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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
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And I'm Guy Raz. Mitt Romney is known more for his business experience than his foreign policy acumen. But today, the Republican presidential candidate wrapped up a visit to South Carolina with an address on foreign policy. He spoke at The Citadel Military College. And as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, Romney tried to show he can speak the language of national security.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: There's a tradition of Republican presidential candidates laying out their foreign policy views at The Citadel. John McCain did it four years ago. George W. Bush did it eight years before that. Today, it was Mitt Romney's turn.
MITT ROMNEY: Since 1842, every tyrant, every petty thug or great power that threatened America learned that if you wanted to take on America, you're going to have to take on The Citadel as well.
SHAPIRO: He stood surrounded by cadets in front of a big white banner that said: Believe in America. Romney described how he plans to keep America from losing supremacy in the 21st century. The speech covered the globe, from Mexico and Cuba to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iran, North Korea and China. That broad sweep was a reflection of the world today, said Romney.
ROMNEY: There's no wall that the next president can demand to be torn down. But there's one unifying thread that connects each of these threats: When America is strong, the world is safer.
SHAPIRO: Other Republicans in the presidential field have argued that America needs to reduce its military footprint and stop spending so much money on wars overseas. The Tea Party has helped bring that view to prominence. Romney set himself apart from that camp today. He argued that a weaker military and a smaller global footprint will compromise America's leadership in the world.
ROMNEY: The United States should always retain military supremacy to deter would-be aggressors and to defend our allies and ourselves.
SHAPIRO: Romney said he wants to increase the military budget, mentioning specific projects from naval shipbuilding to a missile defense system. It's a traditional Republican view of defense that was music to this crowd's ears. Nineteen-year-old Sebastian Clark is from Pittsburgh.
SEBASTIAN CLARK: I really enjoyed the speech. I believe that what he said is true, that during - in times when America is not very secure in our finances, we need to upscale our military in order to protect our borders and our allies and our interests worldwide.
SHAPIRO: Romney said while America should work with other nations, it should always reserve the right to, quote, "act alone to protect our vital national interests." That's the same position President Obama has taken, but you wouldn't know it from Romney's speech. He was unrelenting in attacking the president, saying Mr. Obama has weakened America's economy, defense and values.
ROMNEY: This is very simple. If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on Earth, I'm not your president. You have that president today.
SHAPIRO: At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney responded that President Obama's track record on national security is unassailable.
JAY CARNEY: We are stronger. We are safer. We have taken the fight to our principal enemy with a level of aggression and success that is unprecedented. We have improved our relationships around the world with our allies and our partners. And we have made great strides.
SHAPIRO: But in South Carolina, even in this bastion of military values, Romney's supporters acknowledge that foreign policy will not be what decides this election. Twenty-year-old Michael Harayda is from Peoria, Illinois.
MICHAEL HARAYDA: The war is certainly important, but what touches people personally is the economy. And with people hurting so, you know, so badly economically, I think that is what voters are going to vote on.
SHAPIRO: This speech came a day after Romney unveiled his foreign policy advisory team. It includes many top officials from the recent Bush administration. This morning, a Romney campaign official was asked where Romney's foreign policy differs from that of President Bush. The official replied that it's not a dramatic departure in policy, but problems such as the Arab Spring present challenges today that President Bush never faced. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Charleston, South Carolina.
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