Says budget cuts to defense funds put nation at risk
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney harshly criticized President Obama’s national security strategy yesterday, chastising him for spending billions of dollars to expand social programs at the expense of the military budget, and accusing him of an overseas “tour of apology” that will only embolden violent anti-American extremists.
In a hard-hitting speech designed to build his credentials as commander in chief before a possible second presidential run in 2012, Romney said Obama has made a “grave miscalculation” with budget cuts to a strategic missile defense system that would protect the nation and its allies from nuclear threats.
“Backing away from missile defense and depleting the defense budget to fund new social programs, particularly in the face of global turmoil, would put America and Americans at risk,” Romney said, echoing former vice president Dick Cheney’s warnings.
By emphasizing diplomacy with hostile nations, Romney added, Obama has turned his back on what “America has sacrificed to free other nations from dictators.” Romney has faulted Obama for not responding to a recent denunciation of the United States by President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and for not taking a tougher approach on Iran and North Korea.
“Arrogant, delusional tyrants can not be stopped by earnest words and furrowed brows,” Romney said. “Action, strong, bold action coming from a position of strength and determination, is the only effective deterrent.”
Instead of reducing defense spending, as a proportion of total economic output, he said the United States needs to spend much more, restoring full funding for the missile defense system, modernizing the American nuclear arsenal, and rebuilding the military to keep pace with China’s rapid military buildup.
“For a fraction of the money that was spent on various social and domestic programs, Washington could have given our servicemen and women the tools they need to defend us for a generation,” Romney asserted.
The speech, at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, was Romney’s latest appearance before a key Republican group, less than a year after he finished as an also-ran in the GOP primaries to Senator John McCain of Arizona. It also marked Romney’s latest broadside against Obama, whom he has said could bankrupt the country by spending nearly more than $1 trillion in the economic stimulus package and supplemental budget.
While Romney and his aides will not say whether he will run for the 2012 Republican nomination, analysts say he must bolster his public service portfolio to improve his chances. Having made his fortune as a venture capitalist and served a term as governor, Romney has a grasp on domestic and economic issues, but national defense is among his weaker points.
“Obviously, he’s trying to broaden himself as a presidential candidate,” said William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “He understands that how the economy is performing is not the only thing a president has to deal with, as Barack Obama is finding out.”
In recent weeks, Romney campaigned for GOP candidates in New Jersey and Virginia, hosted Republican fund-raisers outside of Massachusetts, spoke at the National Rifle Association’s annual conference, and appeared at a business conference to discuss opposition to a bill that would allow unions to organize workplaces more easily. Early last month, Romney, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, and Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, launched a “listening tour” designed to recruit young members and help rebuild the Republican Party, still reeling from losing control of Congress and the White House in the last two elections.
Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s chief spokesman, said the former governor has kept a full travel schedule in recent weeks, but the 2012 presidential election “is so far away over the horizon that we can barely see it.”
Nevertheless, the speech – a strongly worded critique of Obama’s five-month-old administration and an outline of his own national defense plan – and the setting, an auditorium at the US Navy Memorial in Washington, seemed designed to create the image of Romney offering a much tougher US foreign policy.
America has made mistakes, Romney said, but ongoing global turmoil and security threats make it a “time for strength and confidence, not apologizing to America’s critics.”
Romney said democracies around the world, led by the United States, are competing for world leadership this century with three other forces: China, an economically powerful, authoritarian state; Russia, which flexes its global power through control of energy resources; and Islamic jihadists, who are using worldwide violence “to cause the collapse of the other three visions” and to drag “the entire world back into a medieval dictatorship ruled by mullahs and ayatollahs.”
“Of these four competing strategies, notice that only one includes freedom. Only if America succeeds will freedom endure,” Romney warned. “Do not imagine for a single moment that China, Russia, and the jihadists have no intention of surpassing America and leading the world. Each is entirely convinced that it can do so.”