TAMPA - A series of speakers at the Republican National Convention Wednesday ripped into President Barack Obama's foreign policy, but offered few clear insights into how Mitt Romney's might differ.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the only top Bush administration official to speak at the convention, was arguably the star of the evening, speaking to cheers and applause when she said that countries around the world are confused and concerned about Obama's position on crucial national security issues.
"Indeed that is the question of the moment -- ‘Where does America stand?'" she said. "When our friends and our foes, alike, do not know the answer to that question -- clearly and unambiguously -- the world is a chaotic and dangerous place. The U.S. has since the end of World War II had an answer -- we stand for free peoples and free markets, we are willing to support and defend them --- we will sustain a balance of power that favors freedom."
Without referring to the president directly, Rice called on the United States to boost its support for human rights, democracy, and dissident movements in authoritarian. She did, however, repeat the by-now familiar charge, a reference to an administration official's anonymous quote in a New Yorker article, that Obama has been "leading from behind" abroad.
"[I]f we are not inspired to lead again, one of two things will happen -- no one will lead and that will foster chaos --- or others who do not share our values will fill the vacuum," she said. "My fellow Americans, we do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead -- and one cannot lead from behind."
Rice indirectly criticized the Obama administration for failing to pursue new free trade agreements, moving too slowly to secure new sources of energy, and mishandling the economy. She touted the idea of "American exceptionalism" and said that a Romney administration wojuld restore American power by bolstering economic growth and drawing clearer distinctions between friends and enemies.
"Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan understand this reality -- that our leadership abroad and our well being at home are inextricably linked. They know what needs to be done. Our friends and allies must be able to trust us. From Israel to Poland to the Philippines to Colombia and across the world -- they must know that we are reliable and consistent and determined. And our adversaries must have no reason to doubt our resolve -- because peace really does come through strength. Our military capability and technological advantage will be safe in Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan's hands," she said.
Rice referenced the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks at the beginning of her remarks, but didn't mention the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan or any of the controversial counterterrorism policies that she presided over as national security advisor and secretary of state.
She said that under a Romney administration, the United States will remain the most powerful country on Earth but didn't get into the details of how the former Massachusetts governor would tackle critical challenges such as the crisis in Syria, Iran's nuclear program, or the Middle East conflict.
"Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have the experience and the integrity and the vision to lead us -- they know who we are, what we want to be and what we offer the world," she said.
Earlier in the evening, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) lashed out at Obama's handling of national security and foreign policy in more explicit language and said that Romney's election was needed to maintain world peace and stability.
"His election represents our best hopes for our country and the world," McCain said. "Unfortunately, for four years, we've drifted away from our proudest traditions of global leadership -- traditions that are truly bipartisan. We've let the challenges we face, both at home and abroad, become harder to solve. We can't afford to stay on that course any longer."
McCain criticized Obama for setting a timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan, a timeline Romney has endorsed, and accused the president of slashing funding for the military and abandoning the cause of human rights.
"In other times, when other courageous people fought for their freedom against sworn enemies of the United States, American presidents -- both Republicans and Democrats -- have acted to help them prevail," he said. "Sadly, for the lonely voices of dissent in Syria, and Iran, and elsewhere, who feel forgotten in their darkness, and sadly for us, as well, our president is not being true to our values."
The Romney campaign has been careful to avoid spelling out specific prescriptions on international affairs, preferring instead to touch on broad themes. Analysts and reporters have scrutinized his statements and those of his advisors, trying to discern whether the candidate is more of a foreign-policy realist or a neoconservative at heart.
In an interview with The Cable Wednesday, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty explained that Romney subscribes to the "Mitt Romney school" of foreign policy.
"Knowing Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan quite well, I would say to you that they are directionally and foundationally sturdy and sound, and quite Reaganesque in that regard," Pawlenty said. "Mitt Romney is a prolific reader and a student of history ... I'm highly confident it will not be amateur hour."