WARSAW, Poland — Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney said Tuesday that Poland’s economy is a model of small government and free enterprise that other nations should emulate, an unspoken criticism of President Barack Obama’s policies in the wake of the worst recession in decades.
Wrapping up an overseas trip, the former Massachusetts governor said that "rather than heeding the false promise" of a government-dominated economy, Poland sought to stimulate innovation, attract investment, expand trade and live within its means" after the Communist era.
Shortly before ending his stumble-marred trip, Romney sought to minimize any damage from comments in Israel that sparked strong criticism from Palestinian leaders, saying his words had been mischaracterized.
In an interview with Fox News, he said he "did not speak about the Palestinian culture or the decisions made in their economy" when he told Jewish campaign donors that their own culture is part of the reason the Jewish state is more economically successful than areas where Palestinians live.
Romney also laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw before flying home to the United States, and paid tribute to the hundreds of thousands of Poles who died in a World War II ghetto uprising against the Nazis. Both are traditional gestures for dignitaries visiting Poland.
His speech seemed an attempt to link his overseas trip to the campaign at home.
He said that in his talks on Monday, one unnamed Polish leader "shared with me an economic truth that has been lost on much of the world. ‘It is simple. You don’t borrow what you cannot pay back,’" said Romney, who frequently criticizes Obama at home for the growth of the U.S. debt in the past four years.
"The world should pay close attention to the transformation of Poland’s economy," Romney said. "A march toward economic liberty and smaller government has meant a march toward higher living standards, a strong military that defends liberty at home and abroad, and an important and growing role on the international stage."
While holding up Poland as an economic example, Romney did not mention that the nation’s unemployment is measured at 12.4 percent. Unemployment in the United States is 8.2 percent.
Romney did not mention Obama by name during his speech, but he frequently accuses the president of failing to understand the importance of the private economy and favoring government solutions to the nation’s problems.
Romney resumes his campaign at home with appearances Thursday in Colorado.
His aides told reporters that despite any mistakes, the trip had been a success.
Already, they were eager to turn the campaign focus back to the race against Obama.
The campaign issued a statement from its headquarters in Boston noting that the announcement of Romney’s selection of a vice presidential running mate is getting closer. It unveiled an app for smartphones that it said would "serve as the campaign’s first official distribution channel" for the news.
Controversy accompanied the former Massachusetts governor in Poland as in previous stops in Britain and Israel, and comments he made earlier in the trip drew criticism from China.
Xinhua News Agency said Romney’s "hawkish remarks" made in Jerusalem could worsen an already tense Mideast situation, or even re-ignite a war between Palestinians and Israelis.
Earlier this week, he declared Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel, even though U.S. policy holds that the city’s designation is a matter for negotiations between the Jewish state and the Palestinians. He also sparked a charge of racism from Palestinians when he told donors that the strength of Israel’s economy was due in part to the country’s culture.
At his first stop, in London, he drew criticism from British political leaders when he appeared to question whether the nation was fully prepared for the Olympic Games, now underway.
The Republican presidential contender has been highly critical of China throughout his campaign, promising to challenge Beijing’s growing influence in East Asia and get tougher with the communist government on its human rights record.
There was some tension between reporters and Romney aides as the campaign looked to Poland as a final opportunity to project the image of a leader ready to stand on the world’s stage.
The two-day trip to Poland was aimed in part at building support among Polish-American and Catholic voters in the United States.
Poles generally have been skeptical of Obama’s "reset" with Russia, and Romney has cited Polish concerns in his criticism of Obama. Some in Poland and the neighboring Czech Republic were upset by the Obama administration’s decision to revise the Bush-era missile defense plan for Europe, which included sites in both countries.
In his speech, Romney said of Poland: "At every turn in our history, through wars and crises, through every change in the geopolitical map, we have met as friends and allies. That was true in America’s Revolutionary War. It was true in the dark days of World War II. And it has been true in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Romney delivered his remarks in a deeply Roman Catholic country that for years has favored Republicans over Democrats. This is partly a legacy of President Ronald Reagan, whose efforts helped bring down communism across Eastern Europe, for which Poles remain grateful.
Poland has been a stalwart U.S. ally and significant contributor to military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Romney met earlier in the day with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski. They discussed the longstanding ties between the two nations as well as the conflict in Afghanistan.
"On behalf of our countrymen, I express deep appreciation for your willingness to fight with us, to stand with us, and to be our friends in times of crisis and military conflict," Romney said.
"Poland has excellent ties with the United States, regardless of which American party is in power," Sikorski said. "We remember Ronald Reagan’s warm feelings for Poland’s Solidarity and also the fact that we joined (NATO) during Bill Clinton’s term."
Romney also stopped to view a memorial to Pope John Paul II, who was born in Poland. He then met with President Bronislaw Komorowski.
The candidate ignored shouted questions from reporters about his comments on Israel and the Palestinians. Asked why Romney has taken just three questions from American reporters during the trip, traveling press secretary Rick Gorka said, "Shove it." He later called some journalists to apologize.
Romney’s visit, campaign officials said, was at the invitation of Lech Walesa, the Polish labor leader who co-founded the Solidarity movement and served as the country’s president during the country’s transition out of communism.
Walesa effectively endorsed Romney when they met Monday.
But Solidarity, the organization Walesa helped found more than two decades ago, characterized Romney as being hostile to unions and against labor rights. It emphasized that it had no role in organizing the visit and expressed support for American labor organizations.