Mitt Romney’s first visit abroad as the presumptive Republican presidential candidate may not have drawn the sort of publicity he had hoped for but it did allow for a comparison of foreign policy positions between President Obama and the former governor suggesting that the talking points may be narrowing.
“It is my impression at this stage of the presidential campaign that the positions of the two candidates have begun to overlap on major foreign policy problems,” says author Marvin Kalb, an expert in national security, with a focus on U.S. relations with Russia, Europe, and the Middle East.
Romney left July 25, for a weeklong, three-country tour that would see him meet leaders of Britain, Israel, and Poland.
In Israel, Sunday, he was warmly received by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following a gaffe prone trip to Britain, where he was seen to question London’s preparations for the Olympic Games.
For that he received a sharp rebuke from British Prime Minister David Cameron and a series of disparaging headlines from the British press.
Romney had set the stage for the overseas trip in a preceding speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) National Convention, in which he rolled out his foreign policy initiatives.
Obama had addressed the VFW convention earlier, reminding the audience of his 2008 election promises: withdrawing American forces from Iran; getting Osama bin Laden; and commencing the withdrawal of American forces out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The positions of the two candidates have begun to overlap on major foreign policy problems.
—Marvin Kalb, national security expert
“Four years ago, I made you a promise. I pledged to take the fight to our enemies, and renew our leadership in the world. As president, that’s what I’ve done,” he said.
Romney’s speech, although seemingly well received by the veterans, was large on criticism of Obama’s policies but light on substance.
On Iran, Romney called for “a full suspension of any enrichment.” On Egypt he said he would “direct the billions in assistance” into encouraging freedom and modernity. On Afghanistan he was aligned with the Obama administration, saying that he was also looking “to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.”
On China he noted human rights abuse but offered only to address “cheating” in trade with America “It must finally be brought to a stop. President Obama hasn’t done it and won’t do it. I will.” Although Romney offered his positions, he did not lay out plans on how to achieve his goals.
It was left to advisers of both presidential candidates to spell out the difference, if any, at a forum at the D.C. think tank The Brookings Institution, July 25.
Rich Williamson, senior adviser for foreign and defense policy for the Romney campaign offered little more on Iran or Afghanistan but on Syria he said Romney was critical of the Obama administration for not supporting the opposition sooner. He did not offer a plan, however, on how to deal with Syria now.
Michele Flournoy, a national security adviser to Obama, responded to the criticisms. In regard to Iran, Obama and the military were fully prepared to use force to stop Iran producing weapons grade uranium, but with the most “serious” sanctions ever placed on a country and a united international community, Obama wanted to pursue all the diplomatic avenues first, she said.
Flournoy also defended the Obama administration’s handling of Syria, saying they had been working with the Syrian opposition for many months but had focused on breaking Assad’s inner circle and ensuring there would be a safe defection path. “Working the political dimensions of this is the most important piece, and that’s what this administration has been focused on from the get-go,” she said.
While Israel was part of Romney’s oversees tour, Williamson offered little insight into a Romney strategy to progress the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, questioning instead Obama’s commitment to Israel by drawing on the fact that Obama had not yet visited the country.Flournoy described Obama’s support for Israel as “ironclad” and noted that Ronald Reagan had never visited Israel and that George W. Bush only visited in his second term. She listed the areas of support that had been given to Israel during Obama’s term and quoted prominent Israeli leaders in their praise of the president.
Although Williamson stated that Romney had a different approach on foreign policy to the present administration, as presented the differences were difficult to see.
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