GOP contender says Obama has made Middle East more dangerous
Reuters and AFP October 10, 2012, 12:30 am TWN
LEXINGTON/NEWPORT NEWS, Virginia -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivered a sweeping critique on Monday of President Barack Obama's handling of threats in the Middle East, saying Obama's lack of leadership had made the volatile region more dangerous.
In what his campaign called a major foreign policy address, Romney called for a more assertive use of American influence in the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Latin America.
Romney, speaking before the white-uniformed cadets at Virginia Military Institute, questioned Obama's handling of the episode in Libya last month in which U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed after the U.S. consulate in Benghazi came under militant attack.
The former Massachusetts governor also accused Obama of failing to use U.S. diplomacy to shape events in Iran, Iraq, Israel, Syria, Russia and elsewhere.
"The president is fond of saying that, 'The tide of war is receding,'" Romney said. "And I want to believe him as much as anyone. But when we look at the Middle East today ... it is clear that the risk of conflict in the region is higher now than when the president took office."
Romney's speech was short on specifics, but in broad terms he laid out his national security priorities before the second of his three debates with Obama, which will be at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York on Oct. 16 and will include discussion of foreign policy.
In calling for a more forceful foreign policy, Romney indicated that he would not rush into armed conflict.
Middle East in Focus
But he accused Obama of a hasty troop withdrawal from Iraq, saying hard-fought gains there are being eroded by rising violence and a resurgent al-Qaida. Obama considers his withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq the fulfillment of a 2008 campaign promise, sought by Americans weary of war.
Romney also said he might not be so quick to pull troops out of the unpopular war in Afghanistan. Obama has pledged to end the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan by the end of 2014 as part of NATO's plan to hand over security responsibility to Afghan forces.
Romney said he would pursue a transition to Afghan security forces by that time but would evaluate conditions there before making a final decision to pull out.
Obama was right to order the mission that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden last year, Romney said, but he charged that other elements of the president's strategy for the region were weak or ill-advised. Romney pointed to the extensive U.S. reliance on attacks by drone aircraft as "no substitute for a national security strategy for the Middle East."
Reuters/Ipsos tracking polls indicate that more Americans favor Obama on foreign policy issues.
The latest data, collected through Sunday, indicate that 40 percent of likely voters believe Obama has a better plan for combating terrorism, compared with 31.5 percent for Romney. In dealing with Iran, 35.4 percent of likely voters favored Obama; 30.9 percent backed Romney.
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