LEXINGTON, Va. – Republican nominee Mitt Romney on Monday accused President Obama of “passive” leadership in the Middle East in a foreign-policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute. “Hope is not a strategy,” the Republican nominee said, attacking the president’s 2008 campaign slogan of “hope and change.”
Romney called for more direct intervention in Syria, including making sure anti-government opposition forces have weapons. And while he emphasized that the responsibility for the murder of U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, lies solely with those who carried out the attack, Romney also criticized the Obama administration for its initial focus on an anti-Islamic video as the trigger for an attack.
In addition, Romney argued at VMI that Obama has failed both Israel and the Palestinians. “What should be a negotiation process has devolved into a series of heated disputes at the” United Nations, he said. “In this old conflict, as in every challenge we face in the Middle East, only a new president will bring the chance to begin anew.”
The renewed focus on foreign policy comes after several weeks of unrest in the Middle East resulting in widespread protests, attacks on multiple American embassies, and the deadly attacks in Benghzai. Romney called the recent attacks “expressions of a larger struggle that is playing out across the broader Middle East” and argue for changing course in the region.
Romney, who has little foreign policy experience on his resume, has been criticized for some of his previous statements on international affairs. An overseas trip he took in July was largely overshadowed by negative reaction to comments he made about England’s lack of preparation for the Olympics and a perceived slight of Palestinians, whom he implied were culturally inferior to their Jewish neighbors. He took heat for an inaccurate, premature attack on the Obama administration as events were unfolding in Libya. Most recently, he offended Spanish leaders when he said in the debate that he doesn’t want the U.S. to “go down the path of Spain.” Some of these missteps are featured in a new Obama campaign ad and video.
The VMI speech was an opportunity to make “voters comfortable with Romney as commander in chief,” said Republican strategist and former McCain adviser Ford O'Connell. He pointed to a recent Gallup poll that shows Obama with higher foreign policy approval ratings than Romney and said the goal of the speech was also to “close that gap a little bit.”
Here are some of the foreign policy areas Romney addressed:
Romney criticized the administration for what he framed as a failure to acknowledge the obvious, that the attacks in Libya were the work of terrorists – not spontaneous reactions to a video.
“The attack on our Consulate there on September 11th, 2012 was likely the work of forces affiliated with those that attacked our homeland on September 11th, 2001. This latest assault can’t be blamed on a reprehensible video insulting Islam, despite the administration’s attempts to convince us of that for so long,” Romney said. “No, 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 that he will support “the Libyan people’s efforts to forge a lasting government that represents all of them,” while also pursuing those who attacked the consulate. This position is the same as Obama’s.
Romney called for the United States to help arm the Syrian opposition. “In Syria, I’ll 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, helicopters, and fighter jets,” Romney said. He stopped short of saying the U.S. itself would supply arms to the opposition.
His position is similar to Obama’s. The administration is providing non-lethal aid such as intelligence, and The New York Times reported that the CIA is helping allies route arms to fighters who are not terrorists.
“I will not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran, and will tighten the sanctions we currently have. I’ll restore the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf —and I’ll work with Israel to increase our military assistance and coordination,” Romney said.