Mitt Romney advocates 'American century' in foreign policy speech

Mitt Romney, resurgent in the race for the GOP presidential nomination, on Friday outlined his vision for the United States in the world, arguing for an America that has the strongest economy and military and is unafraid to take unilateral action in dealing with foreign affairs.

Speaking at The Citadel, a military college in South Carolina, Romney outlined his vision of the world’s problems and criticized President Obama for failing to lead in the way the GOP aspirant said he would. Specifically, Romney called for more spending on the military, better relations with Israel and strong opposition to Iran and socialist states such as Venezuela and Cuba.

The former governor of Massachusetts also sought to place himself within his own party’s splits over foreign affairs, saying the United States needed to have a robust role in foreign affairs, rather than again becoming neo-isolationist as some Republicans have argued. This was a reference to some GOP conservatives and libertarians who would prefer the United States to be less willing to intervene on the world stage.

“This century must be an American century,” Romney said. “In an American century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world. In an American century, America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world.”

Romney made it clear that he favored a vision of foreign policy closer to the traditional GOP idea of the United States being willing to act on its own, in what it decides is its own interests, rather than as part of a coalition or under the aegis of an international institution. This is in contrast to the Obama policy demonstrated most recently in NATO action, under U.N. approval, to help protect civilians in Libya.

“God did not create this country to be a nation of followers,” Romney said. “America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers. America must lead the world, or someone else will. Without American leadership, without clarity of American purpose and resolve, the world becomes a far more dangerous place, and liberty and prosperity would surely be among the first casualties. Let me make this very clear. As president of the United States, I will devote myself to an American century. And I will never, ever apologize for America.”

In outlining his vision of the world’s woes, Romney’s analysis was similar in some respects to Obama’s and to the general consensus on foreign affairs. For example, most policymakers agree that Iran should not have nuclear weapons. Most back a strong Israel and want Afghanistan to succeed in becoming a viable state. Most would also agree that relations with Pakistan, especially over how to fight terrorism, need to be improved. Most would also question China’s growing economic and military might.

The big difference is not the goals, but in how they are achieved. Romney minced no words, calling Obama’s policies “feckless.”

“This is America’s moment. We should embrace the challenge, not shrink from it, not crawl into an isolationist shell, not wave the white flag of surrender, nor give in to those who assert America’s time has passed,” Romney said.

“I will not surrender America’s role in the world. This is very simple: If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on Earth, I am not your president. You have that president today,” he said.

In addition to advocating rolling back defense cuts and spending more on the Navy, Romney said he would order a full review of the war in Afghanistan, which Obama has pledged to wind down. Republicans in Congress have generally backed a more hawkish position than the president and Romney followed in that GOP path, saying he would consult with military commanders, some of whom have favored a slower rate of U.S. withdrawal from the ten-year-old war.

Democrats did not wait long before they shot back in an email, explaining that the Obama administration has been strong in fighting terrorism and cited the killing of Al Qaeda leaders including  Osama bin Laden in May in Pakistan. The Democratic National Committee also cited polls showing that the U.S. standing in the world has improved since the Bush administration.

It is no accident that Romney picked The Citadel, with its military traditions, for his hawkish foreign policy speech. Nor was it accidental that he chose South Carolina, a state with an early and important GOP primary.

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