Pushing back against accusations that he has remained vague on foreign policy points, presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave a decisive speech detailing his reaction to current events in the Middle East and North Africa region at the Virginia Military Institute on Monday.
By highlighting ongoing conflicts in countries such as Syria, Libya and Iraq, Romney criticized President Barack Obama’s international decisions and said it was “time to change course” in American policy overseas.
The Arab world is currently engaged in a “struggle between liberty and tyranny, justice and oppression, hope and despair,” Romney said.
Romney offered various solutions for recent conflict in Middle East countries. Following the three “bedrock principles” of “have confidence in our clause, clarity in our purpose and resolve in our might,” Romney spoke of imposing new and tightened sanctions on Iran and reinstating a permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in the Eastern Mediterranean and Gulf region. Such a force would demonstrate to Iran that its acquisition of nuclear weapons would not be tolerated and would reaffirm America’s “abiding commitment to security”, Romney said.
On Libya, Romney promised to standby the Libyan people’s effort to establish a representative government and to “vigorously pursue” the terrorists who attacked the American consulate in Benghazi on September 11. Four Americans were killed in that raid, including American Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.
Romney again called for a fair and representative government for Egypt. He proposed “clear conditions on our aid” as a tool for urging the Egyptian government to establish democratic institutions and maintain peace with Israel.
Asserting that Obama has “failed to lead in Syria,” Romney pledged arms to forces opposing Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
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“It is essential that we develop influence with those forces in Syria that will one day lead a country that sits in the heart of the Middle East,” Romney said.
Romney also criticized the president for withdrawing the U.S. troop presence from Iraq and for recent cuts in defense spending.
Romney corrected previous statements he made on Palestine. In a video clip released in late September, Romney was heard remarking that the Palestinians had no interest in peace. In his October 8 speech, he committed America to a “democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel.”
Throughout his speech, Romney compared his beliefs against foreign policy decisions made by Obama. Citing stagnancy in the negotiation process between Palestine and Israel, Romney said that “only a new President will bring the chance to begin anew” and solve “this old conflict.
The time for strong leadership in the Middle East is now, Romney said, and promised to back up impassioned rhetoric with action and strategic thinking. Romney affirmed America’s duty to share “our interest and values” in the Arab world.
“We cannot support our friends and defeat our enemies in the Middle East when our words are not backed up by deeds, when our defense spending is being arbitrarily and deeply cut, when we have no trade agenda to speak of, and the perception of our strategy is not one of partnership, but of passivity,” Romney said.
Katie Gonzalez is a regular contributor to Your Middle East and has also written What would Mitt Romney mean for the Middle East?