Surrogates for Obama and Romney campaigns clash on foreign policy

Surrogates for presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama agreed Tuesday that foreign aid is vital for U.S. security and economic growth but disagreed on who'd make the better use of it.

Former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) bashed Obama's record on trade and human rights, while Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said many Republicans don't care to engage with a complicated and volatile world other than with military force. They made the back-to-back comments at the annual conference of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a coalition of more than 400 businesses and nonprofit organizations that supports continued U.S. investment in development and diplomacy.

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Coleman picked at Obama for failing to complete negotiation of any new trade pacts in his first term in office – Free Trade Agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia were negotiated by George W. Bush – and said a Romney administration would focus on trade, especially with Latin America. President Obama has been a champion of a multi-national Trans-Pacific Partnership, but that effort will take many months to come to fruition, if it ever does.

“A Romney administration would put expanding free trade back at the center of America's foreign and economic policy, because it would create jobs in this country and reduce poverty in developing nations,” Coleman said.

“In his first 100 days (Romeny) will launch a campaign to promote economic opportunity in Latin America and to contrast the benefits of democracy and free enterprise with the material and moral bankruptcy of the Chavez and Castro models. He'll also create the Reagan Economic Zone, a partnership among countries committed to free enterprise and free trade.”

Coleman said China has negotiated several trade deals in Latin America in the past few years, while Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel and Raul Castro have touted their economic aid to the region, even though Coleman said it's dwarfed by how much the United States spends.

“We should never let our generosity be outshone by the likes of Chavez and Castro,” he said.

Coleman also said Romney would impose new sanctions on Iran over its alleged nuclear program and get tough on China on currency issues, and would speak out against human rights abuses in places like Iran, China and Russia.

Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reiterated Democratic attacks against Republicans for wanting to cut spending as their sole solution to taming the deficit.

“We have folks who want to slash our foreign aid and development investments and who are somehow pursuing a formula for isolation and for shrinking influence, at a time when that is exactly the opposite of what is in the interest of our nation,” he said. 

He said the United States was facing a time of “great uncertainty” and “great promise” as democratic revolutions shake up the Arab world and new nations arise, “and how we respond today – what president we have, what party embracing what vision as we go forward from now – could not be more critical to our nation's fundamental economic and national security interests.”

Kerry gave the example of proposals to cut aid to the Palestinians, which he said plays well at town halls in places like Peoria, Ill., but are disastrous on the global stage. Romney called for cutting U.S. aid last year if the Palestinian Authority succeeded in its bid for statehood recognition at the United Nations, an effort that died after the Obama administration threatened a veto.

“It's a great applause line. It's easy politics. But it's not smart politics,” Kerry said. “The work we do with that tiny little 1 percent [of the federal budget] probably buys us more than any other sector … when you think of what we get in various parts of the world (...) It goes to children that we vaccinate against polio, or it engages at-risk youth in Central America, or it helps women become self-sustaining business owners in Jordan.”

That kind of aid, he said, can help pave the way for poor countries to adopt democracy just like Japan and Germany did with U.S. help after World War II.