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Mitt Romney's hawkish foreign policy plan: A substitute for experience?

In a speech at The Citadel military college in South Carolina Friday, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney outlined a muscular foreign policy and national security plan.

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Republican challengers will have to demonstrate the ability to lead the country in a difficult international climate.

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For Romney at this point in the GOP presidential campaign, that means striking a balance between the mainstream, hawkish wing of the Republican party and the more isolationist tea party wing. In his speech Friday, Romney made it clear where he stands.

“We should embrace the challenge, not shrink from it, not crawl into an isolationist shell,” he said.

Critics were quick to respond.

The pro-Democrat Priorities USA Action political-action committee posted a clip from a 2008 presidential campaign debate in which John McCain asks Romney “whether you have the experience and the judgment to lead this country in the war against radical Islamic extremism.”

Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war combat veteran and former assistant secretary of veterans’ affairs who’s running for a congressional seat in Illinois, wrote in Politico this week, “Romney’s foreign policy ideas – like his domestic agenda – have been opportunistic and all over the map.”

Ms. Duckworth points to Romney’s previous statements on a range of issues – from Pakistan and Libya to Mexico and nuclear arms control – and concludes that “his craven attitude to foreign policy is based more on political expediency than real world facts.”

Also writing in Politico Friday, Romney GOP rival Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah previewed a major foreign affairs speech he’s scheduled to give in New Hampshire next Monday.

“My foreign policy vision and priorities, Huntsman writes, “will differ from the conventional thinking you will hear from some of my fellow Republican candidates – including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.”

“Simply advocating for more ships, more troops and more weapons isn’t a viable foreign policy,” says Huntsman, a former ambassador to China. “We need more agility, more intelligence and more economic engagement with the world.”

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