In S.C. Speech, Romney Assails Obama's Foreign-Policy Vision

The former Massachusetts governor talked tough on international security, declaring that the U.S. is no "nation of followers"

Mitt Romney foreign policy speech - Grace Beahm The Post and Courier AP - banner.jpg

Mitt Romney, the Republican front-runner often bemoaned by conservatives in his party as lacking fight, on Friday laid out his foreign policy vision in a tough-talking speech in which he declared, "America must lead the word, or someone else will."

Invoking former President Reagan in name and former President George W. Bush in key elements of his proposal, Romney said he would dramatically strengthen the U.S. military and be more assertive with American allies in defending the nation's security and its economic interests. He tried to draw a sharp contrast with President Obama's foreign policy, which he characterized as a "surrender" of American leadership, but he also criticized the isolationist wing of the Republican Party.

"This is America's moment," Romney told an audience of about 450 people at The Citadel military college in South Carolina. "We should embrace the challenge, not shrink from it, not crawl into an isolationist shell, not wave the white flag of surrender, nor give in to those who assert America's moment has passed. That's utter nonsense. An eloquently justified surrender of world leadership is still surrender.

"I will not surrender America's role in the world. This is very simple. If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on Earth, I am not your president. You have that president today," Romney said, drawing the most sustained applause of his 30-minute address.

"As president, on Day One, I will focus on rebuilding America's economy -- it's a foundation of our strength -- and I will reverse President Obama's massive defense cuts," the former Massachusetts governor said. "Time and again, we have seen that attempts to balance the budget by weakening our military only lead to a far higher price, not only in treasure, but in blood.

"...When America is strong, the world is safer," Romney said. "President Reagan called this 'peace through strength,' and he was never more right than he is today. It is only America's power conceived in the broadest terms that can provide the foundation of an international system that ensures the security and prosperity of the United States and our friends and allies around the world."

Romeny's event was televised, and a group of uniformed cadets were strategically seated behind him at the prestigious military college. Music from the movie Top Gun was piped in before Romney took the stage.

The major changes in policy enumerated by Romney were:

  • Increase production of Navy ships from nine to 15 per year, and put aircraft carriers in two locations off the coast of Iran, which he identified as a major threat. One would be in the Persian Gulf and another in the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Resume work on a multi-billion-dollar missile defense system to protect the United States from ballistic missiles. The project has been a favorite of Republican hawks since Reagan's time, but dismissed by Democrats and liberals as technologically and financially infeasible.
  • Step up the use of "soft power" resources in the Middle East, although Romney was vague in describing those resources. "Resort to force is always the least desirable and costliest option," he said. "We must therefore employ all the tools of statecraft to shape the outcome of threatening situations before they demand military action. If America is the undisputed leader of the world, it reduces our need to police a more chaotic world."
  • Review Afghanistan policy, and "listen to commanders on the ground" about the pace of troop reductions there. In the past, Romney has articulated an Afghanistan policy similar to Obama's, which calls for allowing Afghans to do the bulk of the fighting for their independence.
  • Greater emphasis on U.S. relations with Latin America.

Image credit: Grace Beahm/The Post and Courier/AP

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Sarah B. Boxer covers the 2012 presidential race for CBS News and National Journal.

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