Romney: U.S. should be more assertive on world stage

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In the fall, Mr. Romney faced criticism for his hurried and harsh reaction to news of protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the near-simultaneous attacks at the consulate in Libya. Before the administration knew of Stevens’ death, Mr. Romney criticized Mr. Obama for sympathizing with the attackers. In the aftermath, top Republicans — including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 presidential nominee — urged Mr. Romney to give a speech laying out his vision for U.S. foreign policy.

The Obama campaign dismissed Mr. Romney’s address as a rehashed attempt to fix past blunders, and said it does little to actually differentiate Mr. Romney‘s positions from the president’s record.

“Gov. Romney still can’t say what he’d do differently on Iran other than taking us to war. He continues to criticize the president’s timeline in Afghanistan even while saying he’d pursue it as president. His position on Libya has no credibility since he’s been both for and against our Libya policy. And he offers no way forward on Syria other than suggesting that the United States should get more deeply involved in the conflict without defining a strategy,” Obama foreign policy advisers Michele Flournoy and Colin Kahl wrote in a memo sent to reporters.

The campaign prepared a TV ad calling Mr. Romney “reckless” and “amateurish” on foreign policy questions, though it said the spot was running only in Virginia.

Mr. Obama has held an edge in polls on handling foreign policy issues, and polls show voters aren’t particularly focused on the subject amid a struggling economy. Still, Republican aides say the Benghazi attack — and ensuing questions about possible intelligence failures and lax security at the consulate in Libya — has given Mr. Romney a new opportunity to criticize the president.

After a strong debate performance and with less than a month to go before Election Day, Mr. Romney delivered the speech at the alma mater of former Secretary of State George Marshall, the architect of the Marshall Plan, which rebuilt Europe after World War II. Aides said the choice was deliberate and intended to cast Mr. Romney as part of a long tradition of American leadership around the world.

Mr. Romney‘s outline of an approach to Syria comes at a critical time in part because the violence there has spilled over the border and into Turkey. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta warned Saturday the conflict between those neighboring countries could embroil the broader region.

The Obama administration still seeks a peaceful political transition, even though the president acknowledged in August that the likelihood of a soft landing for Syria’s civil war “seems pretty distant.”

Mr. Obama called on Mr. Assad to step down more than a year ago and has sought consensus at the United Nations on a diplomatic power-transfer plan, but he has been stymied repeatedly by Russia and China. Mr. Obama has stepped up U.S. humanitarian aid and nonlethal assistance, now at a combined $175 million, to the political opposition.

But he has opposed directly providing weapons to the rebels or using U.S. air power to prevent Syrian jets from flying.

The administration says U.S. arms assistance would further militarize Syria and make it even harder to stabilize the country after Mr. Assad’s downfall, which it insists is inevitable. It says it still doesn’t know the different fighting groups well enough to provide them guns, considering the small but growing influence of Islamist extremists among their ranks.

Kasie Hunt reported from Washington. AP writers Ben Feller in Los Angeles and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.

 

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