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Romney forcefully defends killing of al-Awlaki

The U.S. military's strike killing al Qaeda militant Anwar al-Awlaki was appropriate and justified, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said Monday in a wide-ranging interview.

Romney forcefully defended the targeted killing of al-Awlaki, an al Qaeda propagandist who was born in the US, in a lengthy interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader.

"It is appropriate. When someone has, is engaged in treasonous behavior and has allied themselves with a force that has declared war on the United States of America and is in that sense an enemy combatant, we have every right to fire on them, as they would fire upon us — and have — fired on us," Romney said.

Other Republicans vying for their party's presidential nomination have been more critical; Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a critic of US foreign policy, suggested Monday that the assassination of al-Awlaki was an impeachable offense for President Obama.

Romney also tiptoed around a controversy stemming from a recent Republican debate, when a few audience members booed a member of the military who admitted being gay in a question to candidates about "Don't ask, don't tell." The moment has become politically charged, and Vice President Biden called the moment "reprehensible."

Romney noted that there had been some audience reaction in the last few debates he did not always agree with, but said that it was not his place to criticize the attendees for their views.

"I haven't made it my practice to scold the audience," Romney said. "I will tell you that the boos and the applause have not always coincided with my own views," he added, without clarifying which specific instances he was referring to.

"I don't know that cheering for executions is something I would agree with," Romney continued, referencing a moment at the NBC/Politico Debate at the Reagan library. "But I don't raise my hand and say don't do that."

Romney also used the interview to trot out attacks on Texas Gov. Rick Perry for his positions on immigration and Social Security. The former Massachusetts governor also managed to identify a new characteristic needed for the republican nominee: the ability to "post up" against Obama in the general election.

Romney renewed his critiques of Perry, his top rival in the race for the nomination, saying in-state college tuition to the children of illegal immigrants in Texas was "a bit like the idea of amnesty." That policy, approved by Perry, created an incentive for for people to come to the US illegally, Romney said, in a departure from his usual "magnet" rhetoric.

While he did not dispute Texas had a right to pass the law — the Union Leader moderators compared the choice to Romney's oft-criticized Massachusetts healthcare reform law as a "state solution" — Romney said he simply did not agree with it.

Romney also weighed in on Perry's recent comments in which the Texas governor suggested the possibility of sending US forces into Mexico to help fight drug trafficking there. While Romney said he would support offering logistical or intelligence help to the Mexican military, as the US had done in Colombia, he was opposed to putting actual US boots on the ground.

On Social Security, Romney used the longer, sit-down interview format to pick apart Perry's past statements comparing Social Security to a Ponzi scheme in a more detail. Romney said a Ponzi scheme is designed to make one person rich. Who, he asked rhetorically, was getting rich off Social Security? Certainly not its current beneficiaries, he said.

As the interview was concluding, Romney, who's not always as likely as other politicians to draw a casual sports analogy, deployed a bit of basketball parlance to explain why he felt Republican voters were being so slow to coalesce around any one candidate to take on the sitting president.

"This is really important this time. More important that usual. We have to have a candidate who can post up with Barack Obama and beat him," Romney said.

And despite his blistering criticism of Obama's handling of the economy and other issues, Romney was able to identify one other area in which which he and the current administration were in agreement, praising education secretary Arne Duncan for standing up to national teachers unions in pushing for school choice and merit pay.

Romney said that when a Democrat stands up to teachers' unions, "we ought to applaud that." He then hastened to add that he does not agree with Duncan on a national curriculum, or on shutting down DC charter schools, among other things.