The List

What the World Makes of Mitt

Romney's rise may be producing yawns at home, but the Republican frontrunner has touched a nerve (make that several nerves) overseas.

Mitt Romney's recent primary victories in Iowa and New Hampshire have bolstered the perception -- both at home and overseas -- that the former Massachusetts governor has all but locked up the Republican presidential nomination. And while the foreign press is picking up on all the familiar tropes about Romney (a dull but determined Mormon moderate millionaire with solid business credentials and protean political views), some news outlets are going further -- expressing outright anger with the GOP candidate over his foreign-policy views.  

Romney, to be sure, hasn't said anything as incendiary as, say, Newt Gingrich calling the Palestinians an "invented" people or Herman Cain sneering at Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan. But he has ruffled feathers abroad by coming out strongly against Russian aggression, European socialism, Iranian nuclear ambitions, Chinese economic policy, and illegal immigration. We've already heard from Eric Pape about why life in Paris isn't nearly as bad as Romney makes it out to be, but there's plenty more indignation out there to survey.


Romney, perhaps more than any other GOP candidate, has been a vocal critic of the Obama administration's "reset" with Russia, calling the New START nuclear arms reduction agreement Obama's "worst foreign-policy mistake," criticizing the president for abandoning Eastern European allies like Poland and the Czech Republic, and arguing that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin threatens global stability by dreaming of "rebuilding the Russian empire."

Those comments haven't gone unnoticed in the Russian press. Many news outlets have picked up Romney's comments, and the tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda reports that Romney is a "hawk" on Russia even though he's generally considered a moderate on other issues. The World Policy Institute's Michele Wucker, however, assures Izvestia that Romney and his rivals are tailoring their anti-Russia rhetoric for domestic consumption -- "not battling against Putin, but Obama."

Russian coverage isn't all negative. The state-run radio station Voice of Russia, for example, points out that Romney has an "IQ of 122 while Obama has scored 140," which could make the 2012 elections "the most intellectual ones in America's contemporary history." Citing experts, the news outlet adds that the United States "is tired of wars" and "doesn't want tension with Russia and China and involvement in new Middle East campaigns."

The Polish press, not surprisingly, is generally friendly to Romney. At the journalist forum Salon24, historian Michael Krupa observes that Romney is the only Republican candidate to have thoroughly outlined his foreign-policy vision, particularly when it comes to Europe. Krupa says Romney wants to elevate the importance of U.S.-Polish relations by executing a plan scrapped by Obama to locate U.S. missile defense systems in Poland and working to decrease Eastern European dependence on Russian gas supplies. Gazeta Wyborcza writes that while Romney may be "colorless and wooden," he can boast of "real achievements" as a businessman and governor.

Above, Romney speaks at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library at Texas A&M University in April 2007.

Ben Sklar/Getty Images


Romney may have expressed interest in Switzerland's health care model, lived in France as a Mormon missionary in the late 1960s, and spoken French while promoting the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002 (as Newt Gingrich, a French speaker himself, gleefully points out in a new attack ad), but his assaults on Europe, coming amid a worsening European debt crisis, have only ramped up since he launched his campaign. In his victory speech in New Hampshire this week, Romney accused President Obama of wanting "to turn America into a European-style entitlement society."

European society, needless to say, isn't thrilled with these statements. France's Le Figaro, which has compared Romney's blandness to Socialist presidential candidate François Hollande's (the socialism-bashing Romney probably wouldn't appreciate the comparison), laments that France and "old Europe" have become "punching bags" in the Republican primary, noting that Romney may have developed his "European allergy" as he watched a "nation of cynical disbelievers" slam doors in his face as a young missionary. But the French paper adds that the Republican candidates, with all their anti-European rhetoric, seem to forget that it was Wall Street deregulation and the collapse of the U.S. housing market that triggered the current financial crisis.

Der Spiegel, meanwhile, claims that the Republican focus on Europe is as much a "cultural confrontation" as it is an economic one, and that Romney has framed the confrontation "as a battle for the soul of America." These statements, the German paper argues, sound "absurd from a European point of view -- even more so given the current state of the U.S. economy. The American dream of being able to rise from being a dishwasher to millionaire hasn't been reality for years, perhaps decades."

