Romney sought to capitalize on the violence in Libya and Egypt that has made Obama vulnerable in the national security realm long seen as his strength. The Republican nominee vowed to “change course in the Middle East,” including by taking a hard line on Iran and arming Syrian rebels.
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 address mostly repackaged things Romney has said before, sometimes with greater precision. The Republican offered few specific ways he would change the Obama administration’s current approach.
Although he made broad critiques of Obama’s “passivity,” Romney did not call for any new armed intervention in any Mideast conflict.
“I believe that if America does not lead, others will,” Romney said, “others who do not share our interests and our values.”
Romney did say Obama failed reformist protesters in Iran in 2009, and is failing the anti-Assad forces in Syria now. The United States is “sitting on the sidelines,” instead of working with other nations to arm Syrian rebels, Romney said.
Much of Romney’s address focused on the complex threat posed by Iran, but he did not propose specific solutions that differ from the Obama administration’s current policy of tightening sanctions and insisting that an Iranian nuclear bomb is intolerable.
Romney did not say whether he would continue the current international diplomatic effort to persuade Iran to back off the most worrisome elements of its nuclear program. Iran claims the program is aimed only at peaceful nuclear energy and medical uses.
Romney, speaking in confident and crisp tones before an audience of more than 400 cadets and invited guests at Virginia Military Institute, said it is Obama’s “responsibility to use America’s great power to shape history—not to lead from behind, leaving our destiny at the mercy of events.”
Romney did not call for a new “red line” on Iran as Israel has said it wants, and he did not specifically say he would be open, in the future, to a U.S. attack on Iran to stop them from acquiring “nuclear capability” so Israel doesn’t have to do it now. He did not mention the crippling effect sanctions are having now, and he didn’t call for regime change in Iran.
The speech at VMI thrust foreign policy further into the center of a campaign that until recently had been almost entirely about the economy. The focus is expected to intensify as the two candidates debate foreign policy during their last one-on-one encounter, on Oct. 22.