Mitt Romney assailed President Barack Obama for foreign policies he said have weakened the U.S., charging the administration with leaking security secrets, proposing dangerous defense-spending cuts, and mistreating allies including Israel while failing to effectively cripple Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
In a wide-ranging speech on the eve of a six-day trip overseas, the presumed Republican presidential nominee called for a tougher U.S. negotiating stance with Iran and a special counsel to investigate what he said were politically motivated disclosures of national security information by Obama’s aides.
Romney told the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Nevada, that Obama’s policies have “exposed the military to cuts that no one can justify, compromised our national- security secrets, and in dealings with other nations, he has given trust where it is not earned, insult where it was not deserved, and apology where it is not due.”
The former Massachusetts governor called for the U.S. to insist that Iran cease all enrichment of uranium -- rather than limit it to 5 percent, as administration officials have indicated they might accept -- as part of any agreement on its nuclear program.
“A clear line has to be drawn,” Romney said, taking a position that mirrors Israel’s on Iran. “There must be a full suspension of any enrichment whatsoever, period.”
The proposal was part of a lengthy policy paper his campaign released as the candidate spoke outlining what it called “The Romney Plan for an American Century.” The document frames his stance on international issues before Romney embarks this evening on a trip to the U.K., Israel and Poland.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki, in comments on Air Force One as the president traveled to Oregon today, said Romney has a “high bar he has not yet jumped over to convince the American people that he wants to have a serious conversation about foreign policy.”
She also said Romney had delivered “baseless attacks” on Obama.
During a campaign dominated by domestic economic issues, the overseas visit provides Romney, who has no direct foreign policy experience, with his first opportunity to assert himself on the international stage. His advisers say the trip offers him a chance to demonstrate statesmanship and fluency on foreign affairs and reassure U.S. voters that he can be an effective global player.
“This is very simple: If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your president,” Romney said in his speech today. “You have that president today.”
He accused Obama’s team of divulging secret national- security information -- including details of the raid that killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden last year -- for political reasons.
“This conduct is contemptible,” Romney said, calling for an investigation and punishment of the perpetrators before the November elections. “Whoever provided classified information to the media, seeking political advantage for the administration, must be exposed, dismissed and punished. The time for stonewalling is over.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney, asked on Air Force One whether any of the classified information Romney spotlighted was leaked from the White House, didn’t directly answer the question.
“There are two experienced federal prosecutors investigating the leaks in question,” Carney said. “As a general matter, the president has made abundantly clear that he has no tolerance for leaks and he thinks leaks are damaging to our national-security interests.”
After today’s address, Romney plans to leave politics largely at the water’s edge. Campaign aides have said he will refrain from attacking Obama while abroad, in line with the custom of not speaking ill of a sitting president from overseas.
He took the opposite tack before the VFW, denouncing Obama’s treatment of Israel and arguing that the president has undermined that nation’s position in the Middle East conflict.
“Since I wouldn’t venture into another country to question American foreign policy, I will tell you right here -- before I leave -- what I think of this administration’s shabby treatment of one of our finest friends,” Romney said, referring to Israel.
He also blamed Obama for automatic defense cuts put in place by Congress last summer in an effort to force a bipartisan compromise on reducing the national debt that has yet to materialize.
“This is not the time for the president’s radical cuts in the military,” Romney said, calling the reductions a path to “devastation” that would weaken the Department of Veterans Affairs. “If I am president of the United States, I will not let that happen.”
In a speech before the same audience yesterday, Obama stressed that his record -- ending the Iraq war, setting a timetable for a withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, authorizing the bin Laden raid and creating economic benefits for soldiers returning home -- demonstrates his support for current and former service members.
“As we look ahead to the challenges we face as a nation and the leadership that’s required, you don’t just have my words, you have my deeds,” Obama said. “You have the promises I’ve made and the promises that I’ve kept.”
While Obama never mentioned Romney by name, he addressed the Republican’s criticism of him over the timetable for the troop withdrawal in Afghanistan and his accusation that the president’s policies have weakened the U.S. globally.
“There are those who argued against a timeline for ending this war, or against talking about it publicly,” Obama said. “But you know what? That’s not a plan for America’s security either.”
Veterans, who exit polls showed accounted for about 15 percent of the electorate in the 2008 presidential election, may be influential in such toss-up states as Virginia, Florida and North Carolina.
Republican John McCain, a decorated former prisoner of war in Vietnam, captured 54 percent of the veterans’ vote in the 2008 presidential race compared with 44 percent for Obama. Still, support for Romney isn’t a foregone conclusion. Veterans narrowly favored Democrat President Bill Clinton, who was criticized for avoiding military service during Vietnam, over World War II veteran President George H.W. Bush in 1992.
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