By Justin Sink and Meghashyam Mali - 10/08/12 04:01 AM EDT
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney will argue Monday in a major address that the Obama administration’s foreign policy has been marked by “passivity” and pledge “to change course in the Middle East.”
“I know the President hopes for a safer, freer, and a more prosperous Middle East allied with the United States. I share this hope. But hope is not a strategy,” Romney is expected to say, according to excerpted remarks.
Romney’s address at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va., comes amid a wave of turmoil in the Mideast, which Romney has seized on to argue that the administration’s foreign policy has abandoned American allies and emboldened hostile regimes, as the region experiences its “most profound upheaval in a century.”
"It's clear that American security and the cause of freedom can't afford four more years like the last four years," said Romney foreign and legal policy director Alex Wong on a Sunday conference call with reporters.
"Particularly in light of recent events, Americans have questions about it and want to see what Gov. Romney has to offer," Wong added.
But the Obama campaign, in an effort to pre-but the speech, dismissed the effort. Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said the former governor "fails the commander-in-chief test" on "every measure."
"To date, all Mitt Romney has offered is bluster and platitudes," Smith said in a statement Sunday. "He's erratically shifted positions on every major foreign policy issue, including intervening in Libya, which he was against before he was for."
But the Romney campaign said that the foreign policy address would offer voters a choice between the president and his challenger on foreign policy, and presented the speech as part of a “larger mosaic" in challenging Obama's leadership on foreign and domestic policy.
The speech will hit the administration response to the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
“The Administration has finally conceded, these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others, especially women and girls; who are fighting to control much of the Middle East today; and who seek to wage perpetual war on the West,” Romney will say.
He will also pledge to “vigorously pursue the terrorists who attacked our consulate in Benghazi and killed Americans.”
Republicans have criticized the White House's handling of the attack, after administration officials initially said violence that claimed the life of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others was sparked by outrage over an anti-Islam film posted on YouTube. Officials later said new intelligence suggested the attack was a planned, coordinated assault.
The GOP nominee will also promise to “put the leaders of Iran on notice” that the U.S. and allies will “prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability.”
“I will not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran, and will tighten the sanctions we currently have,” Romney will say, vowing to return a permanent U.S. aircraft carrier presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and Persian Gulf.
In Afghanistan, Romney will argue for a “real and successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014,” and accuse the administration of adhering to a politically expedient timeline for withdrawal.
“President Obama would have you believe that anyone who disagrees with his decisions in Afghanistan is arguing for endless war. But the route to more war — and to potential attacks here at home — is a politically timed retreat that abandons the Afghan people to the same extremists who ravaged their country and used it to launch the attacks of 9/11,” Romney will say.
The Republican nominee will argue that the president's strategy is overly reliant on drone strikes and engaging with enemies rather than solidifying alliances with allies like Israel.
Romney adviser Rich Williamson said Romney will knock the president for a reliance on the drone program, arguing that the strategic strikes are not enough to combat the growth of new types of terrorism in the Middle East.
"You fundamentally misunderstand the struggle if you think that's the answer; it's just not, it's one of many tools," Williamson said.
The speech will also call for foreign aid to come more frequently with strings attached, likely a swipe at the Obama administration for recently announcing $450 million in economic aid to Egypt.
Williamson defended that move, saying it was important to have "some conditionality to foreign assistance, and a recognition that that's an important element of our soft power."
Romney will also pledge to redouble efforts to help the opposition forces that have waged a violent struggle to overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Romney adviser Elliot Cohen on Sunday said that "tremendously dramatic events in the Middle East" necessitated a clear response from the president, but that Obama hadn't attempted "to portray to the American people what is going on here."
Romney aides said the GOP candidate will attempt to do just that in his speech.
"As we get down to the home stretch, the American people are going to have a chance to make that larger decision — this hopefully will be an opportunity for the American people to get a larger vision as well as some of the important particulars, and we believe they're going to make a decision of leadership and not passivity," said Cohen.