At VMI, Romney Criticizes Obama's Foreign Policy
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
On a Tuesday, it's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne. Just about every poll since last week's presidential debate, shows that Mitt Romney has made the race very close. A Pew survey showed Romney tied with President Obama, among registered voters; and leading by four points, among likely voters.
INSKEEP: That survey prompted an Obama supporter, the blogger Andrew Sullivan, to erupt again yesterday online; describing the president's debate performance with words like arrogant, incapable, terrifying and near-oblivion. Broader averages of multiple polls suggest the picture is more mixed, though the president's former lead was much diminished.
MONTAGNE: It was in that context, that Romney took his next step - a speech on foreign policy, at the Virginia Military Institute. NPR's Ari Shapiro was there.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: This speech covered the globe, with its most intense focus on the Middle East and North Africa.
(SOUNDBITE OF VMI SPEECH)
MITT ROMNEY: A region that's now in the midst of the most profound upheaval in a century.
SHAPIRO: Romney pointed to warning signs that things were getting worse: violence in Libya, that killed an American ambassador; civil war in Syria, that's gone on for more than a year; and Iran's continued pursuit of nuclear weapons.
ROMNEY: It's clear that the risk of conflict in the region, is higher now than when the president took office.
SHAPIRO: Romney said this is because President Obama has failed to lead. He mentioned the death of Osama bin Laden only in passing, and gave credit to military and intelligence professionals. And he promised to bring a more aggressive foreign policy to the White House.
ROMNEY: No friend of America will question our commitment to support them. No enemy that attacks America, will question our resolve to defeat them. And no one anywhere - friend or foe - will doubt America's capability to back up our words.
SHAPIRO: On those broad principles, Romney insisted he'd be very different from President Obama. But on specific policies, he offered a lot of overlap with the current administration. For example, here's Romney's prescription for Libya.
ROMNEY: I'll support the Libyan people's efforts to forge a lasting government, that represents all of them; and I'll vigorously pursue the terrorists who attacked our consulate in Benghazi, and killed our fellow Americans.
SHAPIRO: That tracks nearly verbatim, with the vows heard the past few weeks from the State Department. And here's Romney's plan for Egypt.
ROMNEY: I'll use our influence - including clear conditions on our aid - to urge the new government to represent all Egyptians; to build democratic institutions; and to maintain its peace treaty with Israel.
SHAPIRO: In fact, American aid to Egypt already comes with conditions. On Iran, Romney said he'll tighten sanctions. That's the same path the Obama administration has taken. And Romney promised to pursue a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, just as every recent president has. But his statement yesterday on a two-state solution contradicts the position Romney took in a private fundraiser earlier this year. In a secretly recorded video, Romney told donors that Palestinians have no interest in establishing peace, and, quote, "the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable."
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: He obviously does not track even the things he, himself, says.
SHAPIRO: Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright responded to the Romney attacks yesterday, on a conference call organized by the Obama campaign. She said Romney's speech had some nice-sounding slogans, but no depth.
ALBRIGHT: I think it is really full of platitudes, and free of substance. You know, peace through strength, clarity, resolve - those aren't really foreign policies.
SHAPIRO: One area where Romney did draw a clear policy difference with President Obama, was Syria. As a bloody civil war drags on there, Romney said it's time to give the rebels who agree with American values, more help and bigger weapons.
ROMNEY: Unfortunately, so many of these people, who could be our friends, feel that our president is indifferent to their quest for freedom and dignity. As one Syrian woman put it: We will not forget that you forgot about us.
SHAPIRO: That Syrian woman he quoted was interviewed on this program, by NPR's Kelly McEvers. But the Obama administration has resisted sending arms to the Syrian rebels, for fear that the weapons could end up in terrorists' hands.
Yesterday, the president's re-election campaign set out to remind voters that this is not Romney's first foray onto the world stage. The campaign released an ad in Virginia, talking about Romney's gaffe-filled foreign trip; and his initial response to violence in Libya, where he accused the president of sympathizing with the attackers.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Even Republican experts said Romney's remarks were the worst possible reaction to what happened. If this is how he handles the world now, just think what Mitt Romney might do as president.
SHAPIRO: This is the rare year when Democrats have outpolled Republicans, on national security. But Mitt Romney believes the attacks in Libya have rattled voter confidence enough that he can take advantage, when he meets the president to debate foreign policy in two weeks.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, traveling with the Romney campaign.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.