CHARLESTON, SC -- Mitt Romney this morning delivered his full-throated defense of a robust American military and foreign policy, calling for the United States to recapture a leading role in the world, and begin a new "American Century."
"I am here today to tell you that I am guided by one overwhelming conviction and passion: This century must be an American Century," Romney said, drawing applause from the crowd gathered On the campus of storied military college The Citadel. "In an American Century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world. In an American Century, America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world."
Romney, backstopped by some 100 Citadel cadets and a massive sign emblazoned with his "Believe in America" campaign slogan, also promoted a concept of American exceptionalism, a belief he said President Obama lacked.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney spoke at The Citadel military college in Charleston, South Carolina today. In his foreign policy speech, Romney called for an "American century" and told the cadets that America is not a "nation of followers."
"God did not create this country to be a nation of followers. America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers," Romney said. "America must lead the world, or someone else will."
"Let me make this clear," Romney said. "As president of the United States, I will devote myself to an American Century. And I will never, ever apologize for America."
The address contained a number of specific foreign policy proposals and goals for a Romney administration to pursue, including eight actions he would begin in his first 100 days in office.
Topping the list of early priorities, restoring America's "naval credibility" by increasing shipbuilding and expanding the US carrier fleet, the decline of which Romney often laments on the stump.
Romney also promised to "strengthen and repair" relationships with allies like Israel and Great Britain, ratchet up pressure against Iran developing a nuclear weapon, and committing to a more "robust" missile defense.
The former management consultant, who said fixing the US economy would still be his top priority on day one, did not get into specifics of how he would pay for such plans, but advisers indicated that much could be done with cost savings Romney would wring from eliminating waste, fraud and abuse in the defense budget.
The 23-minute speech touched on a litany of global issues -- from a rising China and the possibility of Putin's Russia "bludgeoning" former Soviet republics into submission, to the US-Mexico border, which he called "an open sore," and the possibility of a failed Pakistan, an event which would be "fraught with nightmare scenarios."
On the 10th anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan, Romney also committed to conducting a full review of operations there. On the trail, he regularly criticizes the president's decision to draw down surge troops in September of 2012 as politically motivated. Today, he said he would keep politics out of decisions regarding force levels.
Romney mentioned Iraq only once, in crediting The Citadel cadets who had fought and died there.
Before Romney even took the podium, criticism of his proposals flooded in from both sides of the aisle.
Democratic operatives disputed Romney's suggestion that President Obama ever apologized for America, and emailed reporters news clippings of Romney saying the United States had made "mistakes" in the past. On Twitter, some Democrats also re-posted defense budget numbers first tweeted by the Wall Street Journal, showing defense spending rising, not falling, during Obama's presidency.
And Priorities USA Action, a Democratic Super PAC supporting President Obama released a web video this morning with its own blistering critique of Romney's foreign policy experience.
"Mitt Romney may have no experience fighting terror," the ad said. "But he does have some experience with foreign countries -- sending our jobs to them."
On the Republican side, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who will give his own foreign policy speech on Monday, tweeted during the speech: "Advocating for only more ships, more troops and more weapons isn’t a viable foreign policy."
After the speech, DNC officials looked to link Romney's foreign policy vision to that of former President Bush, with whom Romney now shares a number of advisers, including former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and CIA Director Michael Hayden.
Romney advisers disputed the notion that their candidate's plans were more-of-the-same, and noted a number of differences between Romney's views and those of the preceding Republican administration, including an enhanced emphasis on Latin America and the western hemisphere, and a more "businesslike, thoughtful and systematic" approach to foreign policy in general.
And while Romney said he would push for stronger leadership roles for the United States in multilateral organizations like the United Nations, he also argued for the preservation of one key element of the so-called Bush Doctrine, the right of the United States to act unilaterally on the world stage to protect our national interests.
"American leadership will also focus multilateral institutions like the United Nations on achieving the substantive goals of democracy and human rights enshrined in their charters," Romney said. "The United States must fight to return these bodies to their proper role. But know this: while America should work with other nations, we always reserve the right to act alone to protect our vital national interests."
Updated 1:01 p.m.