Defense & National Security

White House spins Romney speech, does not address Libya failures

White House spins Romney speech, does not address Libya failures

A measure of the significance of Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney’s foreign policy-themed address at the Virginia Military Institute Monday morning can be seen in the energy spent by President Barack Obama’s campaign to refute it even before it was delivered.

A day before the speech, campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told White House pool reporters that every previous Romney discussion of foreign policy has been an “unmitigated disaster” and she expected the same again. Following the address, Psaki called Romney’s talk “chest-pounding rhetoric” and resurrected the “Etch-a-Sketch” zinger to describe his strategy.

What appears to be missing, according to reports, is any defense or justification of Obama’s decision to wrongly claim, for weeks, that last month’s attacks in Benghazi, Libya that left a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead were a reaction to an American-made amateur film satirizing Islam.

Romney connected the attacks to larger movements of Islamic extremism throughout the Middle East, saying it was likely that those who attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001 were also behind this recent episode of anti-American violence.

And though he said the responsibility for the American deaths in Libya lay solely with the rioting attackers, he added that the U.S. under Obama had not lived up to the nation’s tradition of principled leadership regarding the Middle East.

“It is the responsibility of our President to use America’s great power to shape history—not to lead from behind, leaving our destiny at the mercy of events. Unfortunately, that is exactly where we find ourselves in the Middle East under President Obama,” he said.

Detractors claimed Romney once again failed to cite specifics about his plans for foreign policy as president, but he did highlight a number of clear goals, from supporting new free trade agreements, a practice that has languished under Obama, to arming members of the Syrian opposition, to establishing a stricter set of qualifications for countries receiving U.S. aid, like Egypt. He reiterated plans announced a year ago in a speech at the Citadel to increase Navy shipbuilding from nine to 15 ships per year and to increase U.S. missile defense.

It’s clear now that Romney does not plan to address these issues in greater specificity while on the campaign trail, choosing to outline his strategy and philosophy in broad strokes and hawkish principles that have reminded many of George W. Bush’s policies. The question now is whether Romney can successfully keep pressure on the Obama campaign for its missteps and failures, and whether his running mate, Paul Ryan, can stay on-message as he takes on Vice President Joe Biden in a foreign policy-themed debate later this week.

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