But the European press stills harbors grudging respect for the smooth and steady (if exceedingly boring) way that Romney has seemingly locked up the Republican nomination. Der Spiegel calls Romney the "GOP's Duracell Bunny" and the Telegraph observes that while "a Romney stump speech may be the political equivalent of watching paint dry," the candidate's "relentless focus on the economy and his own background in the private sector is exactly the right focus during a recession." Germany's Die Welt praises Romney and fellow Republican candidate Newt Gingrich as "experienced center-right politicians," and observes that "one can't help but be impressed by the new ideas emanating from the party following the demise of the Neocons."

Above, Romney and former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt attend the lighting of the Olympic flame for the Salt Lake City Olympics at the Temple of Hera in Greece in November 2001 .

Mike Hewitt/Allsport


Romney has directed some of his most heated rhetoric at Iran, which he  argues  poses "the greatest immediate threat to the world since the fall of the Soviet Union" because of its nuclear ambitions, which Romney plans to halt through tough sanctions, support for domestic opposition groups, and the threat of military force. 

Iran's Press TV has fired back. In an article entitled "Romney the liar tells tall tales on Iran," the state-run news outlet takes issue with a Romney stump speech claiming that Iran is "intent on becoming nuclear." The article points out that Iran is already contending with international sanctions and U.S. covert operations, and that the International Atomic Energy Agency "has never pointed to any evidence indicating that Tehran's civilian nuclear program has been diverted to nuclear weapons production."

Reaction has been warmer in Israel, which Romney pledges to visit on his first official trip as president (he often accuses Obama of throwing Israel "under the bus"). A Ynet op-ed by an Israeli living in the United States praises Romney for emphasizing that the United States "should be willing to stand by its allies" and criticizing "Obama's ambivalence towards Israel." But another op-ed in Haaretz questions whether there is really much of a difference between Romney's policy toward Iran and Obama's. Romney's declarations include "innumerable statements about military power," the author notes. "But nothing is said about a firm commitment to an American strike against Iran, or about giving a green light to Jerusalem for an Israeli attack."

Above, Romney meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in January 2011.

Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images


Romney's pledge to designate China as a currency manipulator and pursue litigation against its "unfair trade practices" hasn't won the Republican frontrunner much support in the Chinese press, which is generally of the opinion that Beijing becomes a scapegoat every U.S. election cycle. In an article entitled "GOP bashes China as vote nears," China Daily discusses Jon Huntsman's Mandarin-infused efforts to inform Romney that his policies would start a trade war with China. Citing an expert at Shanghai's Fudan University, the paper explains that the "presidential candidates have no other choice but to criticize China in the election, as the U.S. is in a phase of relatively rapid decline." Ouch.

The criticism of Romney isn't limited to his positions on China, either. "The former Massachusetts governor is willing to say whatever pleases the Republican voters," another China Daily analysis notes, in a refrain echoed across borders. 

Above, Romney meets with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Boston in December 2003, on the second anniversary of a direct shipping route between Massachusetts and China.

Douglas McFadd/Getty Images


As Larry Kaplow noted at Foreign Policy this week, Romney's ties with Mexico stretch back to 1885, when the candidate's great-grandfather settled in a Mormon colony there. Romney's father was born in Mexico and there are still Romneys in the northern state of Chihuahua, but that hasn't stopped Romney from calling for a high-tech fence along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, pouncing on his GOP opponents for being soft on immigration, and coming out against  "DREAM Act" legislation that would provide legal status for children of illegal immigrants who want to enroll in college or the military. (That aside, in an attempt to reach out to Latino voters in Florida, Romney did release a Spanish-language ad this week in which his son shows off some pretty sharp Spanish skills).

In addition to running pieces about the indignation of Latino activists over Romney's lurch to the right on immigration (Romney's Massachusetts health-care law allowed undocumented migrants to receive virtually free care), the Mexican press has published several pieces tweaking Romney for coming down hard on immigration despite his Mexican roots. As a journalist writing in the Ciudad Juárez-based El Diario put it, "It's a great paradox of life that Romney has shown himself to be so anti-immigrant while being a de facto son of a Mexican immigrant." Romney's hardline stance, the journalist adds, stems from his desire to "satisfy the most intolerant sectors of his party" and secure the Republican nomination.

Above, Romney delivers a foreign-policy address to cadets at the Citadel in South Carolina in October 2011.

