LEXINGTON, Va. — Mitt Romney delivered a broad critique of President Obama’s foreign policy record on Monday, as a new national poll showed a surge by the Republican challenger that put him even with and perhaps ahead of the incumbent with a month to go before the election.
Romney focused most of his criticism on Obama’s approach to the Middle East, saying that a withering of American resolve in the region has made it a more dangerous place than it was when the president took office nearly four years ago.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney says the risk of conflict in the Middle East has grown under President Obama's leadership. Romney is calling for a "change of course" in the region.
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“Hope,” he said, “is not a strategy.’’
Romney gave a policy-by-policy accounting of what he said he would do differently, including arming Syria’s rebels, restoring the United States’ commitment to traditional allies, and increasing U.S. military spending to better project American force in Asia and the Middle East. Much of it he has said before, and some of it differs little from Obama’s approach. But more broadly, Romney outlined a more assertive American role in the world, and argued that it is a U.S. obligation to lead despite hard times at home.
Romney said he knows “the president hopes for a safer, freer and a more prosperous Middle East allied with the United States. I share this hope.” But he added: “We cannot support our friends and defeat our enemies in the Middle East when our words are not backed up by deeds.”
The Romney and Obama campaigns have agreed for months that the election probably will be determined by which candidate is perceived as the most able to fix the weak economy. But Romney’s decision to speak about foreign policy as the race enters its decisive phase underscores his new confidence after a winning debate performance last week — and a sense that events in the Middle East have rendered Obama vulnerable in an area long perceived as a strength of his.
“As the American people are looking at what he had to say today, but also his record from the last few months, the areas that should be of concern are that this is somebody who leads with chest-pounding rhetoric,” Jen Psaki, the Obama campaign’s press secretary, told reporters after Romney’s speech. “He’s inexperienced. He’s been clumsy at his handling of foreign policy. And most of all, all of these factors lead to a risk that we’re going to go back to the same policies that led us to some of the challenges we faced in the last few years.”
But Romney appears ready to engage Obama on two fronts: the economy at home and the United States’ stature abroad. Both, Romney has argued, have suffered during Obama’s tenure. And new polling suggests that voters are increasingly apt to believe that the former Massachusetts governor may have the ideas to correct the problems he has identified.
The Pew Research Center released a national poll Monday that shows Romney leading Obama by four points — 49 percent to 45 percent — among likely voters. Romney trailed Obama by eight points among that group in a Pew poll taken last month, a few weeks before the first presidential debate.
The two candidates are even among registered voters with 46 percent each — the lowest mark for Obama in the Pew survey in more than a year.