Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney offered a sweeping critique of President Barack Obama’s handling of threats in the Middle East on Monday in a foreign policy address in which he tried to present himself as a credible mainstream alternative.
Romney departed from his focus on the U.S. economy to talk about how he would handle foreign policy if elected Nov. 6. The speech allowed Romney to lay out his national security positions ahead of his Oct. 16 debate with Obama, which will include discussion of foreign policy.
His aim was to portray himself as having the presidential stature needed for the world stage, and 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 Romney’s approach following harsh criticism he drew last month for inserting campaign politics into the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and after a gaffe-filled trip to Britain, Israel and Poland in July.
In a speech to white-uniformed cadets at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney raised questions about Obama’s handling of Libya and accused him of failing to use U.S. 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,’” 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,” he said.
Running just behind his Democratic rival in polls, Romney accused Obama of pursuing a strategy of “passivity” instead of partnership with U.S. 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,” he said.
The former Massachusetts governor also pledged to tighten sanctions on Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions and deploy warships in the region to apply pressure on Tehran.
He would also increase military assistance and coordination to Israel, which has threatened a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.
Romney pledged that his administration would work to find elements of the Syrian opposition who share U.S. values and ensure they obtain weapons needed to defeat Syrian President Bashir al-Assad’s forces and end his crackdown. Syrian rebels have accused the United States and Western allies 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,” Romney said.