Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney was set to call for a US change of course in the Middle East yesterday, saying US President Barack Obama’s muddled strategy has failed to confront the challenges of extremism.
Romney, offering a foreign policy vision that he and his campaign believe differs sharply from Obama’s, said he would keep Iran in check, chase terrorists in Libya, put conditions on US aid to Egypt and help arm Syrian rebels.
His speech at Virginia Military Institute highlights the need to put adversaries on notice that a Romney administration would not tolerate the anti-US unrest that has been allowed to fester under Obama, Republicans have said.
“I know the president hopes for a safer, freer and a more prosperous Middle East allied with the US. I share this hope, but hope is not a strategy,” Romney says in excerpts provided by his campaign.
“It is time to change course in the Middle East,” according to Romney. “We cannot support our friends and defeat our enemies in the Middle East when our words are not backed up by deeds ... and the perception of our strategy is not one of partnership, but of passivity.”
Romney was to use the tragedy in Benghazi, Libya, where the US ambassador and three other Americans were killed in a Sept. 11 attack on the consulate there, as an example of how extremists are exploiting perceived US weakness.
“The attacks on America last month should not be seen as random acts. They are expressions of a larger struggle that is playing out across the broader Middle East,” Romney’s speech says, adding that the Benghazi attack “was likely the work of the same forces that attacked our homeland on Sept. 11th, 2001.”
“This latest assault cannot be blamed on a reprehensible video insulting Islam, despite the administration’s attempts to convince us of that for so long,” the speech adds, highlighting the Obama team’s shifting version of events.
Romney would “vigorously pursue the terrorists” who attacked in Benghazi, “recommit America” to the goal of a two-state solution with Israel and the Palestinians, and take a tougher line with Iran.
“For the sake of peace, we must make clear to Iran through actions, not just words, that their nuclear pursuit will not be tolerated,” the speech says.
In Egypt, Romney said, he would use US influence — “including clear conditions on our aid” — to lean on Cairo to embrace democracy and maintain its peace treaty with Israel.
In Syria, Romney would seek to ensure that rebels fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets.”
In Afghanistan, Romney was set to express support for a “real and successful transition” to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014, but warned against a “politically timed retreat.”
“I will evaluate conditions on the ground and weigh the best advice of our military commanders,” the speech says.
Romney’s backers said Obama has departed from the “peace through strength” posture that has been embraced by nearly every US president since Harry Truman.
“It’s a recognition that strength is not provocative; it is weakness that’s provocative,” Rich Williamson who was US ambassador to Sudan under former president George W. Bush, told reporters on Sunday.
With the slowly improving US economy providing less of a clear-cut case for new leadership barely four weeks from the Nov. 6 election, Romney is seeking to muscle in on turf largely seen as the dominant preserve of the president.
Obama cites the killing of Osama bin Laden, extraction from Iraq, standing up to China and the winding down of war in Afghanistan as foreign policy accomplishments, but Romney’s campaign insists the president has come up short.
“Benghazi shows that while drone attacks are helpful and the world is certainly better off that Osama bin Laden is dead, the struggle between radical extremism and those who want moderation isn’t over,” Williamson said.
Obama’s campaign on Sunday had a message for Romney should he wish to have a foreign policy debate: “Bring it on.”
“To date, all Mitt Romney has offered is bluster and platitudes,” Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith said, adding that Romney has “erratically shifted positions on every major foreign policy issue.”
Smith said Romney’s desire to keep troops in Iraq, backing plans to explode defense spending levels for the Pentagon, and “insulting our allies and partners around the world on the campaign trail” is not mainstream policy.
Romney has ruffled feathers by denouncing countries like Greece and Spain as examples of why the US should avoid European economic policies.