Obama campaign paints Romney defense strategy as path to war

The Obama campaign is seeking to define GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's nascent national security policy as one that would put the United States back on a path to war, just as the Republican challenger is beginning to refine the details of that plan.

The effort was on full display last Thursday night, when Vice President Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) squared off in the first and only vice presidential debate of the election.

On two separate occasions, Biden suggested Romney's national security priorities would force American troops overseas again, just as combat operations in Afghanistan are set to end.

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During an exchange on how to best handle Iran's burgeoning nuclear enrichment program, Biden argued the harsh political and economic sanctions being imposed by the administration would be enough to keep Tehran in check.

Ryan pushed back, arguing the sanctions-based strategy indicated White House weakness on the Iran issue.

In response, Biden pressed Ryan on how exactly a Romney administration could squeeze the Iranian government any further than the U.S. done already.

"Unless he's talking about going to war" with Iran, the vice president shot back. "War should always be the last resort."

Later in the debate, during a discussion on the escalating civil war in Syria, Ryan again hammered the Obama White House for its inaction on the situation.

Biden jumped at the opening. He again questioned whether a Romney White House would support sending American troops into another hostile Middle East country.

"What more would [Romney] do other than put American boots on the ground?" Biden asked.

"The last thing America needs is to get into another ground war in the Middle East requiring 10s of thousands, if not well over 100,000 American forces," he added.

The Obama campaign’s attempt to define Romney’s defense policy as dangerously hawkish bears striking similarity to its efforts earlier in the campaign with regards to the Republican candidate on domestic issues.

The Obama camp spent a large chunk of its campaign cash on print, radio and television ads earlier in the election cycle portraying Romney as out of touch with the needs of middle-class Americans.

Obama officials are now attempting to turn the same trick on defense and national security issues in the final weeks leading up to the November election.

This full-court press comes as Romney struggles to clearly define his defense and foreign policy strategy and differentiate himself from the president on issues like Iran, Afghanistan and Syria.

Just days before last Thursday night's vice presidential debate, Romney used a major foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute to chastise the president for "leading from behind" on national security and defense.

"This president’s policies have not been equal to our best examples of world leadership," Romney said during the speech.

Campaign advisers from the Romney camp continued on that theme last Thursday during a breakfast with reporters in Washington.

Dov Zakheim, a Romney foreign policy adviser, argued the White House's current national security strategy has alienated U.S. allies like Israel. The Romney campaign also maintains Obama has bowed to world powers such as Russia and China and failed to take decisive action in places like Iran and Syria.

Romney has used vague, broad-brush strokes to firm up his national security platform.

The candidate has stated he would accelerate Navy shipbuilding, increase defense spending by $2 trillion and possibly review the administration's Afghan war plan.

But aside from those details, the Massachusetts governor has yet to provide specifics on the actions he would take as president to address global threats facing the United States.

Democrats and some within the GOP continue to hammer the Romney camp for not clearly defining the candidate's position on Afghanistan, in particular.

On the campaign trail, Romney has publicly agreed with the 2014 deadline, but chastised the administration for giving insurgents a date certain for a U.S. pullout.

That explanation has left some high-ranking Republicans wanting more, pressing Romney to break from the 2014 deadline altogether.

The Romney team should, instead, pursue a war plan focused on "what we leave behind" in the country, not just ending the war as soon as possible, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told The Hill in September.

On the first day of a Romney administration, "the presumed president-elect needed to call a meeting of the top U.S. commanders in Afghanistan and chart a different strategic course for the country, Graham said.

"And if [they] need to change the timetable in Afghanistan, that is what we will do," Graham said.