Charging that President Obama has failed to offer an overarching response to the reverberating impact of the Arab Spring, Mitt Romney promised a more purposeful foreign policy in a highly anticipated speech on Monday.
Romney has assailed the Obama administration for its response to an attack on the American consulate in Libya that left four dead. In a speech to cadets at the Virginia Military Institute, the Republican nominee emphasized that while blame for the lethal assault "lies solely with those who carried them out," the situation in Libya is emblematic of a broader struggle that has "shaken the entire Middle East" and undermined American influence.
"It’s clear that the risk of conflict in the region is higher now than when president took office," Romney said.
Drawing a parallel between the World War II-era battle against totalitarianism and Middle Eastern nations engaged in "the struggle for dignity and freedom and the right to live under laws of our own making," Romney charged that “the president has failed to offer the tangible support that our partners want and need,” as citizens of the Middle East grapple with the fallout of the Arab Spring.
"It is our responsibility and our president's responsibility to use our greatest power to shape history, not to lead from behind and leave us at the mercy of events," Romney said. “I believe that if America does not lead, others will, others who do not share our interests and values, and the world will grow darker," he added.
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While Romney warned that the chaos in Libya suggested that "extremism is on the march," he also pointed to a massive protest there against the attacks as evidence that, within the sectarian and ideological currents fracturing the Middle East, America has supporters. But without an American president who forcefully supports democratic aspirations, Romney said, there is a higher risk that extremists will prevail.
In Iraq, Romney said, a premature withdrawal of troops has undercut security gains; in Syria he charged, Obama has stood by as civilians are slaughtered and religious extremists exploit the spiraling chaos; and in Iran, the president did little to nurture the 2009 "Green Revolution" protesting a disputed presidential election.
“When they cried out are you with us or are you with them, the American president was silent," Romney said.
But despite such withering critiques of Obama's record, Romney offered few specifics about how he would lead differently. He said that Iran has “never posed a greater danger to our friends, our allies and us and has never acted less deterred by America," but his proposals -- levy tighter sanctions, work closely with Israel and affirm that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon -- mirror the tactics pursued by the Obama administration.
As the Obama administration has shown little willingness to wade more deeply into Syria, Romney has urged more support for the Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. He painted the conflict there as a proxy battle, noting that Iran has helped arm the Assad regime.
“We should be working no less vigorously through our international partners to help the Syrians who would deliver that defeat to Iran,” Romney said.
Romney also reprised his contention that Obama has not done enough to support Israel, saying that “the world must never see any daylight between our two nation." He said he was committed to a “democratic, prosperous Palestinian state" and faulted Obama for not pursuing peace talks, saying that “what should be a negotiation process has devolved into a series of heated disputes at the U.N.”
The Republican nominee also reiterated his determination to take a hard line with Russia, saying that he would pursue more robust missile defense systems -- something Russia has opposed, fearful of losing its influence in Eastern European nations where those defenses would be installed -- and saying that "there will be no flexibility with Vladimir Putin," the Russian leader.
Military issues have particular resonance in Virginia, a state that is home to a sprawling network of bases and defense contractors. Romney has sought to tie President Obama to massive military cuts mandated by the collapse of a Congressional deficit-cutting "super committee," and he pressed that point again on Monday.
“I will roll back President Obama’s deep and arbitrary cuts to our national defense," Romney said, promising to reverse the impending "sequestration" cuts and to step up shipbuilding.