- The Washington Times - Friday, October 7, 2011

GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney, laying out his security and foreign policy priorities, vowed Friday to push back against proposed cuts to defense spending, while promising to beef up the Navy’s fleet of ships, revive plans for a expansive national missile defense system and defer to military commanders on troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Speaking at The Citadel military college in Charleston, South Carolina, the former Massachusetts governor shared those ideas and others in a laying out a hawkish foreign policy that he said would be based on the idea of creating the “American Century,” fueled by the conviction that God created the United States to lead the rest of the world.

“God did not create this country to be a nation of followers,” Mr. Romney said. “America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers. America must lead the world, or someone else will. Without American leadership, without clarity of American purpose and resolve, the world becomes a far more dangerous place, and liberty and prosperity would surely be among the first casualties.”

His speech marked one of the first major foreign policy addresses in a GOP primary campaign that has been focused to date on the nation’s pressing domestic problems, including the national 9.1 percent unemployment rate, trillion-dollar annual deficits and a mushrooming $14.8 trillion national debt.

In his remarks, Mr. Romney warned against the growing global ambitions of China and Russia, and talked about the need to keep a close eye on nations such as Iran, Pakistan, North Korea and Venezuela.

He also pushed back against the anti-interventionist strain of the Republican Party and appeared to separate himself some of his GOP rivals, including Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman who have advocated for pulling troops out of Afghanistan and reducing the nation’s military presence overseas in order to save money and help put the nation’s fiscal house in order.

“This is America’s moment,” Mr. Romney said. “We should embrace the challenge, not shrink from it, not crawl into an isolationist shell, not wave the white flag of surrender, nor give in to those who assert America’s time has passed. That is utter nonsense.”

But Mr. Romney trained most of his fire on President Obama, questioning his “clarity and resolve” on the world stage. He cast the president as an apologist and criticized his “profoundly mistaken view” that “there is nothing unique about the United States.”

“If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on Earth, I am not your president,” Mr. Romney said. “You have that president today.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney pushed back at the daily press briefing, saying the president’s “record on foreign policy and national security policy speaks for itself.”

“We are stronger. We are safer,” Mr. Carney said. “We have taken the fight to our principal enemy with a level of aggression and success that is unprecedented. We have improved our relationships around the world with our allies and our partners.”

He also pointed out that Mr. Romney’s remarks appeared to clash with those of House Speaker John Boehner, the Ohio Republican who applauded President Obama’s handling of aspects of the war on terrorism during an appearance Thursday at a Washington forum.

“I’ve been very supportive of the president’s decisions in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Mr. Boehner said, at one point crediting Mr. Obama for outperforming President George W. Bush in areas of the war on terrorism. “When you look at the prosecution of the war effort against the enemy in the tribal areas [of Pakistan], there’s clearly more been done under President Obama than there was under President Bush, in terms of a more aggressive effort focused at them.”

Meanwhile, despite a near consensus for reduced spending on Capitol Hill, Mr. Romney seemed poised to go in the opposite direction when it comes to defense.

He called for a accelerated build-up of the Navy’s fleet from 9 to 15 ships a year and deferring to military leaders on the timetable on when to draw down the nearly 100,000 U.S. troops still in Afghanistan.

“The force level necessary to secure our gains and complete our mission successfully is a decision I will make free from politics,” he said, in a clear swipe against the president’s plan to pull 10,000 troops out of Afghanistan this year and 23,000 more by next September.

He also said it is time to revive plans for a full national ballistic missile defense system, which Mr. Obama scrapped in favor of a more modest land- and sea-based system focused on blocking Iran’s ability to fire short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.

“I will reverse President Obama’s massive defense cuts,” he added. “Time and again, we have seen that attempts to balance the budget by weakening our military only lead to a far higher price, not only in treasure, but in blood.”

And he pushed for military assistance to Israel, reaffirming his determination to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. He also called for deeper economic ties with Latin America and for the need to designate a point person in the Middle East to get out in front of issues tied to the democratic uprisings in the region which have become known as the “Arab Spring.”

The Democratic National Committee responded by describing Mr. Romney as a career flip-flopper, who changed his position on Afghanistan and laid out generalities that have little significance to the realities of the world today.

“We all know what he says is not always what he does,” said retired Col. and former DNC Chairman Don Fowler, who also took rejected Mr. Romney’s attack on the “clarity and resolve” of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy. “I doubt that al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden question President Obama’s resolve,” he said.

Former Rep. Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat who now head the D.C.-based Center for Middle East Peace, stressed that Mr. Obama has advocated for Israel and opposed the recent Palestinian push for statehood at the United Nations.

“There was nothing ambivalent about President Obama when he stood up against the entire world at the United Nations,” Mr. Wexler said.

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