- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Seeking to carve out foreign-policy differences with President Obama, rival Mitt Romney on Tuesday said he wants to impose a bargain on countries seeking U.S. foreign aid: open economies to trade and investment in exchange for American taxpayers’ generosity.

Speaking to the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, where world leaders were gathered for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, Mr. Romney said Americans often are flummoxed by the billions of dollars sent overseas to countries that never seem to improve and, at worst, siphon the money into their leaders’ pockets.

He said the solution is to tie U.S. aid to pro-freedom economic reforms, which he predicted will produce more friendly, stable nations.

“The aim of a much larger share of our aid must be the promotion of work and the fostering of free enterprise,” he said. “Nothing we can do as a nation will change lives and nations more effectively and permanently than sharing the insight that lies at the foundation of America’s own economy: Free people pursuing happiness in their own ways build a strong and prosperous nation.”

Speaking to the Clinton Global Initiative later in the day, President Obama made a pitch for nations to end human trafficking, calling it modern-day slavery.

“It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime,” the president said. “I do not use that word — slavery — lightly. It evokes, obviously, one of the most painful chapters in our nation’s history. But around the world, there’s no denying the awful reality. When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed, that’s slavery.”

The speech, and an accompanying executive order putting more onus on businesses to make sure they aren’t contributing to trafficking, were well-received by some advocacy groups.

Other advocates said the president missed a chance to do even more when he waived sanctions against a number of countries on the State Department’s list of worst abusers when it comes to trafficking.

Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and an ardent human rights advocate, called Mr. Obama’s actions “unconscionable and indefensible.”

Mr. Obama spoke earlier in the day at the U.N., where he vowed to deny Iran a nuclear weapon but shied away from labeling this month’s attacks on American diplomatic posts as “terrorism.”

Mr. Romney had no such qualms at the Clinton Initiative, describing a Middle East in turmoil under Mr. Obama’s watch.

“Syria has witnessed the killing of tens of thousands of people. The president of Egypt is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Our ambassador to Libya was assassinated in a terrorist attack. And Iran is moving toward nuclear weapons capability,” the Republican said. “We feel that we are at the mercy of events rather than shaping events.”

Mr. Romney said the solution, as with much of the rest of the developing world, boiled down to jobs. He added that his foreign-aid plans would help.

He proposed “prosperity pacts” that would identify barriers to trade, investment and home-grown entrepreneurship in developing countries.

If those countries work to remove those obstacles, Mr. Romney said, they would receive U.S. assistance to bolster property rights and the rule of law.

Mr. Romney also took a veiled shot at Mr. Obama, whom he has accused of touring the world to apologize for the U.S.

“I will never apologize for America. I believe that America has been one of the greatest forces for good the world has ever known,” he said.

The Clinton Global Initiative has become a must for American presidents and other leaders, owing in no small part to the good will that former President Bill Clinton still engenders around the globe and at home.

Mr. Clinton introduced Mr. Romney to the audience Tuesday by praising the former Massachusetts governor for defending greater federal spending on AmeriCorps, a marquee Clinton government program, which had a successful affiliate in Boston called City Year.

Mr. Clinton said Republicans in Congress were thinking of cutting funding for AmeriCorps last decade, and Mr. Romney and other governors wrote Republicans to insist on continued funding.

“He urged the Republican Congress to continue to support City Year, he urged the White House to do it, and they did,” he said.

During the introduction, Mr. Romney stood next to Mr. Clinton with a grin frozen on his face, then took the lectern and repaid the compliment.

“If there’s one thing we’ve learned this election season, it’s that a few words from Bill Clinton can do a man a lot of good,” said Mr. Romney, referring to Mr. Clinton’s speech that stole the show at the Democratic National Convention.

That convention produced a short-lived bump in the polls for President Obama, and Mr. Romney joked that after Mr. Clinton’s words, he’s now waiting for the same thing. “All I’ve got to do now is wait a couple of days for that bounce.”

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