By Julian Pecquet - 07/24/12 06:06 PM EDT
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Tuesday accused President Obama of putting the nation at risk through politically motivated intelligence leaks and defense cuts and called for a special counsel to investigate the national security disclosures.
Romney's speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) national convention in Reno, Nev. aimed to paint Obama as weak on national security and naïve on foreign policy, two areas where the president has consistently polled higher than his opponent.
“This isn’t a partisan issue; it’s a national security crisis,” he added, calling it “contemptible.”
The remarks come one day after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said some of the leaks came from the White House, a suggestion Obama had dismissed as “offensive” when it was coming only from Republicans. Feinstein walked back her remarks on Tuesday and said she was "disappointed" in Romney's remarks.
News reports last month detailing the administration's terrorist "kill list" and a cyber attack on Iran led to congressional anger over the leaks. Republicans in Congress have called for a special counsel to investigate the matter, accusing Attorney General Eric Holder of being unable to run an independent investigation. Romney’s comments are the first time he has weighed in specifically on the controversy.
He also accused of Obama of playing politics with the looming $500 billion in defense cuts over the next decade, accusing the White House of holding national security hostage until Republicans cave on approving higher taxes on rich Americans. Obama on Tuesday told the VFW that it's Republicans who are trying to “wriggle” out of their commitment to tackle the deficit.
“It is a mistake — and sometimes a tragic one — to think that firmness in American foreign policy can bring only tension or conflict. The surest path to danger is always weakness and indecision,” Romney said. “This is very simple: If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your president. With his cuts to the military, you have that president today.”
“Don’t bother trying to find a serious military rationale behind any of this by the way, unless that rationale is wishful thinking,” Romney added. “Strategy is not driving President Obama’s massive defense cuts.”
Romney also sought to paint Obama as a weak commander-in-chief whose efforts to seek accommodation with America's foes has failed. He pointed to Obama's reset with Russia and his recent comments that Iran's ties to Venezuela didn't add up to a “serious” threat to national security. And he vowed to bring China's “cheating” on trade to an end.
His toughest criticism, however, was aimed at Obama's policy with regard to Israel.
“President Obama is fond of lecturing Israel’s leaders,” Romney said. “He was even caught by a microphone deriding them. He has undermined their position, which was tough enough as it was. And even at the United Nations, to the enthusiastic applause of Israel’s enemies, he spoke as if our closest ally in the Middle East was the problem.”
Romney’s comments are aimed squarely at Jewish voters ahead of Romney's trip to Israel next week. Romney also called for a zero-enrichment policy in negotiations on Iran's nuclear program, a priority for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“As it is, the Iranian regime claims the right to enrich nuclear material for supposedly peaceful purposes,” Romney said. “This claim is discredited by years of deception. A clear line must be drawn: There must be a full suspension of any enrichment, period.”
Obama has drawn criticism from Republicans for not visiting Israel in his first term, even though campaign officials said he will do so if he's re-elected. The administration has also pushed back against congressional efforts to adopt a “zero enrichment” policy regarding Iran, a stance many experts say would be unacceptable to the country – Iran says its nuclear research is for peaceful purposes – and could precipitate a conflict.
This story was updated at 3:10 p.m.