Mitt Romney issued a broadside against President Barack Obama’s foreign policy today, charging the president with endangering U.S. interests by allowing long- time alliances to fray and international tensions to fester.
“It is our responsibility and the responsibility of our president to use America’s great power to shape history, not to lead from behind, leaving our destiny at the mercy of events,” Romney said in a speech at Virginia Military Institute. “Unfortunately, that is exactly where we find ourselves.”
In a speech that laid out few new details about what he would do differently from Obama, Romney criticized the president’s handling of developments in the Middle East and North Africa and his efforts to wind down American military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The former Massachusetts governor called for a more muscular assertion of U.S. power in the world and bolstered defense spending, arguing that such an assertive posture was the only way to avert future conflicts.
“If America does not lead, others will -- others who do not share our interests and our values -- and the world will grow darker,” Romney told an audience of cadets and military officials in Lexington, Virginia, during his fifth visit to the politically competitive state in the last four weeks. “America’s security and the cause of freedom cannot afford four more years like the last four years.”
Romney’s effort to round out his national security credentials at the tail-end of a campaign that he has focused almost exclusively on the domestic economy comes as Obama’s camp charges that the Republican is obscuring his true positions on a range of issues, including health care and education.
This morning, the Obama campaign released an advertisement portraying Romney as a bumbler on foreign policy, highlighting criticism he received for his conduct of a July trip to Europe and his haste to attack the administration after the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya in Benghazi on Sept. 11.
“If this is how he handles the world now, just think of what Mitt Romney might do as president,” the ad says.
Speaking at the alma mater of the late former Secretary of State General George C. Marshall, Romney sought to place himself squarely in line with the bipartisan approach to U.S. foreign policy of decades past that Marshall personified.
“America has a proud history of strong, confident, principled global leadership -- a history that has been written by patriots of both parties,” Romney said. “Unfortunately, this president’s policies have not been equal to our best examples of world leadership.”
Yet the speech also promoted a hawkish U.S. stance more often associated with former President George W. Bush, including a call for a more forceful approach than Obama has taken to developments overseas and a larger defense budget to deter potential adversaries.
Romney built on his call for a tougher line on Iran, including the imposition of stiffer sanctions than the president has set and the restoration of permanently stationed aircraft- carrier task forces in the region.
“For the sake of peace, we must make clear to Iran through actions -- not just words -- that their nuclear pursuit will not be tolerated,” Romney said.
Romney is walking a delicate political line with the address as he reaches out to swing voters, some of whom might be put off by memories of Bush’s foreign policy and are tired of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that shaped his presidency.
His statements to date “have been more in the hawkish or neoconservative point of view, and the question I think in this speech is whether, like he did in the debate, he’s able to tack back to a more centrist, statesman, Republican-establishment stance,” Republican strategist John Ullyot, a former spokesman for the Senate Armed Services Committee, said before the address.
“He needs to criticize the administration, on the one hand, politically, but that pushes him in a direction where he’s more hawkish, and there’s a definite bitter aftertaste with most moderates with that approach.”
Obama’s campaign argues that Romney’s positions are outside the “mainstream” of foreign policy thinking.
‘Swagger and Slogans’
In a memorandum circulated by Obama’s campaign with the new ad before Romney’s speech, foreign policy aides said the Republican challenger has criticized the president with “swagger and slogans,” without offering specifics about how he would handle ending the war in Afghanistan, dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, or confronting unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.
Romney, wrote Michele Flournoy and Colin Kahl, has “repeatedly taken positions outside of the mainstream, and often to the right of even George W. Bush.”
The president is seeking to regain footing after a lackluster debate performance as Romney tries to build momentum and make up ground in a race where he trails in the states most likely to decide the election.
The campaign has entered a phase where the electoral map has narrowed to as few as eight states, with two debates remaining between Obama and Romney and the lone vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Representative Paul Ryan set for Oct. 11. That reduces the margin for error in a contest that has been close for the last four months.
Obama is raising money and trying to energize Latino voters in California before traveling to Ohio tomorrow. Today, he’ll announce the establishment of a national monument to César Chávez, founder of the United Farm Workers.
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