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Unrest in Middle East: What would President Romney do? (+video)

The attacks against US diplomatic outposts in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere in the Middle East have sharpened focus on President Obama's policies – and what Mitt Romney's would be.

By Staff Writer / September 14, 2012

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns at Van Dyck Park in Fairfax, Va., Thursday.

Charles Dharapak/AP

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What kind of diplomacy would President Romney conduct? That’s a question the D.C. punditocracy is debating in the wake of GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s criticism of the way President Obama has handled attacks on US embassies in the Middle East.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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The AP reports on the effect recent attacks on US embassies in the Arab world is now having on the 2012 US presidential campaign.

Leaving aside the argument over the accuracy of Mr. Romney’s criticism and the propriety of its timing, his basic charge is that the current administration has been weak and passive in response to recent events. That’s a theme that’s run through all his statements on foreign policy. Romney insists that in the White House he’d speak up more forcefully for US interests around the world, and that the world would respond differently as a result.

Mr. Obama, in this view, is Jimmy Carter redux, a president who has ceded America’s primary role in global events to other nations. Romney says he’d take that back.

“The world needs American leadership. The Middle East ... needs American leadership, and I intend to be a president that provides the leadership that America respects and will keep us admired throughout the world,” Romney said Thursday in a campaign appearance in Fairfax, Va.

Of course, it’s easy to say sweeping stuff like that. But specifically, what does this mean?

If there’s one foreign issue Romney has talked of most, it’s probably China. He’s long criticized China as a country that steals American technology and unfairly steals American jobs by manipulating its currency, ensuring that its goods remain cheap in the US.

As it happens, the Romney campaign just released an ad on China and manufacturing jobs, charging that Obama hasn’t stood up to Beijing’s “cheating.”

Romney has long said he’d label China a currency manipulator on Day 1 of his presidency. But beyond that, it’s unclear what he’d do. Like George Bush before him, Obama has declined to label China a currency cheat in the Treasury Department’s semiannual report on international exchange-rate policies. Doing so would only anger China without changing anything, they say.

As to the Middle East, this week’s flap has led to Romney advisers providing a bit more detail about his prospective foreign policy. In interviews with The New York Times, Washington Post, and other outlets, they’ve said he would:

  • Tell Iran it can’t have nuclear weapons, and set a “red line” for nuclear technology development beyond which Tehran can’t go without risking unspecified consequences.
  • Tell Egypt it has to do a better job protecting Americans if they want the US to follow through with $1 billion in debt forgiveness.
  • Provide more help to the Syrian opposition, perhaps by facilitating the transfer of arms from other neighboring Arab states.
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