Richard Ellis/Getty Images

The List

The Problem Prisoners

Ten of the most controversial detainees still held at Guantánamo.


Ten years after it was established, 171 detainees are still being held at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. Despite promises at the beginning of Barack Obama's presidency, the facility seems unlikely to be shut down anytime soon. While the very existence of the camp is controversial, some cases have drawn particular attention.


Nationality: Algeria     

This former professional soccer player fled to Britain in 1999 after receiving death threats from Islamist militants in his home country. He was traveling in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2001 and was turned over to U.S. forces by opportunistic villagers who claimed he was a member of al Qaeda.

After six years of imprisonment, he was cleared for release in 2007 by George W. Bush's administration but has remained at the facility for four years, fighting against repatriation to Algeria, where he fears both imprisonment by the government -- which tried him in absentia and sentenced him to 20 years in prison for belonging to an overseas terrorist group -- and attacks by militant groups. Ahmed Bin Saleh Bel Bacha's former country of residence, Britain, has rejected his request for asylum. The town of Amherst, Massachusetts, has offered him asylum, but federal law prevents Guantánamo detainees from being resettled in the United States.


Nationality: Saudi Arabia (British resident)

The last remaining British resident in Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer's fluency in both English and Arabic has made him something of an unofficial spokesman for the prisoners, including leading a hunger strike to improve conditions at the camp. A former translator for London law firms, Aamer is reportedly an expert on Guantánamo's rules and regulations.

Aamer was arrested in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in 2002 while working for a Saudi charity. His lawyers allege that he was badly beaten after his arrest by CIA agents in the presence of members of Britain's MI5. Aamer has never been charged with a crime.

Aamer was cleared for release in 2007 and British Foreign Secretary William Hague has raised the case in discussions with Washington, but U.S. authorities have delayed his release. He will complete his 10th year at Guantánamo on Feb. 14.


Nationality: Afghanistan

In 2006, the CIA officially emptied its secret prisons, transferring 14 detainees, including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to Guantánamo. But, CIA officials say, nearly a year after this deadline, the agency still held Muhammad Rahim Al Afghani for at least six months and subjected him to the same harsh "enhanced" interrogation techniques it publicly said it had abandoned.

Afghani, described by the CIA as a "tough, seasoned jihadist," reportedly fought with al Qaeda for nearly two decades and served for a time as Osama bin Laden's translator before his capture in 2007. While in CIA custody, Afghani was kept awake for nearly six days by interrogators who chained him to the wall and floor of his cell. He was made to wear a diaper so he could be continuously chained without bathroom breaks.

He was transferred to Guantánamo in 2008.


Nationality: Canada

This 25-year-old former child soldier has spent seven years in Guantánamo since his 2002 capture by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The Toronto-born Omar Khadr claims to have been pressured into fighting against U.S. forces by his al Qaeda-linked family. 

Khadr was due to be the first detainee tried under the Obama administration's newly redesigned military-commissions system last year, an awkward prospect given that juveniles are almost never tried for war crimes. Instead, Khadr pleaded guilty in October 2010 to throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier, accepting a deal that will allow him to serve out his eight-year sentence in Canada.

Despite the deal, which was agreed to by both the U.S. and Canadian governments, Khadr remains at Gitmo, waiting for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to "certify" that Canada is a safe place as a destination for detainees. Khadr's lawyers have accused the administration of intentional foot-dragging.

Khadr alleges that he was threatened with gang rape by interrogators while in custody, but a military judge has ruled that his treatment did not constitute torture. 


Nationality: Tajikistan

A refugee from Tajikistan's civil war, Omar Abdulayev was arrested in 2001 in Pakistan by the country's Inter-Services Intelligence and turned over to the United States on suspicion of affiliation with al Qaeda and the Central Asian militant group Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. (Abdulayev claims he was just a construction worker who failed to pay a bribe.) U.S. authorities allege that he was radicalized at a Pakistani madrassa.

After a review of detainees by the Justice Department in 2009, the Obama administration decided it would no longer defend Abdulayev's detention and asked U.S. diplomats to arrange his repatriation to Tajikistan. The 33-year-old prisoner is fighting repatriation, however, fearing reprisals in his homeland. He claims to have been visited during his detention by Tajik intelligence agents who wanted him to spy on Islamic militants in the former Soviet republic and threatened him with retribution when he refused to cooperate.  


