Mitt Romney on his current trip has made a big deal of saying that he will not criticize Barack Obama while overseas, thus reinforcing the sentiment that ‘politics should stop at the water’s edge’.
I don’t understand why US politicians should not criticize each other when abroad. Why would it be fine for Mitt Romney to criticize Barack Obama in New York in the morning but wrong to say the same thing that same afternoon just because he happens to be in London? Why must Romney wait until his return to the US to criticize any action that Obama might take in the next few days?
The sentiment that politics should stop at the water’s edge is ascribed to Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg during the administration of Harry Truman, and was suggested by him in 1947 as a means of the US presenting a united front in dealing with other countries or with international issues.
I can understand the utility of such a policy in a time when international communication was not as quick and comprehensive as it is now and there was the fear that one may be telling a foreign audiences things than were different from what you were telling domestic ones, or that the time lag created by slow information flow could cause mixed signals to be sent due to one political leader not being aware of what a fellow leader had said elsewhere.
That clearly is not the case now. The world in now a single global political stage in which political leaders travel to many countries in short times and their public words and actions are instantly transmitted everywhere. The line between domestic and international politics has also become increasingly hard to draw.
As a result, it seems a bit absurd to box political leaders in with such an antiquated rule.