Keydets listen as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivers a foreign policy speech Oct. 8 at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va. Romney called for a change of course in America's Middle East policy, accusing President Barack Obama of sitting on the sidelines in the face of a "profound upheaval" across the region. (Jim Watson / AFP)
GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney offered few new details about his agenda for the Pentagon in an Oct. 8 national security address that mostly slammed President Barack Obama’s foreign policy record.
Romney criticized Obama’s Middle East strategy numerous times and panned him for failing to “shape” events there and around the globe. If elected, Romney said he would “firmly and actively” use American power to that end — but he offered few specifics on how.
Notably, Romney used his speech at the Virginia Military Institute to announce that he would buy three submarines per year. That is part of Romney’s plan to swell U.S. Navy shipbuilding to 15 vessels a year, and it would be an increase of one new submarine annually.
The candidate’s submarine plan came just days after one of his advisers, John Lehman, President Reagan’s Navy secretary, told Defense News about Romney’s plans to build a larger Navy.
Specifically, a Romney administration would create an 11th aircraft carrier air wing, buy more F/A-18 Super Hornet strike fighters, field more Marine Corps amphibious ships, as well as one new frigate and a missile defense ship.
Until Oct. 8, however, exact numbers for specific kinds of ships remained unclear.
During the speech, Romney blamed Obama for a $500 billion cut to planned Pentagon spending that will kick in Jan. 2 unless lawmakers pass a $1.2 trillion debt-paring deal.
“I will roll back President Obama’s deep and arbitrary cuts to our national defense that would devastate our military,” Romney told an auditorium packed with VMI keydets.
The GOP candidate vowed to “make the critical defense investments that we need to remain secure” because “the decisions we make today will determine our ability to protect America tomorrow.”
Romney’s reasoning for spending more on the military each year: “The first purpose of a strong military is to prevent war.”
In February, the Obama administration sent Congress a Pentagon budget plan that proposed $525 billion for fiscal 2013.
Despite addressing future military officers, Romney shed no new light on his plans for the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps. Echoing the thrust of his broader campaign strategy, Romney used most of his speech to criticize Obama’s term.
On Libya, Romney took a shot at Obama and his national security team for initially blaming a September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that left the American ambassador dead on an anti-Islamic Internet video.
“This latest assault cannot be blamed on a reprehensible video insulting Islam, despite the administration’s attempts to convince us of that for so long,” Romney said. “No, as the administration has finally conceded, these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others, especially women and girls; who are fighting to control much of the Middle East today; and who seek to wage perpetual war on the West.”
The GOP nominee hammered Obama’s Middle East strategy and record, blasting the president for failing to “shape” events in that crucial region.
“Unfortunately, this president’s policies have not been equal to our best examples of world leadership. And nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East,” Romney said. “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 proposed placing responsibility for all U.S. aid to the Middle East under one individual and pressing recipients harder on how those dollars are used.
Romney talked vaguely about restoring America’s uber-close friendship with Israel, which has waned a bit during Obama’s tenure. He also said that he would deepen cooperation with Washington’s Middle East allies. But Romney did not spell out how he would “shape” events in the Middle East, a goal that has eluded U.S. presidents of both parties for decades.
Romney also offered up some tough talk for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran’s nuclear-arms seeking leaders.
“I will implement effective missile defenses to protect against threats,” the nominee said. “And on this, there will be no flexibility with Vladimir Putin.”
Later, Romney vowed he would “put the leaders of Iran on notice that the United States and our friends and allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability.”
But in the very next sentence, he laid out a plan that sounded nearly identical to the tactics the Obama administration has been employing for months.
“I will not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran and will tighten the sanctions we currently have,” Romney said.
On Afghanistan, Romney again endorsed the 2014 withdrawal date set by his opponent.
The speech, billed by the campaign as a major foreign policy and national security address, suggested a Romney administration would enact a much more active foreign policy than that of the Obama administration.
Past U.S. leaders “rallied our nation to rise to its responsibilities as the leader of the free world. We helped our friends to build and sustain free societies and free markets,” Romney said. “We defended our friends, and ourselves, from our common enemies. We led. … This is what makes America exceptional: It is not just the character of our country, it is the record of our accomplishments. America has a proud history of strong, confident, principled global leadership, a history that has been written by patriots of both parties. That is America at its best.”
Finally, the candidate also invoked the rhetoric of former President George W. Bush’s freedom agenda, stating the struggle against Islamist extremists is “a struggle between liberty and tyranny, justice and oppression, hope and despair.
“America’s security and the cause of freedom cannot afford four more years like the last four years,” Romney said. “I believe the leader of the free world has a duty … to use America’s great influence wisely … but also firmly and actively to shape events in ways that secure our interests, further our values, prevent conflict and make the world better — not perfect, but better.”