Romney walks political tightrope on foreign policy

Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 10:46am

Mitt Romney's political tightrope in his quest for the presidency has been especially evident on foreign policy, with the certain Republican nominee sounding conservative while also espousing more moderate approaches similar to his opponent, President Barack Obama.

Facing opinion polls that show more public support for Obama on foreign policy, Romney has constantly criticized what he calls the president's failure to lead on international issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran's nuclear ambitions and Syria.

On closer view, though, details of Romney's foreign policies so far have advocated sanctions, coalition-building and other diplomatic approaches similar to Obama administration policies.

In a speech Tuesday, the former Massachusetts governor appeared set to create more distance from Obama in advance of Romney's much-publicized trip later this week to key U.S.-allies England, Israel and Poland.

Excerpts of the address to war veterans, released in advance by the Romney campaign, highlighted a conservative view of the United States as a force for good that uses all its power, including military, to exert influence in the world.

"I am not ashamed of American power," Romney will tell the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, according to the excerpts.

Noting that U.S. power has ended tyranny and conflict in the past, Romney will say: "I do not view America as just one more point on the strategic map, one more power to be balanced."

"I believe our country is the greatest force for good the world has ever known, and that our influence is needed as much now as ever," he will say, according to the excerpts.

Romney also will warn that a failure to exert that leading role will provide an opening in which "other powers ill take our place, pulling history in a very different direction."

Such a message is part of Romney's effort to contrast his positions from the Obama's diplomatic approach, such as oft-stalled multinational negotiations with Iran and North Korea intended to reduce their nuclear capabilities and efforts to build an international coalition to end the carnage in Syria.

Those tactics don't work, Romney has argued, saying the Arab Spring rush for democratic change has spun out of control and Obama's failure to fully support Israel has harmed the Middle East peace process while strengthening Iran's hand in the nuclear talks.

Romney also has criticized Obama's timetable for ending the war in Afghanistan, saying the announced withdrawal date tipped the hand of the U.S.-led NATO coalition to provide an advantage for insurgents.

Obama aides note that the president has been a leader on a host of international issues, including nuclear non-proliferation efforts and the building of an unprecedented international coalition including some Arab states to launch a miltiary intervention in Libya.

The Obama team also is quick to note two major foreign policy triumphs -- the ending of the Iraq war, as promised by the president in his 2008 campaign for the White House and the U.S. mission that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Romney's speech Tuesday also will criticize the Obama administration for leaks of classified information on the bin Laden raid and other issues. Obama's campaign responded that such criticism was a diversion.

"With all of the complex global challenges facing our nation today, Gov. Romney's much-hyped foreign policy speech once again is all bluster, offering no specific plans for our relations with any region of the world," Obama campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt said before Romney spoke.

Despite his consistent criticism of Obama's policies, Romney's proposals have been general in nature and sometimes appear to mimic the Obama approach, according to many experts.

On Syria, Romney has called for working with allies to arm the rebels, but stopped short of advocating U.S. military involvement, which is similar to the administration's approach so far. The main difference is in visibility -- Romney says the United States should have been a leading voice from the start in calling for al Assad's ouster and support for the rebels, while the administration adopted a more neutral stance seeking a diplomatic resolution that has failed to materialize.

Conscious of the influential Jewish lobby in the United States, Romney advocates a lock-step approach with Israel instead of the administration's attempt to assume more of a mediator's role in the Middle East conflict.

Romney's campaign hopes that his visit to Israel this week, including a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will draw attention to Obama's sometimes shaky relationship with the Israeli leader.

In January, Romney said at a Republican presidential debate that Obama "threw Israel under the bus" for suggesting that negotiations on a future Palestinian state begin with borders that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War.

Since then, however, Romney has avoided specific proposals for a peace plan, saying on his website that he would "reject any measure that would frustrate direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians."

Romney's stance on the Afghanistan war shows the nuance he uses to try to keep conservatives and moderates happy. While criticizing Obama for announcing plans to bring home some troops before the November election, he has supported the timetable agreed to by NATO of withdrawing combat forces by the end of 2014.

A recent CNN/ORC international poll showed 53% of respondents believed Obama would handle foreign policy better than Romney, who got 41% support. Obama's advantage was greater -- 54% to 38% -- among independent voters considered key to the election.

With his overseas trip this week, Romney seeks to burnish his foreign policy credentials by meeting with top leaders of all three allies. However, Romney's aides say no big policy announcements are expected on the trip.

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