RENO, Nev. — Observing an unofficial Sept. 11 "truce," Mitt Romney didn't directly blast President Obama Tuesday in a speech to the National Guard Association Conference. But the Republican presidential nominee vowed to reverse his Democratic opponent's planned cuts in military spending.
Mr. Romney said the usual political attacks should cease on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks, but he did question the notion that the withdrawal of troops overseas will generate savings in the Pentagon and said that the Department of Veterans Affairs is in need of serious reform.
"The return of our troops cannot and must not be used as an excuse to hollow out our military through devastating defense budget cuts," he said. "It is true that our armed forces have been stretched to the brink — and that is all the more reason to repair and rebuild. We can always find places to end waste. But we cannot cancel program after program, we cannot jeopardize critical missions, and we cannot cut corners in the quality of the equipment and training we provide."
Mr. Romney has made military spending a major issue in the presidential campaign.
Mr. Obama's administration has already embraced about a half-trillion dollars in cuts as a way to reduce U.S. commitments and help close a $16 trillion-and-counting federal deficit. Last year's debt deal set in place automatic cuts of another half-trillion dollars over the next decade.
But Mr. Romney said any savings from winding down the wars in the Middle East should be reinvested in military programs.
The address provided Mr. Romney with a chance to burnish his foreign policy credentials and push back against Democratic attacks in the wake of his speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., where he failed to mention Afghanistan.
Speaking with reporters on Monday, retired General Wesley Clark, a former Democratic presidential hopeful himself, said that the omission showed "a severe lack of understanding about the job as president."
"It doesn't reflect well on what kind of leadership he would bring, and frankly, it's just unbecoming of someone who wants to become commander in chief because our troops, veterans and military families deserve leaders who make them a priority," Mr. Clark said.
Mr. Romney said he supports a 2014 deadline for withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan — a goal Mr. Obama has laid out, saying Afghan forces should be able to handle their own security by then.
But Mr. Romney said he would not have announced that deadline without further consultations with the Pentagon, and said as president he would check to make sure conditions on the ground still support that timeline.
"Our goal should be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014," he said on Tuesday. "We should evaluate conditions on the ground and solicit the best advice of our military commanders."
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the way Mr. Obama is pursuing the 2014 deadline is misguided.
"I'm telling you, it is unraveling [in Afghanistan], because all the president talks about is withdrawal and leaving, and you are seeing a resurgence of al Qaeda there, so as far as the Middle East is concerned, this president's national security policy has been an abysmal failure," Mr. McCain said Tuesday on "Fox & Friends."
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