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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.

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Again, in practice all these issues involve complications that may make these flat statements difficult to live up to. On Iran, Romney definitely sounds more hawkish than Obama. Obama has said Iran can’t get a nuclear weapon, but beyond that he’s laid out few specifics. The problem is the stakes. If Iran truly believes its security lies in developing nuclear weapons, will only war stop it? Is the US public prepared to support another Middle East conflict? A president that makes explicit threats in this area may face having to live up to them.

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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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Romney foreign policy adviser Eliot Cohen told The New York Times that President Romney would “not be content with an Iran one screwdriver’s turn away from a nuclear weapon.” Beyond that he was not definite as to where Romney’s red line might be.

Egypt has definitely become a difficult issue for the US. New Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the formerly-banned Muslim Brotherhood, appears as interested in appeasing domestic anti-Americanism as in working with the US on broader issues. That’s led some in Congress to agitate for a cutoff of US aid.

But is that the answer? Foreign policy expert Robert Kagan, long associated with neoconservative doctrine, argues that it isn’t.

“If Egypt’s economy crumbles, is it going to be less radical?” he writes in an opinion piece for The Foreign Policy Initiative.

Obama has been right to reach out to the new Egyptian government, according to Mr. Kagan. It’s been wrong in that it has not said clearly enough what it expects from the new regime.

“This is not the time for a ‘who lost Egypt’ debate,” writes Kagan.

Finally, as to providing more aid to the Syrian opposition, the Western world has been reluctant to become overtly involved in Syria, as it did in Libya, precisely because the stakes are so high. A misstep could draw in Iran and spark wider regional conflict.

That said, we would be surprised if the US was not already facilitating arms for the opposition delivered via regional allies as a covert operation.

In sum, Romney’s criticism of Obama is that on foreign affairs, he’s following instead of leading.

“As we watch the world today, sometimes it seems that we’re at the mercy of events instead of shaping events. And a strong America’s essential to shape events,” said Romney in Virginia on Thursday.

Of course, it’s easy to vow you’ll drive the world when you’re out of office. Many candidates have found that once they sit in the West Wing, globe has a nasty habit of erupting at any time in ways they haven't predicted, and that shaping the behavior of other nations is harder than it looked from a campaign podium.

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