TAMPA — Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney delivered a speech on foreign policy and national security to the American Legion in Indianapolis Wednesday just hours before several top national-security surrogates are set to speak at the Republican National Convention.
Romney began his remarks by promising America's veterans he would fix the economy and boost their chances of finding good job opportunities. He then spoke about his summer trip abroad to Britain, Israel, and Poland, and said he learned that foreign countries see a gap in American leadership abroad.
"The highlights of the trip were not just the places I visited -- like the Western Wall and Gdansk -- but the meetings I had with great champions of freedom like Benjamin Netanyahu, David Cameron, and Lech Walesa. President Walesa welcomed me in, asked me to sit down, and spoke with his characteristic candor. ‘Where is American leadership?' he said, ‘The world needs America to lead!'" Romney said.
Romney also echoed a refrain of his campaign, charging President Obama with failing to believe in the idea of American exceptionalism. He also criticized Obama's reliance on working through multilateral institutions.
"I came back home with an even deeper appreciation of the importance of strong ties with our allies -- and with an even firmer conviction that there is a role that only America can play in the world. The United Nations is a place where nations can talk, but leadership -- leadership that preserves peace and promotes freedom -- must come from the United States of America," Romney said.
He said that Obama has presided over a period of American decline internationally and has mistreated allies while coddling adversaries.
"For the past four years, President Obama has allowed our leadership to diminish. In dealings with other nations, he has given trust where it is not earned, insult where it is not deserved, and apology where it is not due," Romney said.
"A fundamental principle of American foreign policy has long been to work closely with our allies so that we can deter aggression before it breaks out into open conflict. We used to nurture our alliances and stand up for our common values. But when it comes to friends and allies like Poland, the Czech Republic, and Israel ... and with nations that oppose us like Iran and Cuba ... President Obama has moved in the opposite direction. Our foreign policy should take a page from the U.S. Marine Corps: No better friend, no worse enemy."
Romney made some specific promises to veterans. He said he would avoid defense cuts set to go into effect in January that would affect veterans, reject fee increases for veterans' healthcare, hire more Veteran's Affairs health-care workers, and fix the clogged veterans claims system.
"The problems with the VA are serious, and must be fixed. We are in danger of another generation of veterans losing their faith in VA system. On my watch, that will not be allowed to happen," Romney said.
The Obama campaign responded via a statement that Romney still hasn't set out specific policies on key national security issues and noted that Republicans are refusing to accede to Democrats' calls for increased revenues to avoid defense cuts.
"Throughout this campaign, Mitt Romney has offered a lot of reckless bluster and vague platitudes, but zero specific national security policies -- and that continued at the American Legion today. Lost in his speech was the fact that the only thing standing in the way of preventing the automatic defense cuts he decried is his refusal to ask for another dime from millionaires and billionaires," Obama campaign spokesman Lis Smith said.
"If Mitt Romney were truly serious about helping veterans, he'd tell Congressman Ryan and his Republican allies in Congress to work with the President to achieve a balanced deficit reduction plan that includes asking millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share while investing in veterans and the middle class -- as the President's plan does. The American people deserve more than empty rhetoric in a Commander-in-Chief."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.