American Leaders' International 'Oops' Moments

Is Obama's Poland gaffe as bad as Carter's carnal translations?

ByABC News
May 30, 2012, 12:38 PM

May 30, 2012 -- intro: President Obama has offended Poland.

During Tuesday's Medal of Freedom Ceremony, Obama referred to the concentration camps run by Nazis in Poland during World War II as "Polish death camps," a term the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Wednesday showed "ignorance, lack of knowledge and ill will."

Calling them "Polish death camps," Tusk said, implied that Poland was responsible and that "there had been no Nazis, no German responsibility, no Hitler."

While the administration apologized for the "misstatement," it is not the first, and will unlikely be the last, foreign affairs goof from an American head of state. Here's a look at some of the biggest international "oops" moments from the United States' top diplomats.

quicklist: 1title: Obama's Open Mic Mistaketext: What was intended to be a private conversation between President Obama and former Russian President Dmitri Medvedev blew up into an international gaffe after an open mic caught Obama asking for "space" on missile defense issues.

"On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it's important for him to give me space," Obama quietly told Medvedev as reporters shuffled into the room for their joint press conference. "After my election I have more flexibility."

"I understand," Medvedev responded. "I will transmit this information to Vladimir."

Obama's election rival Mitt Romney pounced on the comments as evidence that the president is "pulling punches on the American people." Obama's campaign accused Romney of "distorting the president's words."

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quicklist: 3title: Romney's Foe Faux Pastext: According to Mitt Romney, Russia is America's "No. 1 geopolitical foe."

Not Iran, whom the U.S. has heavily sanctioned in an attempt to prevent it from getting a nuclear weapon, nor North Korea, whom the U.S. has asked the United Nations to more harshly sanction, but Russia, a country that the U.S. has diplomatic relations with and which is considered an ally in the war in Afghanistan.

In a March interview shortly after Obama's open mic moment with Medvedev, Romney said Russia "always stands up for the world's worst actors."

"They fight every cause for the world's worst actors," Romney told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, noting that Russia often opposes the U.S. in the United Nations Security Council.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney chided Romney's Cold-War-style assertion as "a little inaccurate."

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quicklist: 2title: Clinton's Reset Button Blundertext: One of the first items on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's agenda for U.S.-Russia relations was kicking off a new era of friendship and leaving the past decades of contention behind.

But the small, red "reset" button that Clinton gave to her Russian counterpart Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov upon their first meeting did not quite give the impression she intended.

Instead of "reset" the symbolic token had the Russian word "peregruzka," which translates to "overcharge" or "overload."

Luckily for Clinton, Lavrov had a sense of humor and the two posed for photos pressing the "reset"/ "overcharge" button together.


quicklist: 3title: Carter's Carnal Translationtext: When President Jimmy Carter visited Poland for the first time in 1977 he tried to tell the Poles how thrilled he was to be there. Unfortunately that message got lost in translation.

In English, the president told the Poles, "I have come to learn your opinions and understand your desires for the future." But his shoddy interpreter botched the translation, giving the impression that the president was a bit too excited to see the Polish people by saying, "I desire the Poles carnally."

The translator also told the Poles that Carter "abandoned the United States" instead of "left the United States" and rather than Carter's assertion that the Polish constitution was a great document, the translator said it was the subject of ridicule, United Press International reported at the time.

Carter found himself a new translator for the remainder of the trip.


quicklist: 4title: Bush's Peace Sign Problemtext: On a trip to Australia in 1992, former President George H.W. Bush did not even have to open his mouth to offend his Aussie hosts.

Riding in an armored limousine through the capital city of Canberra, Bush threw up a two-fingered "V" for victory sign toward the Australian onlookers.

But while the gesture means peace in the U.S., Bush made the mistake of flashing his fingers with his palm facing in, which in Australia is the equivalent of flipping the bird.

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quicklist: 5title: Gerald Ford's Soviet Domination Fumbletext: In the midst of the Cold War, during a televised presidential debate against presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, President Gerald Ford infamously declared, "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration."

"I'm sorry, what?" debate moderator Max Frankel of The New York Times responded, incredulously asking Ford to clarify his comment.

"Um, did I just understand you say, sir, that the Russians are not using Eastern Europe as their own sphere of influence and occupying most of the countries there and making sure with their troops that it is a communist zone?" Frankel said.

Ford stood by his remark, which went against the commonly held belief at the time that Russia was widely influential in maintaining communism in Eastern Europe.

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quicklist: 6title: George W. Bush's Black Questiontext: On his first visit to Brazil as president, George W. Bush baffled Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso with the question "Do you have blacks, too?"

Then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came to her boss's rescue, telling the new president, "Mr. President, Brazil probably has more blacks than the USA. Some say it's the country with the most blacks outside Africa," Der Spiegel reported.

Cardoso wrote off Bush's remark, saying he was "still in his learning phase."

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