games, as athletes began arriving a group of people on Britain’s terror watch list were waved though security with no screening; private security who are untrained, inadequately trained, not asking enough questions were all known stories on televisions everywhere; their own people calling the discovered actions of the private security company brought in specifically for the big event shameful, utter incompetence. The question then is why a possible future president is being singled out for voicing a similar opinion, unless it was wholly out of sheer embarrassment? Remembering too Romney did organize the Salt Lake City winter Olympics, and yes that is more than just a punch line about organizing an Olympic games in one of the largest cities globally vs. something much smaller, a place the Prime Minister called the middle of nowhere, it is the voice of at least limited experience truthfully stating he didn’t know if they were indeed ready and that he was unsettled by what people locally and internationally had heard along with himself. That is a paraphrase of what he actually said; nowhere in which do you find malice, taunting, lecturing saying it should be better, a claim or implication that we, the United States could do better. It was a simple I don’t know.
Then there is the reality of the honest answer to the question are they ready; when you have private security, the bulk of the security put in place to supervise such a large occasion, so many people, caught sleeping on the job, when you have a security person caught on tape explaining why a knife is not a terrorist threat, you are clearly not ready. When the private security firm hired, paid billions of dollars to deliver trained, competent personnel can deliver but a fraction of the workers they were supposed to, when many of said workers are striking or otherwise not showing up, you’re clearly not ready. When you have one group of security personnel who refused bomb training and are still on the job doing security at the Olympics, you are not ready. Despite missile batteries on apartment buildings, navy ships in the river Themes, they aren’t ready, when police and National Guard have to take over what private security was supposed to do,soldiers coming back from Afghanistan to be housed in an abandoned factory to be available to provide said security, you’re not ready. When a child can get on a plane from England to Rome with no ticket, no passport, you’re more than not ready; you have your own internal security problems you need to deal with outside of the precautions for an event like the one going on now. Those are the facts all surfacing a mere 2 weeks before the Olympics; at least Mr. Romney was polite enough to say he wasn’t sure vs. point blank saying they are not, without checking his facts, telling them to get their act together without having all the information. Although someone should if even half of what has been reported is the truth; so close to the games no one should have to tell them they shouldn’t be having these type of problems, that something is woefully wrong, desperately in need of fixing and fast. And if the blow to their pride inspired them to do better, get prepared, good for the safety of every person involved.
Worse than the obvious failings is they had 7 years to prepare,7 years to accumulate the needed security and accommodations, account for added guest, tourists, athletes, their entourages and current activities are the result. Traffic jams meaning local people with tickets will be lucky to get in to see the games considering how long it takes to get around, striking taxi drivers owing to the Olympic officials only lanes, a national push to have everyone take public transit was foiled by 2 downed subway lines all again 2 weeks before the Olympics, yet these are just the minor headaches compared to the security disaster detailed above. Keeping in mind we aren’t talking about a country just coming out of it’s developing stages, just becoming modernized enough to have a place on the world stage, a country for the first time hosting an event never mind one so large. So why does it seem with so long to put plans in motion, they hired whoever was handy 6 months before the Olympics were scheduled to take place? How can they be either astute enough or paranoid enough to put missile batteries on apartment buildings and ships in the river, but leave their first line of defense, basic airport screening, to complete amateurs, because this is not a country that is unfamiliar with terrorism or defending itself possessing a long skirmish history with the IRA (Irish Republican Army). Considering current terror plots, extremists looking to target allies of the United States, prosperous westernized nations, they too have been victims, though not as publicized as 9-11 the 2005 London subway bombings shook many and killed 52 victims along with 4 suicide attackers propelling them into a fight parallel to ours against the horrors of radical Islam and its supporters. What makes that tragedy all the more important is the bombing occurred just 24 hours after London was selected for this year’s Olympics, history that would lead many people to say, still think Romney’s comments are out of line? Likewise they have had their share of foiled terror plots, their share of near misses, their share of could have been disasters. If the British public wants to be angry with anyone, they should be angry at the officials, the security company putting their city, their country in such am embarrassing spotlight.
Neither have the Olympics been immune to attacks from whatever the terrorists of the day happened to be; there was the 1972 Munich massacre carried out by a group of Palestinians, resulting in the death of 11 people. In 1996 bombs were the headline of the Atlanta summer games, along with the botched investigation engraving one man in false infamy and prolonging the hunt for the actual perpetrator, not the accomplishments of the athletes. And things have only gotten worse sense then, sense 9-11; while everyone internationally, locally wherever you live, is alert and aware, terrorists are relentlessly active, always coming up with new ways to try and inflict harm. Further, whether we want to or not, whether we as individuals, as nations possess the fortitude or not, we live in the era of the underwear bomber, the shoe bomber, the volatile liquids made to look like sports drinks; we live in the era of people willing to hide explosives in their own bodies to achieve their goals. We have a choice as developed, industrialized nations, as targeted peoples, no matter which one we happen to be, to rise to the challenge or risk lives of innocent people on a plane, in a concert stadium, in a famous building or attending an international even like the Olympics. Yes it may have been rude for Romney to say what he said; it may have seemed over the line, but it is far, far beyond egregious for London to be chosen as host, accept that choice, take on the responsibility then needlessly take chances with the well being of those who only seek to participate in the height of their sport, the spectators who want to see the greatest compete. A judo match caught international attention just this week; no not because the athlete on the losing end was a disgrace for losing in only 22 seconds, instead it was because of where said athlete was from. She was the first female athlete to compete from Saudi Arabia, a hopeful sign some women’s rights may be coming to a closed off, theocratic nation. Can you imagine the outrage of the Arab world if something were to happen, regardless if it was to this athlete, their athletes or not? Does any westernized nation, ally of a westernized nation want to think about that?
No it is not good form to come into a country and insult your hosts; however, vying for the title of leader of the free world means you can’t back down from tough situations. Should Mitt Romney become president, there are going to be many times he has to say things others won’t like, whether they are his own people or messages to foreign powers; here all he did was answer a question to the best of his ability. The one slight wrong that might be attributed to him regarding this incident is not framing his original comments and subsequent clarifications in the context of concern not just for American athletes, tourists and guests there to aid or view the every 4 year occasion, but everyone, not reminding people why the reasons for the question, spawning his hated comments in the first place should make people angry, safety. Returning to the anger of the British public, they should be angry, but not at Mitt Romney’s big mouth, putting is foot in his mouth at their expense; they should be angry that the security is so lax, that various people in charge seem to be willing to play fast and loose with tragedy, that the people hired to insure safety and security are either not taking it seriously or are too stupid to perform the job they are, were, will be, paid to do. Internationally people should be worried and angry about the possible security threats being missed, people let run loose to wreak havoc wherever they go, what substances and devices slipped through because the people providing security cannot grasp the true scope of potential threats. That was the underlying message, tone in the presidential candidates words, not mocking, not insult.
This was not a gaffe, this was not Romney being Romney despite the thinking of his detractors and the press alike; this was the one thing in a hard road to presidential nomination and possibly the White House he got right. He honestly answered a question and in doing so called out a nation, a city for recklessness that could have led to a needless loss of life and in one interview hopefully answered his own people’s question about can he handle international issues; does he understand the world around him. This is not something he should publicly have his nose rubbed in called names for rather something every nation in a similar position should seriously think about then act accordingly. No we don’t want to have to cancel large concerts, sports events, international gatherings like the Olympics; we don’t want to give up on the friendships, camaraderie even alliances than can be started by such different people coming together for things both common and enjoyable. Yet for that to happen, for it to continue as it has over the centuries, over the decades we must remain vigilant against anything that would threaten it, especially terrorism.