SAN ANTONIO — Mitt Romney on Tuesday offered a dark, ominous assessment of America’s standing in the world, castigating President Obama for a foreign policy he described as dithering and suggesting that the nation’s mounting debt threatens its global security.
“We stand near the threshold of profound economic misery. Four more years on the same political path could prove disastrous,” Romney, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, said in an address before the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention. “Unfortunately, when we look around the world today, we see a muddled picture of American’s foreign policy and our power.”
With his 17-minute speech, Romney offered the clearest outlines of his views on foreign affairs since launching his second presidential bid in June. He told nearly 1,000 veterans assembled at the cavernous Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center that “we are united not only by our faith in America, but also our concern for America.”
“Have we ever had a president who was so eager to address the world with an apology on his lips and doubt in his heart?” Romney said. “He seems truly confused not only about America’s past but also about its future.”
Making his first stop in the Lone Star State since Texas Gov. Rick Perry jumped into the race earlier this month, Romney delivered a veiled broadside against his chief rival.
“Now I am a conservative businessman,” Romney said. “I have spent most of my life outside politics, dealing with real problems in the real economy. Career politicians got us into this mess and they simply don’t know how to get us out.”
The line drew hearty applause, but it was unclear how many in the audience interpreted it as a swipe against Perry, who has held elective office since 1984. Romney often speaks of himself as a political outsider, noting that he only held office for four years, as governor of Massachusetts. (Romney’s critics point out that he might have earned the label “career politician” had he not lost his 1994 Senate race.)
In his speech here, Romney sharply criticized Obama’s handling of the long war in Afghanistan and the military’s role this year in Libya.
“In Afghanistan, the president has chosen to disregard the counsel of the generals on the ground,” Romney said. “I don’t know of a single military adviser to President Obama who recommended the withdrawal plan that he’s chosen, and that puts the success of our soldiers and our mission at greater risk.”
The Libya mission, he said, “was marked by inadequate clarity of purpose” and “ongoing confusion.”
“When a president sends our men and women into harm’s way, he must first explain their mission, define what it means to be successful, plan for their victorious exit, provide them with the best weapons and armor in the world, and properly care for them when they come home,” Romney said. “Anything less is not befitting a great nation.”
Romney employed some of his toughest rhetoric yet in his presidential campaign. He said the world is “still infected with purveyors of hate and oppression.”
In one of his biggest applause lines, Romney said, “To win this fight for America’s future, we’re going to have to rise above politics. When members of SEAL Team Six boarded their helicopters, they did so not as Republicans or Democrats, and the final image that Osama bin Laden took with him straight to hell was not a party symbol — not a Republican elephant or a Democratic donkey — but an American flag on the shoulder of one straight-shooting U.S. Navy SEAL.”
Romney criticized Obama’s plan to cut military spending by $400 billion over the next 12 years, as well as a budget trigger established in the debt deal reached this summer that could result in defense spending being cut by $850 billion.
Romney also talked about the “enormous waste” he says is in the Pentagon budget.
“As a conservative businessman who spent most his life in the private sector, I look at that kind of inefficiency and bloat and I say, ‘Let me at it,’ ” Romney said. “I will slice billions of dollars in waste and inefficiency and bureaucracy from the defense budget. And I’ll use the money we save for modern ships and planes, and for more troops. And I’ll spend it to ensure that veterans have the care they deserve.”
Perry, who has overtaken Romney atop national polls in recent days, briefly addressed the VFW convention on Monday. Although Perry’s speech lacked specifics, it provided the first window so far into the newly minted presidential candidate’s worldview.
“As the 10th anniversary of the attacks of 9/11 approach, we must renew our commitment of taking the fight to the enemy wherever they are before they strike at home,” Perry said.
Perry said he does not believe “that America should fall subject to a foreign policy of military adventurism.”
“We should only risk shedding American blood and spending American treasure when our vital interests are threatened, and we should always look to build coalitions among the nations to protect the mutual interests of freedom-loving people,” he said. “It’s not our interest to go it alone.”
Perry added: “At the same time, we must be willing to act when it is time to act. We cannot concede the moral authority of our nation to multilateral debating societies, and when our interests are threatened, American soldiers should be led by American commanders.”
Perry prefaced his comments by talking about his own military service as well as the combat service of his father. Perry was an Air Force pilot in the 1970s, when he said he flew aircraft around the globe but was “never called into battle.”
The same could not be said of his father, a tailgunner during World War II who Perry said flew 35 missions over Nazi Germany in 1944 and 1945.
“He helped liberate millions from tyranny,” Perry said. “When he came home, he didn’t seek acclaim or credit. He just wanted to live in peace and freedom, just farm a little corner of land in Paint Creek, Texas. His story’s not unique.”