Middle East in the spotlight as Mitt Romney tackles foreign policy
REPUBLICAN presidential candidate Mitt Romney has offered a sweeping critique of president Barack Obama’s handling of threats in the Middle East in a foreign policy address in which he tried to present himself as a credible mainstream alternative.
The speech allowed Mr Romney to lay out his national security positions ahead of the 16 October debate between the candidates, which will include discussion of foreign policy.
Mr Romney’s aim was to portray himself as having the presidential stature needed for success on the world stage. He sought to convince Americans that he would project strong American leadership around the world but not rush blindly into armed conflict.
The address was intended to reframe Mr Romney’s approach following the harsh criticism he drew last month for bringing campaign politics into the death of the US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and after a gaffe-filled trip to Britain, Israel and Poland in July.
He also was secretly filmed at a fundraising event in May saying that peace in the Middle East was an issue where “we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it”.
In a speech to cadets at the Virginia Military Institute ahead of the 6 November election, Mr Romney raised questions about Mr Obama’s handling of action in Libya and accused him of failing to use US diplomacy to shape events in Iran, Iraq, Israel, Syria, Russia, and elsewhere.
“The president is fond of saying that, ‘The tide of war is receding,’” Mr Romney said. “And I want to believe him as much as anyone. But when we look at the Middle East today … it is clear that the risk of conflict in the region is higher now than when the president took office.”
Mr Romney – running just behind his opponent in recent polls – accused Mr Obama of pursuing a strategy of “passivity” instead of partnership with US allies in the region.
“I know the president hopes for a safer, freer, and a more prosperous Middle East allied with the United States. I share this hope. But hope is not a strategy.”
The former Massachusetts governor pledged to tighten sanctions on Iran to encourage it to give up its nuclear ambitions, and deploy warships in the region to press Tehran. He said he would also increase military assistance and co-ordination to Israel, which has threatened a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.
On Palestine, Mr Romney said: “I will recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel.” And he faulted Mr Obama for failing to deliver on that front.
Mr Romney pledged that his administration would work to find elements of the Syrian opposition who share US values and ensure they obtain the weapons needed to defeat Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Syrian rebels have accused the West of sitting on the sidelines of the conflict.
“Iran is sending arms to Assad because they know his downfall would be a strategic defeat for them. We should be working no less vigorously with our international partners to support the many Syrians who would deliver that defeat to Iran, rather than sitting on the sidelines.”
The Democrats struck back pre-emptively. Before the speech, Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “We’re not going to be lectured by someone who has been an unmitigated disaster on foreign policy.”
Polling suggests that American voters give Mr Obama higher marks than Mr Romney on questions of national security and crisis response, but world affairs in general are a distant priority compared with the struggling US economy.
• President Barack Obama engaged in some self-deprecation during a Los Angeles fundraiser on Sunday night, taking a good-natured shot at his underwhelming performance in last week’s presidential debate, marvelling at how his friends in the entertainment business could turn in flawless performances every time.
“I can’t always say the same,” Mr Obama said of his debate performance, compared to those of his friends in the entertainment world.
It was Mr Obama’s most direct acknowledgment that Mr Romney won their debate, as the campaign entered its final month.
Mr Obama appeared on stage after comments by actor George Clooney and performances by Katy Perry, Stevie Wonder, Jon Bon Jovi, part of a dinner for 150 guests at the city’s Wolfgang Puck restaurant at $25,000 per person.
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