(Photo: REUTERS/Brian Snyder)
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivered a foreign policy speech on Monday at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va., criticizing President Barack Obama for failed and misguided leadership in the Middle East, and laid out his plans for each foreign region of interest.
"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," Romney said in his prepared delivery at the VMT, after he highlighted how his presidency would tackle the growing conflicts in the Middle East.
"America's security and the cause of freedom cannot afford four more years like the last four years. I am running for President because I believe the leader of the free world has a duty, to our citizens, and to our friends everywhere, to use America's great influence -- wisely, with solemnity and without false pride, but also firmly and actively-to shape events in ways that secure our interests, further our values, prevent conflict, and make the world better-not perfect, but better."
The former Massachusetts governor began his speech by reminding listeners of the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya last month that left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead. He agreed with Obama that Stevens and his colleagues "represented the best of America," which would be one of the only things he would side with the president on.
Romney focused on the large number of attacks against U.S. and foreign embassies in September, many of which were sparked by an anti-Islamic film made in the U.S. and put up on YouTube, but were also evidence of larger hostile tensions brimming in the region against America.
"As the Administration has finally conceded, these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others, especially women and girls; who are fighting to control much of the Middle East today; and who seek to wage perpetual war on the West," Romney said on Monday.
Before Romney's speech, the Obama campaign released a 30-second ad on Monday that ridiculed the candidate's foreign policy credentials, highlighting his "gaffe-filled tour" of the United Kingdom, Israel, and Poland earlier this summer, and noting that the Republican had made the wrong call in criticizing Obama immediately after the Libya attacks.
"When our U.S. diplomats were attacked in Libya, The New York Times said Romney's knee-jerk response showed an 'extraordinary lack of presidential character,' and even Republican experts said Romney's remarks were 'the worst possible reaction' to what happened," the ad says. "If this is how he handles the world now, just think of what Mitt Romney might do as president."
But while pointing out that the attacks on American buildings could only be blamed on the terrorists responsible, Romney took the opportunity on Monday to highlight how Obama's foreign policy strategy has presumably weakened America throughout the Middle East.
"I want to be very clear: The blame for the murder of our people in Libya, and the attacks on our embassies in so many other countries, lies solely with those who carried them out -- no one else," Romney said. "But it is 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. Unfortunately, that is exactly where we find ourselves in the Middle East under President Obama."
As evidence for what he believes are Obama's failed foreign policies, the GOP candidate offered several examples. He noted how the relationship between the U.S. and Israel has suffered, how Iran is closer today than ever before to nuclear weapons capability, how in Iraq and Afghanistan terrorist groups like al-Qaeda are resurging and trying to take hold of the region, and how 30,000 people in Syria have been massacred over the past 20 months in the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.
"It is time to change course in the Middle East. That course should be organized around these bedrock principles: America must have confidence in our cause, clarity in our purpose and resolve in our might. No friend of America will question our commitment to support them… no enemy that attacks America will question our resolve to defeat them… and no one anywhere, friend or foe, will doubt America's capability to back up our words," Romney proclaimed, before proposing his solutions to the conflicts he identified.
On the problem of Iran, he promised new and tighter sanctions, as well as restoring a permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf region in order to make it clear that the U.S. and its allies will not tolerate nuclear pursuit.
For Iraq and Afghanistan, he promised a better transitioning process so that local troops and law enforcement agencies are trained and prepared to defend their country. For Syria, he said that the U.S. will identify rebel forces that side with American ideals, and assist them with the proper resources so they can defeat Assad's regime on their own.
And on Obama's budget cuts to the military, Romney pledged: "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. The decisions we make today will determine our ability to protect America tomorrow. The first purpose of a strong military is to prevent war."
In his closing remarks, the candidate expressed: "The torch America carries is one of decency and hope. It is not America's torch alone. But it is America's duty -- and honor -- to hold it high enough that all the world can see its light."
Obama is expected to challenge Romney's claims when the two square off for the second presidential debate, scheduled for Oct. 16 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., where the candidates will discuss foreign and domestic policy.