Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said the risk of conflict in the Middle East has grown under President Barack Obama's leadership. In a speech at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington on October 8, Romney called for a "change of course" in the region. The Republican candidate pledged to "roll back" Obama's defense cuts, which he called "arbitrary." Speaking to the assembled cadets, Romney said "Hope is not a strategy," in an allusion to a well-worn Obama campaign phrase.
"I believe that if America does not lead, others will; others who do not share our interests and our values, and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us," said at VMI. He asserted that Obama's failure to project strength abroad has left the US at the mercy of terrorists in the Mideast, such as the attack on the American consulate in Libya which killed the American ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
It was Romney's seventh speech concerning foreign policy on the campaign trail, which has been peppered with widely panned gaffes.
"I will deepen our critical cooperation with our partners in the Gulf," he said. "And I will roll back President Obama's deep and arbitrary cuts to our national defense that would devastate our military. I will make the critical defense investments that we need to remain secure." Romney also indicated that, if elected, he would take a tougher stance on Iran. "I will put the leaders of Iran on notice that the United States and our friends and allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability," he said. "I will not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran and will tighten the sanctions we currently have."
Romney also called for Washington to adopt a more assertive position on Syria and pledged to arm rebels who were compatible with American ideals. "In Syria, I will work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and then ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad's tanks, and helicopters, and fighter jets," he said.
Romney maintained that in Afghanistan, he would pursue "a real and successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014" and pledged not to abandon Afghans to the influence of extremists. "President Obama would have you believe that anyone who disagrees with his decisions in Afghanistan is arguing for endless war," he said. "But the route to more war – and to potential attacks here at home – is a politically timed retreat that abandons the Afghan people to the same extremists who ravaged their country and used it to launch the attacks of 9/11.
No 'Flexibility' On Missile Defense
Referring to the extensive use by the Obama administration of drones against militants and terrorists, Romney said they are "no substitute for a national security strategy for the Middle East." The Republican contender also said he would show no "flexibility" over the U.S. missile defense shield when talking to Russia, which he promised to implement "to protect against threats." Romney was alluding to Obama's remark to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, caught on an open microphone, that he would have greater flexibility to negotiate on missile defense if he was reelected in November.
The former Massachusetts governor claimed the world is now a more dangerous place than when Obama took office, while accusing the chief executive of seriously mishandling the Mideast and the U.S. relationship with Israel.
Romney made the case for a more aggressive policy on the part of the U.S., saying "Our friends and allies across the globe do not want less American leadership … This is what makes America exceptional. It is not just the character of our country; it is the record of our accomplishments. America has a proud history of strong, confident, principled global leadership – a history that has been written by patriots of both parties." He also accused Obama of "missing an historic opportunity to win new friends who share our values in the Middle East, friends who are fighting for their own futures against the very same violent extremists, and evil tyrants, and angry mobs who seek to harm us." He quoted a Syrian woman as saying: "We will not forget that you forgot about us."
Referring to the outgunned Syrian forces arrayed against dictator Bashar al-Assad, Romney said "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," he said.
Romney's comments were welcomed by leaders of the Syrian opposition. For example, Mustapha Sheikh, joint head of the Free Syrian Army military council, said "We welcome, and we need, any American support, whether that be weapons, money, or anything we can use. The Americans need not be afraid that their support will go to the wrong people, or be wasted. It will be appreciated and it will be valuable. We appreciate that this is now being discussed."
Madeleine Albright, who served as Secretary of State in the Clinton administration and who now advises Obama, told the media that there were few specifics in Romney's bullish speech. She also claimed that Romney does not understand the American role in this century and that his thinking about the Russia as an adversary reflects a nostalgia for the Cold War. "I would like to ask Governor Romney and his advisers how he would do things differently," she said.
Obama's campaign immediately accused Romney efforts as being in disarray. His proposals, they said, were a re-hashing of Bush era policies and those that Obama was already pursuing. The campaign has issued an ad saying Romney has failed the test to become commander-in-chief and satirized his supposedly gaffe-prone tour of Israel, Poland and the United Kingdom. The ad says "If this is how he handles the world now, just think of what Romney might do as president." It also accused Romney of lying about Obama's record of signing trade deals with foreign powers.