Mitt Romney has spent recent weeks saying he sees no reason to apologize for his considerable success as a businessman, and on Tuesday he adapted that theme to his foreign-policy vision – telling a Veterans of Foreign Wars audience that as president he would practice a robust, “unapologetic” use of American power.
Proclaiming, “I am not ashamed of American power,” Governor Romney told the VFW convention in Reno, Nev., that he is “guided by one overwhelming conviction and passion” – that the 21st must be “an American century” if peace, justice, and hope are to advance in the world. He then pledged that “if I become commander-in-chief, the United States of America will fulfill its duty, and its destiny.”
Romney followed President Obama by a day in addressing the veterans. But unlike Mr. Obama, who in his remarks Monday made no mention of his presumptive Republican rival, the former Massachusetts governor focused on the incumbent he hopes to prevent from winning a second term.
Under Obama, America has lost its leadership position in the world, Romney said, warning that a second Obama term would lead to devastating cuts in the defense budget.
Perhaps recognizing that Obama receives some of his highest marks from voters on national security issues, Romney tried to sow doubts about Obama’s stewardship of the nation’s security – in particular by charging that the White House, for political gain, has leaked sensitive intelligence information concerning the Osama bin Laden raid and other classified operations.
Calling the leaks “a national security crisis,” Romney said such activity “betrays our national interest” and “compromises our men and women in the field.” He demanded that the leaks be investigated and that whoever provided information to the media “seeking political advantage for the administration, must be exposed, dismissed, and punished.”
Reports surfaced in the media last month of a White House “kill list” of international terrorists. Other reports provided detailed information about a US role in cyberattacks on Iran.
To bolster his case for the seriousness of the leaks, Romney cited Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who on Monday said she has no doubt the leaks came from within the White House. “I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from their ranks,” she said.
Following Romney’s speech, however, Feinstein issued a statement saying she was “disappointed” in Romney for using what she said was her answer to a question, and said she knows “for a fact that the president is extremely troubled by these leaks.”
Both Romney and Obama are keen on winning the military vote, which traditionally has tended to favor Republicans. Four years ago Obama lost the vote to Republican candidate and military hero John McCain by about a 10-point spread, according to exit polling.
Neither Obama nor Romney has military experience. But Obama has been campaigning among military families at most of his stops, as he did Monday in Nevada, taking his message of winding down two wars and boosting veterans’ benefits.
When Romney spoke to the VFW last year, he presented himself as a “conservative businessman” with little use for “career politicians” (a remark seen at the time to be aimed at his Republican rival, Texas Gov. Rick Perry).
But this year, with the Republican nomination assured, Romney focused instead on his convictions about America and its place in the world, and why that would make him a stronger commander-in-chief than the incumbent. It’s a message he will presumably try to bolster as he takes a seven-day overseas trip beginning Wednesday that will include stops in Britain, Israel, and Poland.
Romney attacked Obama on a number of top foreign-policy issues, from his handling of the war in Afghanistan to his treatment of Israel, but in the end he did not offer specifics to demonstrate how he would approach these issues very differently.
On Afghanistan, Romney accused Obama of deciding the next phase of a drawdown of troops, to be completed by September, for political gain. Yet while he said he would base his deployment decisions on the advice of commanders on the ground, Romney nevertheless said he would stick to the NATO decision, reached under Obama, to have all foreign combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
On Iran, Romney derided Obama’s preference for a diplomatic channel to address Tehran’s nuclear advances, saying, “The ayatollahs … are not going to be talked out of their pursuit of nuclear weapons.” But then he emphasized sanctions to deter Iran from its course, a path the administration is already pursuing.
Romney did say that as president he would insist on a “full suspension of any enrichment activity [by Iran], period,” a demand the Obama administration has not made.
On Israel – where on Sunday he will meet with top officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – Romney had some of his harshest words for Obama, blasting what he called “this administration’s shabby treatment of one of our finest friends.”
Romney received some of the loudest and longest applause of his speech when he zeroed in on the $500 billion in cuts that would automatically hit the Pentagon beginning the end of the year if Congress cannot agree on an alternative budget plan.
A day earlier in his speech, Obama blamed the automatic cuts on Republicans in Congress and said that in negotiations to try to avoid them, he would “stand with our troops every time.”
Romney on the other hand called them “the president’s cuts to defense spending,” and he vowed that as commander-in-chief he would not allow them to take effect.