Romney speech blasts Obama for weakening US in eyes of world

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, in a major foreign policy address, criticized President Obama for weakening the United States.

"I will not surrender America’s role in the world. This is very simple: If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on Earth, I am not your president. You have that president today,” Romney said Friday.

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Speaking to an audience of students at The Citadel, a military college in early-voting state South Carolina, the former Massachusetts governor laid out his plan to rebuild U.S. military strength around the world and outlined his foreign policy doctrine, which he called an "American Century."

"In an American Century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world. In an American Century, America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world," he said.

It was the first major foreign policy address for the front-runner for the GOP nomination — in it, he repeatedly suggested the president has minimized the United States in the eyes of the world, saying Obama has essentially surrendered America’s exceptionalism and sovereignty by “assert[ing] America’s moment has passed.”

The Democratic National Committee pushed back on Romney ahead of his speech, seeking to link him to former President George W. Bush, whose foreign policies were unpopular when he left office. Many of the names on Romney’s list of defense and foreign policy advisers, released this week, included several former Bush administration officials, including former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and former CIA Director Michael Hayden.

According to a Romney adviser, the former governor’s perspective on foreign policy recognizes and emphasizes the merit of “soft power” more than the Bush administration did, though Romney has not specifically addressed similarities or differences.

Speaking for less than 30 minutes and using a teleprompter, Romney began his speech by listing the looming dangers America faces from potential threats in the Middle East, China, Russia, Latin America and on the Mexican border.

“There is no one approach to these challenges,” Romney said. “But there is one unifying thread that connects each of these possible threats: when America is strong, the world is safer.”

Romney invoked former President Reagan in his speech, noting that his approach to foreign policy would mimic Reagan's “peace through strength” motto.

“It is only American power — conceived in the broadest terms — that can provide the foundation of an international system that ensures the security and prosperity of the United States and our friends and allies around the world,” Romney said.

Romney’s criticism of Obama on military policy conflicts with the unqualified support that Republican House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) offered for the president’s policies in the war on terror just the day before.

Boehner said Thursday that “the president has done just fine” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“When you look at the prosecution of the war effort against the enemy in the tribal areas, there’s clearly more been done under President Obama than there was under President Bush, in terms of a more aggressive effort focused at them,” Boehner said at the Washington Ideas Forum.

Romney has blasted Obama for not listening to his “generals on the ground” in Iraq and Afghanistan, specifically when it came to announcing troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“I don’t know of a single military adviser to President Obama who recommended the withdrawal plan the president chose, and that puts the success of our soldiers and our mission at greater risk,” Romney said at the VFW National Convention at the end of August.

The White House, shortly after Romney finished speaking, sent out a statement from Obama on the 10-year anniversary of U.S. troops being in Afghanistan.

"Thanks to the extraordinary service of these Americans, our citizens are safer and our nation is more secure. In delivering justice to Osama bin Laden and many other al Qaeda leaders, we are closer than ever to defeating al Qaeda and its murderous network. Despite the enormous challenges that remain in Afghanistan, we’ve pushed the Taliban out of its key strongholds, Afghan security forces are growing stronger, and the Afghan people have a new chance to forge their own future," Obama said.

And at his briefing on Friday, White House press secretary Jay Carney used Boehner's words to defend the president's "excellent" record on national security.

He also jokingly dismissed Romney's foreign policy criticism.

"I suppose he has to say something," Carney said.

In his remarks, Romney outlined eight actions he would implement within his first 100 days in office. Those included increased defense spending, which will appeal to conservatives, and reaffirming the country's relationship with Israel.

The other actions include increased naval shipbuilding; implementing a carrier task force presence as a deterrent to a nuclear Iran; organizing “soft power” diplomatic resources under one Middle East Regional director; launching a campaign for economic development in Latin America; reviewing Obama’s orders regarding the U.S. presence in Afghanistan; and initiating a national strategy on cybersecurity.

But he also took a cautionary tone when speaking about “multilateral institutions like the United Nations,” noting that “too often, these bodies prize the act of negotiating over the outcome to be reached” and even allowing “the tantrums” of anti-Semitic “tyrants.” Romney, like the other GOP presidential candidates, recently criticized Obama over his handling of a Palestinian Authority statehood request to be granted through the United Nations. Jewish voters have been unhappy with Obama since his May speech, where he outlined his position on Israel-Palestinian borders.

Romney also criticized the deficit-reduction deal reached this summer between Republicans and Democrats, which would trigger about $500 billion in defense cuts in the event that an appointed supercommittee does not reach a deal on spending cuts, as further evidence that Obama is willing to weaken the military. Romney did not back down his criticism of Obama in his speech Friday, emphasizing how different his policies would be from those that have defined the past three years.

“American strength rises from a strong economy, a strong defense, and the enduring strength of our values. Unfortunately, under this president, all three of those elements have been weakened,” Romney said.

“But of course, it doesn't have to be this way. This isn't our destiny, it is a choice. We are a democracy. You decide. In this campaign for president, I will offer a very different vision of America's role in the world and of America's destiny,” Romney said. “I believe we are an exceptional country with a unique destiny and role in the world. Not exceptional, as the president has derisively said, in the way that the British think Great Britain is exceptional or the Greeks think Greece is exceptional. In Barack Obama’s profoundly mistaken view, there is nothing unique about the United States.”

Romney promised he would “never apologize for America” and also pledged to be a president who would not “jump from crisis to crisis,” falling for “this paralyzing seduction of action rather than progress.”

“A president must have a broad vision of the world coupled with clarity of purpose,” Romney said, pledging to be a president who would prosecute foreign policy “with clarity and resolve,” making sure that neither allies nor enemies doubted America’s stance.

—Sam Youngman contributed.

This story was originally posted at 10:27 a.m. and last updated at 1:016 p.m.