Nationality: Yemen

Abdu Ali al Haji Sharqawi was captured near Karachi, Pakistan, in 2002 and then transferred to a prison in Jordan where he claims to have been tortured for several weeks. "They beat me up in a way that does not know mercy," Sharqawi wrote, referring to his Jordanian captors, "and they're still beating me. They threatened me with electricity, with snakes and dogs.… [They said] we'll make you see death."

Sharqawi was then transferred to one of the CIA's so-called dark sites in Afghanistan and then to the prison at Bagram air base. He was finally flown to Guantánamo in 2004.

A U.S. federal judge ruled in June 2011 that statements made by Sharqawi while in custody in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo were inadmissible, as he was still suffering from the psychological effects of the torture received in Jordan.


Nationality: China

All the 22 ethnic Uighur Chinese prisoners detained at Guantánamo since 2002 have been cleared for release -- and 17 have resettled in places including Palau, Bermuda, and Albania. The Uighurs, who were living in Afghanistan when war broke out, were originally alleged to have been affiliated with the militant East Turkestan Islamic Movement.

The five remaining Uighurs, Abdul Razak, Yusef Abbas, Hajiakbar Abdulghupur, Saidullah Khalik, and Ahmed Mohamed, have asked for residency in the United States and rejected resettlement offers from other countries. (The Uighurs cannot be returned to China for fear of imprisonment or torture on their arrival.)

A federal appeals court in Washington has ordered the Uighurs to either accept the U.S. government's offer to resettle them abroad or remain in Guantánamo, overturning an earlier ruling that they be released in the United States. After initially scheduling a hearing for their petition, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear their case in 2010.


Nationality: Mauritania

Mohamedou Ould Slahi acknowledges swearing allegiance to al Qaeda and receiving training in Afghanistan in the early 1990s, but says he cut ties with the group in 1994, before it began targeting the United States. According to the 9/11 Commission report, he met with two of the future 9/11 hijackers in Germany in 1999.

Slahi claims to have turned himself into Mauritanian authorities after 9/11 and that he was interrogated in Jordan for several months before being sent to Afghanistan and then on to Guantánamo. Slahi claims to have been subjected to extreme temperatures, beaten, and sexually humiliated during his interrogation -- recordings of these CIA interrogations are mysteriously missing, and a military prosecutor refused to handle his case because of the torture allegations. 

A federal judge ordered Slahi's release in 2010, finding that the government could not prove he had continued to support al Qaeda beyond 1994. An appeal of that ruling by the Obama administration was upheld by a circuit court, and Slahi's case is still pending.

As one of the most significant informants held at Guantánamo, Slahi has been kept in relative comfort compared with other prisoners. Some military officials argue that he should have been released into a witness protection program, as he is now likely a target for other jihadists. 


Nationality: Afghanistan

Unlike most of those tried under the military justice system at Guantánamo, Mohammed Kamin was charged only with providing material support for terrorism, based on allegations that he received weapons training at al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. Providing material support is not generally defined as a war crime, however, making his prosecution under the military commissions system particularly controversial.

Kamin boycotted his trial at Guantánamo, though he was at one point physically dragged into court. After that he reportedly placed earplugs in his ears and pulled a blanket over his head when told of court proceedings. Charges against him were dismissed in 2009, but he is still being held.


Nationality: Kuwait

The eldest son of a wealthy Kuwaiti family, Fayiz al-Kandari traveled to Afghanistan in the summer of 2001 on what he said was a charitable trip. He was captured by the Northern Alliance and given over to U.S. forces that October. (He claims U.S. leaflets were being dropped across the region reading, "You turn in your Arabs and we will give you money.")

Authorities accuse him of traveling to Afghanistan to provide material support to al Qaeda. According to Defense Department documents, "an individual stated that the detainee was very close to Osama bin Laden." Kandari's attorneys dismiss this as hearsay.

Ten years later, Kandari is still being held at Guantánamo, though he has not been charged and his lawyers say no evidence has been presented against him. Kandari's habeas corpus petition has been denied. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit has also refused to hear Kandari's case. Kandari's claims to have been subjected to harsh interrogation, including sleep deprivation, stress positions, sexual humiliation, and extreme temperatures, according to his military attorney.

First image: AFP/Getty Images; All other images: Wikimedia Commons