Mitt Romney launches foreign policy tour with feisty VFW speech

Published: Wednesday, July 25 2012 1:51 p.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to the VFW convention at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Reno, Nev., Tuesday, July 24, 2012 before a major foreign policy address before he embarks on an international trip.

The Sacramento Bee, Jose Luis Villegas, Associated Press

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RENO, Nev. — Following President Barack Obama's speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Monday, Mitt Romney addressed the same group in Reno, Nev., on Tuesday in a speech aimed to burnish his foreign policy credentials as he prepares to visit the UK, Poland and Israel.

Romney began with an old-fashioned appeal to American greatness: "I do not view America as just one more point on the strategic map, one more power to be balanced. I believe our country is the greatest force for good the world has ever known, and that our influence is needed as much now as ever."

Speaking before a sympathetic and largely conservative audience, Romney criticized Obama's proposed cuts in military spending. "Today, we are just months away from an arbitrary, across-the-board budget reduction that would saddle the military with a trillion dollars in cuts, severely shrink our force structure, and impair our ability to meet and deter threats."

The presumptive GOP nominee also charged that Obama had jettisoned key American allies.

"It began with the sudden abandonment of friends in Poland and the Czech Republic," he said. "They had courageously agreed to provide sites for our anti-missile systems only to be told, at the last hour, that the agreement was off. As part of the so-called reset in policy, missile defenses were sacrificed as a unilateral concession to the Russian government."

Romney also came down hard on the Obama administration's leaks of key national security secrets, which critics have argued seem calculated to strengthen the president politically.

"It is reported that Bob Gates, the president’s first secretary of defense, bluntly addressed another security problem within this administration," Romney said. "After secret operational details of the bin Laden raid were given to reporters, Secretary Gates walked into the West Wing and told the Obama team to 'shut up.' He added a colorful word for emphasis."

"Lives of American servicemen and women are at stake. But astonishingly, the administration failed to change its ways," Romney continued. "More top-secret operations were leaked, even some involving covert action in Iran."

Not surprisingly, Romney also cited Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who sharply criticized the White House on this issue Monday:

"This isn’t a partisan issue; it’s a national security crisis. And yesterday, Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, quote, 'I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from their ranks.'"

Romney's speech was ultimately about domestic politics and aimed to fire up the base, not move the center, argued Daniel Drezner at Foreign Policy.

"Foreign policy doesn't matter that much to swing voters," Drezner argued, "but rhetoric like this is a great way to appeal to and energize the base. If Romney were to actually follow through on this speech, then the consequences would range from insignificant to quite serious. But it could be that Romney simply doesn't care about foreign policy all that much, and is using these kind of speeches strictly as a tool to cater to key political constituencies."

Noting a heavy emphasis on the Middle East, Elliot Abrams at National Review sees Romney's approach as "a combination of idealism and realism: We need to be tougher in the face of threats, tougher with our enemies, more supportive of our friends, but also louder and more effective in supporting the demands for democracy and human rights."

Following the Romney speech, Vice President Joe Biden issued a detailed rebuttal, touching on all the major areas of Romney's address. "He had a chance to say how he would lead as Commander-in-Chief. Instead, all we heard from Gov. Romney was empty rhetoric and bluster. He reflexively criticizes the President’s policies without offering any alternatives," Biden said.

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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