SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Just minutes before President Obama was to address the American Legion convention in Minnesota, and one day after Texas Gov. Rick Perry addressed the same room here at the national VFW convention, Mitt Romney took the podium this morning to assail the president on foreign policy.
"Have we ever had a president who was so eager to address the world with an apology on his lips and doubt in his heart?" Romney asked the crowd rhetorically. "He seems truly confused not only about America’s past but our future."
The speech was darker in tone than when he talks of foreign policy at his smaller campaign stops. The former governor spared no ammunition in criticizing the president Obama for his foreign-policy approach.
On two of America's three ongoing military engagements, Romney was even more direct.
"First, President Obama acted as if it were a great surprise that a rebellion erupted, even though The Arab Spring was already in full swing in Tunisia and Egypt," Romney said of the president's leadership on Libya. "Our involvement in Libya was marked by inadequate clarity of purpose before we began the mission, mission muddle during the operation, and ongoing confusion as to our role in the future."
On President Obama’s withdrawal plans from Afghanistan, Romney said, “[T]he President has chosen to disregard the counsel of the generals on the ground. I don’t know of a single military advisor to President Obama who recommended the withdrawal plan the president chose, and that puts the success of our soldiers and our mission at greater risk."
Further, Romney called the U.S. response to the Iranian elections of 2009 and the subsequent protests that were crushed by the Iranian government "a disgrace."
Though, he didn’t say exactly what his response would have been.
This came within the context of a larger critique of the administration's views on foreign policy, and efforts to cut defense spending, which Romney said must be founded upon either one of two mistaken beliefs: that the world was becoming a safer place or that America was becoming a lesser power.
The former governor said that any belief in America as a lesser power "flows from the conviction that if we are weak, tyrants will choose to be weak as well; that if we could just talk more, engage more, pass more U.N. resolutions, that peace will break out." He continued, "That may be what they think in that Harvard faculty lounge, but it’s not what they know on the battlefield!"
Romney graduated from Harvard in 1975 with a combined J.D./M.B.A.
Romney also looked to present himself not as yet another government official, but as a private-sector outsider.
"I am a conservative businessman," Romney told several hundred veterans assembled in a cavernous ballroom. "I have spent most of my life outside of politics, dealing with real problems in the real economy. Career politicians got us into this mess and they simply don't know how to get us out!"
Highlighting his private-sector experience has long been a hallmark of Romney's stump speech, but some observers see a renewed focus on the former CEO's time in the private sector as an effort to draw contrast with the surging Perry, who has served continuously in public office since 1985.
But Romney has run for public office four times, including this year, since 1994. And while he has highlighted his private-sector experience to differentiate himself from Perry, he has also highlighted his government experience to separate himself from Herman Cain, for example, the only other candidate to have served as a CEO.
“I respect Herman Cain,” Romney said two weeks ago, “but I also think it’s helpful to have had that government experience that I’ve had.”
Romney also referenced his managerial experience in the private sector when it came to defense policy, telling the crowd he could not wait for a chance to turn wasted defense dollars into newer ships and planes.
"Let me tell you, as a conservative businessman who has spent most of his life in the private sector,” he said, “I look at that kind of inefficiency and bloat and say, ‘Let me at it.’”
Romney mentioned his background in business explicitly twice, and made mention of his governorship three times.
Video edited by NBC's Natalie Cucchiara.