Both Romney and Obama gave speeches this week at the VFW conference and focused on their foreign policy objectives and America’s national security. Obama focused his speech on the promises he has kept over his term including ending the war in Iraq, the killing of Osama bin Laden, and the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan. Romney took this opportunity to emphasize America’s diminishing presence around the world – and in his opinion Obama’s key role in this decline.
Obama’s Key Points:
Obama focused his speech on the promises he has kept as Commander-in-Chief. He stated, “as we look at the ahead to the challenges we face as a nation and the leadership that’s required, you don’t just have my words, you have my deeds. You have my track record. You have the promises I’ve made and the promises that I’ve kept”
He spoke of his success in honorably ending the war in Iraq while jabbing at Romney’s current vagueness in his foreign policy objectives, “When you’re Commander-in-Chief, you owe the troops a plan, you owe the country a plan – and that includes recognizing not just when to begin wars, but also how to end them”.
Afghanistan and bin Laden
He also stated his achievements in both killing Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders as well as finishing the job in Afghanistan. In his speech, he states,“But since I took office, we’ve worked with our allies and our partners to take out more top al Qaeda leaders than any time since 9/11”. While not saying Romney’s name, he addressed the criticism of his opponent for his timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan, stating “there are those who argued against a timeline for ending this war…but you know what, that’s not a plan for America’s security…I felt it was important that the American people – and our men and women in uniform – know our plan to end this war responsibly”.
US Role in the World
Obama emphasized America’s continued leadership and alliances across the world – a point which Romney has been criticizing him for. “We’re leading from Europe to the Asia pacific, with alliances that have never been stronger. We’re leading the fight against nuclear dangers. We’ve applied the strongest sanctions ever on Iran and North Korea…We’re leading on behalf of freedom”
He again stressed America’s role in the world, saying that “because we’re leading around the world, people have a new attitude toward America. There’s more confidence in our leadership”
In discussing American leadership, Obama stated US response to the Syrian Crisis – focusing on working with friends and allies as well as the Syrian opposition to transition the Syrian government from the Assad regime. Obama reinforced Assad’s culpability and stated that. “…given the regime’s stockpiles of chemical weapons, we will continue to make it clear to Assad and those around him that the world is watching, and that they will be held accountable by the international community and the United States”
Obama also brought up looming sequestration – calling out Republicans and stating “let’s stop playing politics with our military”.
Obama chastised the Republican Party – reminding them that “there are a number of Republicans in Congress who don’t want to you to know that most of them voted for these cuts…instead of making tough choices to reduce the deficit, they’d rather protect tax cuts for some of the wealthiest Americans, even if it risks big cuts in our military”
Romney’s Key Points:
Romney focused his speech on America’s decline as the world’s leader and Obama’s relinquishment of US leadership around the world. From Iran, to U.S. relations with Israel, China as well as the Obama strategy in Afghanistan, the Romney speech was a broad assault on the president who, Romney asserted, has “diminished American leadership,” leaving the world “dangerous, destructive, and chaotic.”
America’s Declining Influence under Obama
Romney focused on his belief that President Obama has relinquished US-leadership around the world. Romney stressed that Obama’s failed leadership has lead to the “consequence of American weakness” as is “seen around us in the world”.
While Romney stressed Obama’s lack of leadership and that if “we do not have the strength or vision to lead, then other powers will take our place, pulling history in a very different direction”, he failed to mention any specific policies that he would take as president.
An “American Century”
A key focus of Romney’s speech was the need for this century to be an “American Century”, touting America’s greatness and the right of the United States to use its power. He stated at the conference, “I am not ashamed of American power…I do not view America as just one more point on the strategic map, one more power to be balanced”
The only issue in which Romney actually proposed a plan was Afghanistan – a policy plan, however, which mirrors that of the Obama administration. “As president, my goal in Afghanistan will be to complete successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014. I will evaluate conditions on the ground and solicit the best advice of our military commanders”. – In what way is this policy a change from the Obama administration?
Romney stated Iran as America’s greatest threat in the world and called for “firmness, clarity, and moral courage” against Iran. In what actions should be taken, Romney stated enforced sanctions and effective negotiations. “Sanctions must be enforced without exception, cutting off the regime’s sources of wealth. Negotiations must secure full and unhindered access for inspections”. Romney’s policy plans here again do not differ from Obama’s and while he further stated that he “will use every means necessary to protect ourselves and the region”, he was vague in what this protection entails.
Romney also emphasized Obama’s concessions to the Russian government and the corruption in Vladimir Putin’s administration – stating that these concessions again showed America’s weakness under the Obama administration on the world stage. Referring to Putin, Romney stated, “He regained the Russian presidency in a corrupt election, and for that, he got a congratulatory call from the Oval Office…why is flexibility with Russian leaders more important than transparency to the American people?”
Romney, additionally, stressed the rising challenge of China and condemned China’s “flagrant patent and copyright violations” and currency manipulation. Romney critiqued Obama’s lack of action on stopping China from cheating in these regards, stating “cheating must finally be brought to a stop. President Obama hasn’t done it and won’t do it. I will.”
Romney criticized Obama’s relationship with Netanyahu and the state of Israel. Referring to Obama, Romney stated, “He has undermined their position…the people of Israel deserve better than what they have received from the leader of the free world”
Romney brought up sequestration and blamed Obama for these across the board cuts, saying that now was a time to further strengthen our military might and citing such threats as Iran’s nuclear capabilities and Islamic terrorism. “This is not the time for the President’s radical cuts in the military. Look around the globe. Other major powers are rapidly adding to their military capabilities, some with intentions very different from ours”
The relative lack of attention that foreign policy has received so far in the election campaign is largely the result of the weak economy and high levels of unemployment.
One of the dangers for Romney of spending so much time talking foreign policy is that it will highlight the lack of specifics behind some of his policies – which leading Republicans have struggled to explain. Instead, Romney has continued with broad jabs casting Obama as a timid leader. While Romney focused his speech on critiquing Obama, he still failed to address what steps or policies he would take that differ from Obama. The Romney campaign has shown few signs that the presumptive GOP nominee will offer more specific areas of contrast with Obama. Biden in response to Romney’s VFW speech, blasted him saying Romney did a “compelling job of laying out exactly what the administration is already doing,” adding that if launching a war against Iran is what Romney is for, “he should tell the American people.”
This foreign policy debate is expected to continue as Romney travels to London, Poland, and Israel this week.
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