Fresh from his sugar high surge from the debate, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Monday had harsh words for President Barack Obama, saying he has failed America as a leader in the Middle East.
Romney walked on the stage at the Virginia Military Institute, a military college in Lexington, Virginia, with a new found spring in his step.
It's understandable. Romney was widely perceived to have won the first presidential debate last Wednesday in Denver, halting a free fall in the polls;appearing to have given him new boldness, Reuters reported.
As a result, says Fox news, in Monday's speech Romney was looking to build on that performance;not only with a robust explanation of how he'd lead in America, but how he'd lead in the world.
In his speech, Romney said the world wants more of America's guidance. "Our friends and allies across the globe do not want less American leadership … This is what makes America exceptional. It is not just the character of our country; it is the record of our accomplishments. America has a proud history of strong, confident, principled global leadership – a history that has been written by patriots of both parties," the UK's Guardian says.
Romney focused on the fault lines of Libya, Egypt and especially Syria, where he said Obama has "failed" to lead, but offered little alternative.
In Syria, Romney accused Obama of sitting on the sidelines as Syria's civil war expands. Departing from current U.S. policy, Romney promised to “work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets."
"It is essential that we develop influence with those forces in Syria that will one day lead a country that sits at the heart of the Middle East.” Romney said.
But the Obama administration has balked at sending arms and has discouraged others from sending heavy weapons that could end up in the arms of Islamic militants.
In Iran, Romney promised to tighten the screws over Iran's nuclear program to discourage the country from developing nuclear weapons. But this is an avenue the Obama administration has already pursued, says the conservative Wall Street Journal.
Romney cited last month's deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, and the wave of anti-U.S. protests across the region, as evidence that Obama's approach to the tumultuous aftermath of the "Arab Spring" was failing.
“As the dust settles, as the murdered are buried, Americans are asking how this happened, how the threats we face have grown worse, and what this calls on America to do,” Romney said Monday. “Unfortunately, this president’s policies have not been equal to our best examples of world leadership. And nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East.”
But while Romney dug into what he called Obama's failure of leadership, he did little to illustrate how his responses would differ, Reuters reported.
Romney may delay troop withdrawl
Take for instance, Afghanistan, he said. In particular, he said he would not be tied to the deadline set by Obama for U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan to be completed by the end of 2014 -- and hinted he might just delay it, the Guardian said.
“I will affirm that my duty is not to protect my political prospects, but to protect the security of the nation,” said Romney, who has long accused Obama’s withdrawal plans as being politically motivated, according to ABC News Radio.
But while complaining about Obama's "politically timed retreat," he said nothing about how extending the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is widely unpopular with the U.S. public, Reuters reported.
"Erratically” shifting positions
In a statement on the candidate’s speech, Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said all Romney has offered on foreign policy is “bluster and platitudes.”
“If Mitt Romney wants to have a debate about foreign policy, we have a message for him: bring it on,” Smith said in a statement, going on to accuse him of “erratically” shifting positions on “every major foreign policy.”
Smith's statement ties into what the Guardian said was one of the most baffling parts of Romney's speech: His reaffirmation of the traditional US role as a supposed arbiter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Romney said he will “recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel.”
Baffling, the paper said, because Romney didn't hold that position earlier this year. Romney cast doubt on the ability to establish a two-state solution between Palestinians and Israelis in his speech in May, caught on a secret video (see video below)
In it, he said the Palestinians were not interested in peace. He called such a scenario “unthinkable” and that the whole issue should be kicked down the field.
"We can't support our friends and defeat our enemies in the Middle East when our words are not backed up by deeds," Romney said in Monday's speech.
Missing in action: How?
In another response from the Obama campaign, former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, told reporters that there was a lot of rhetoric but not a lot of specifics.
"I would like to ask Governor Romney and his advisers how he would do things differently," she said.
The specifics he did name? Romney argued that those who receive aid from the U.S., including Egypt, “must meet the responsibilities of every decent modern government.”
It is those conditions on U.S. aid, Romney said Monday, that he will use to “urge the new government to represent all Egyptians."
“And we must persuade our friends and allies to place similar stipulations on their aid,” he said.
But Albright declared that Romney's call for putting conditions on foreign aid to countries such as Egypt is counterproductive, saying it costs the U.S. leverage.
"By conditioning aid, it looks like they are responding to our orders and not to the people who elected them," she said, the Wall Street Journal reported. "You don't get the sense he knows what tools to use and how to operate in an international setting and what the role of the U.S. is in the 21st century," said Albright, who was secretary of state under President Bill Clinton.
Failed the commander-in-chief test
The Obama campaign swiftly undercut Romney's speech with a TV ad saying Romney had already failed the commander-in-chief test oversees, citing his accident-prone tour of the UK, such as questioning whether London was prepared for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.
The British newspapers were blunt in their appraisal, wondering why “Tin Man” (his London detractors call him) would come to London and criticize the host.
"The London leg of Mitt Romney's much-vaunted foreign trip could hardly have gone worse," said the BBC.
Mr Romney's message for viewers back home - that he connects with the leaders of America's allies and can be trusted with its interests abroad - lies in tatters.
He's offended the British government. The British press have decided he is a knave and a fool.
The ad also cites his gaffe-prone tour of Israel and Poland in the summer and various comments since then.
"If this is how he handles the world now," the ad says, "just think of what Romney might do as president."