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Romney's tour

July 26, 2012

Republican candidate Mitt Romney is hoping for a presidential boost with a six-day international trip. But he's only visiting three countries - and so far, he's only been dealing in rhetoric.

Mitt Romney speaks
Image: dapd

In terms of foreign policy, US President Barack Obama's challenger Mitt Romney is fighting an uphill battle. After all, Obama has a lot to show for his first term. It was under his leadership that top terrorist Osama bin Laden was killed, that US troops were pulled out of Iraq and that a date was set for the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

And even though the US remains rather unpopular in the Arab world, Washington is on better terms with most of the rest of the world than under his predecessor, George W. Bush.

But applauding Obama's achievements will hardly help Romney win, and so he's choosing a confrontation instead. Just before his one-week trip abroad which takes him to the United Kingdom, Israel and Poland, Romney laid out his foreign policy vision in a speech to an assembly of veterans.

An 'American century'

Romney's central message about Obama: "This president has diminished American leadership, and we are reaping the consequences." According to Romney, Obama has misjudged Russia and dropped allies Poland and the Czech Republic after they offered to host radar and rockets for a US missile defense shield.

Mitt Romney, in front of US flag
Romney has plans for an "American century"Image: Reuters

In addition, he has failed to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions, and he has not managed to counter China's unfair policies with regards to exports, economy and finance. Obama also, according to Romney, has snubbed Israel.

So what would Romney do differently, if he were elected? First, the Republican made it clear: "I am an unapologetic believer in the greatness of this country. I am not ashamed of American power."

Improving ties with Israel

His foreign policy views are on full display on his website, under the headline "An American Century." Romney did not go into much more detail in his speech - he knows that the Middle East conflict is not easy to solve. But he wants to improve the ties with Israel that under Obama have become somewhat strained.

According to his website, his first official trip abroad as president would be to Israel. For the last 20 years, the first trip of any new president had always been to neighboring Canada. George W. Bush, however, was an exception to the rule, choosing Mexico instead.

A US soldier returns fire as others run for cover during a firefight with insurgents in the Badula Qulp area, west of Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan
Although critical of the timing, Romney says he will stick to the withdrawal from AfghanistanImage: AP

Romney also criticized Obama for recently beginning the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan - summer is a time of heavy fighting - accusing the president of having political motives for that decision. At the same time though, Romney said that he would continue the complete withdrawal of troops by 2014, as planned, handing over power to the Afghan authorities.

Financial aid to Egypt - with conditions

Romney promised to stop China's "cheating" in relation to patent and copyright law, trade subsidies and currency manipulation, but left open how he would do this. In the Middle East, he said would push for the values of representative government, economic opportunity and human rights, and would be against the expansion of "Iranian or jihadist influence."

In Egypt, he would make US financial aid dependent on the development of a free and modern society. "As president," said Romney, "I will not only direct the billions in assistance we give to Egypt toward that goal, but I will also work with partner nations to place conditions on their assistance as well."

On the topic of the Iran nuclear dispute, Romney was clear, saying there must be a "full suspension of any enrichment, period." Current international negotiations have proposed that Iran be allowed to enrich a certain percentage of uranium. This would not be acceptable for Romney, said his defense and foreign policy adviser Rich Williamson at a meeting of the Brookings Institution in Washington.

When asked whether the Republicans would then be prepared to order a military strike against Iran, Williamson was evasive. "He (Romney) will create a credible threat, he has not taken it off the table" - a tactic similar to that of the Obama administration.

Weapons for Syrian opposition

On Syria, Williamson, who previously served in the Reagan and both Bush administrations, said a President Romney would work more intensively with the opposition than Obama. "He would be willing to arm the moderate factions within the opposition," he said, adding however that Romney would not back an involvement of US troops in the securing of any no-fly zones or safe areas.

Syrian rebels take position during clashes with Syrian Army forces
A Romney administration would work closely with the Syrian oppositionImage: AP

And how would Romney deal with Russia? "First, he would speak the truth - the Russian people who are trying to get more space for their civil rights deserve it," said Williamson. He pointed out that President Ronald Reagan had called the Soviet Union the "evil empire."                                                                               

And Europe?

Interestingly, Romney made no mention of Europe in his speech. In addition, his plans for an "American century" include the participation of China, Iran, Israel and Latin America - but not Europe.

Williamson was quick to explain that Romney considered Europe as one as America's most important allies. However, he had expressed concern that Germany, Europe's largest economy, had remained an uninvolved outsider in the Libya conflict, identifying "tensions within the NATO alliance."

Obama,waves as he arrives at the Victory Column in Berlin
Romney is facing stiff competition from ObamaImage: AP

On his six-day trip, Romney will be giving Germany a pass - unlike Obama, who as presidential candidate in 2008 visited Berlin along with Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, France and the United Kingdom. He would probably find it difficult to compete with the publicity from that trip, when more than 200,000 Berliners gave Obama the rock star treatment at Berlin's Victory Column.

Author: Christina Bergmann, Washington / ai, cmk
Editor: Rob Mudge