11:02 AM CDT, October 8, 2012
Mitt Romney will assert a traditional U.S. foreign policy based on exerting influence through military and economic power in a major speech on Monday two weeks before he debates President Barack Obama on international issues.
In the address at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney will argue that Obama is failing to provide the global leadership needed and expected by the rest of the world, especially key allies like Israel.
"I believe that if America does not lead, others will -- others who do not share our interests and our values -- and the world will grow darker for our friends and for us," Romney will say, according to excerpts released by his campaign. "America's security and the cause of freedom cannot afford four more years like the last four years."
In specific policy examples included in the excerpts, Romney will call for the United States to join allies in ensuring that rebels fighting government forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad get military hardware. However, he will stop short of calls by some conservatives for Washington to directly arm the rebels.
"In Syria, I will work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad's tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets," Romney will say, according to the excerpts.
He will note that Iran is sending weaponry to Assad's forces "because they know his downfall would be a strategic defeat for them."
"We should be working no less vigorously with our international partners to support the many Syrians who would deliver that defeat to Iran -- rather than sitting on the sidelines," Romney will say, according to the excerpts. "It is essential that we develop influence with those forces in Syria that will one day lead a country that sits at the heart of the Middle East."
The Obama administration has limited direct aid so far to non-lethal support such as communication equipment. Administration officials have expressed concern about giving weapons to a disparate group of rebels for fear that arms could fall into the hands of terrorists.
Romney also will criticize Obama's overall approach to the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
According to the excerpts, he will argue that last month's attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others "should not be seen as random."
Instead, Romney will say the violence "was likely the work of the same forces that attacked our homeland on September 11th, 2001," according to the excerpts.
The recent assault in Benghazi, which took place on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington by al Qaeda, is under investigation by U.S. officials, with no formal word yet on exactly who was behind it.
In the United States, the intelligence community believes it was "a deliberate and organized terrorist assault carried out by extremists" affiliated with or sympathetic to al Qaeda.
While the released excerpts show that Romney will seek to distinguish himself from Obama on foreign policy, specific proposals he has discussed so far have been similar to what the administration is doing.
For example, he has called for ending military operations in Afghanistan by the end of the 2014, the same date set by Obama and NATO, and warned of unspecified steps to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Obama has said all options remain on the table for preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon.
In one distinction, Romney will say Monday that under his leadership, "the United States and our friends and allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability," which differs from Obama's pledge to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
Nuclear capability refers to the process of being able to develop a nuclear weapon -- a lower threshold than Obama's reference -- and Romney's language matches that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the issue.
Polls show Obama gets higher marks than Romney on foreign policy, and the former Massachusetts governor hurt his international credentials on a three-nation trip this summer that included a high-profile gaffe in which he questioned London's preparedness to host the Olympics.
Romney also angered Palestinian leaders with a reference to cultural differences as a reason for differing levels of prosperity between Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Seeking to remind voters of those events, the Obama campaign released a new ad in Virginia that accused the Republican challenger as "reckless" and "amateurish" on international affairs.
The 30-second spot features critical news clips of what the commercial calls Romney's "gaffe-filled" trip to England, Israel and Poland.
Romney also faced negative headlines over his quick response to the Benghazi consulate attack. Soon after word broke of the violence, the GOP nominee fired off a statement that was criticized as inaccurate and premature.
"If this is how he handles the world now," the narrator in the new ad says, "just think what Mitt Romney might do as president."
Responding to the ad, a Romney campaign spokeswoman said Obama was the one who had "weakened" the U.S. standing in the world.
On Sunday, Romney's foreign policy director, Alex Wong, told reporters that the candidate's foreign policy seeks to continue the traditional U.S. role in global affairs dating back to the end of World War II.
"Mitt Romney's vision is to restore influence and to support our friends and allies to move the Middle East onto a path of greater liberty, greater stability, and greater prosperity," Wong said. "It's a restoration of a strategy that served us well for over 70 years."
Referring to the U.S. perspective after World War II, Wong said that "we saw the need to have a military that no one would challenge." He also cited the need to have strategic allies around the world as part of what he called a full spectrum of power "so we do not have to face again the horrors of war."
Romney and Obama will debate foreign policy on October 22 in Florida following their second debate in New York on October 16. On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden and Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, will hold their only debate of the campaign.
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