Romney slams Obama on Middle East: We must support our friends with deeds not just words
US elections

Romney slams Obama on Middle East: We must support our friends with deeds not just words

In major foreign policy speech boosted by new poll and debate success, Republican challenger promises arms for the Syrian opposition, harsher sanctions on Iran, and the 'chance to begin anew’ on Israeli-Palestinian peace

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at the Virginia Military Institute Monday (photo credit: Fox News screenshot)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at the Virginia Military Institute Monday (photo credit: Fox News screenshot)

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivered a scathing critique of President Barack Obama’s Middle East policies in a speech Monday morning before cadets at the Virginia Military Institute.

Romney argued that President Obama has been too passive in handling the upheavals in the Middle East, and that his failure of leadership has made the world a more dangerous place. Romney also accused Obama of misrepresenting the terrorist nature of the attack last month on the American consulate in Benghazi that killed the US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.

“I know the president hopes for a safer, freer, and a more prosperous Middle East allied with the United States,” Romney will say. “I share this hope. But hope is not a strategy. We cannot support our friends and defeat our enemies in the Middle East when our words are not backed up by deeds.”

America under Obama is “leaving our destiny at the mercy of events,” he said.

In a tightening presidential race, Romney’s Monday speech was likely an attempt to cut into Obama’s relatively high favorability ratings on foreign policy. The president currently leads the Republican challenger by a margin of 49 percent (of registered voters who trust Obama more) to 44%, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. The gap is narrower than previous polling on the subject, and the Romney campaign believes the Benghazi attack and continuing humanitarian and political crises in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East offer an opportunity to criticize the administration’s handling of foreign policy.

“I believe that if America does not lead, others will – others who do not share our interests and our values – and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us. America’s security and the cause of freedom cannot afford four more years like the last four years,” Romney argued.

Romney suggested he would also be a better president on the issue of Israeli-Palestinian peace. He plans to “recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel,” he said.

Instead of advancing that goal, Obama has led to a situation in which “what should be a negotiation process has devolved into a series of heated disputes at the United Nations. In this old conflict, as in every challenge we face in the Middle East, only a new president will bring the chance to begin anew.”

Romney also chastised Obama for failing to support protests in Iran in the wake of the disputed 2009 elections, and the administration’s continuing refusal to intervene more forcefully in the bloody Syrian insurgency that has seen over 30,000 killed, mostly by government forces loyal to dictator Bashar Assad.

“In Syria, I will work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets,” Romney said.

On the question of Iran’s nuclear program, Romney did not offer a specific, significant departure from the Obama administration’s policies, but seemed to suggest his would be a different attitude toward the Iranian nuclear program. He insisted he “will not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran, and will tighten the sanctions we currently have. I will restore the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf region – and work with Israel to increase our military assistance and coordination.

“I will reaffirm our historic ties to Israel and our abiding commitment to its security. The world must never see any daylight between our two nations,” he said.

He also offered a scathing rebuke of Obama’s response to the deadly terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi.

“The attack on our Consulate in Benghazi on September 11th, 2012 was likely the work of the same forces that attacked our homeland on September 11th, 2001. This latest assault cannot be blamed on a reprehensible video insulting Islam, despite the administration’s attempts to convince us of that for so long. No, as the administration has finally conceded, these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others, especially women and girls; who are fighting to control much of the Middle East today; and who seek to wage perpetual war on the West.”

Romney’s Monday speech is considered unlikely to sway many voters his way, according to most observers. In a period of economic difficulty, few American voters will be choosing a candidate based on their foreign policy. But, say Romney campaign aides, Romney, boosted by his debate success last week, attempted on Monday to remove any doubts that lingered among undecided voters over his foreign policy credentials in the wake of what many saw as missteps in his overseas tour in July.

The Obama campaign did not miss the opportunity to remind reporters about that trip in the wake of Romney’s Monday speech, releasing a television ad the called Romney’s missteps “amateurish.”

“We’re not going to be lectured by someone who’s been an unmitigated disaster on foreign policy every time he’s dipped his toe in the foreign policy waters,” campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki told reporters on Monday.

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