Mitt Romney set the stage for his impending foreign policy tour with a speech leveling sharp criticism of President Barack Obama, accusing his administration of having weakened America's standing on the international stage.
In a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention, the presumptive Republican nominee accused the administration of leaking classified intelligence information for political reasons, and demanded that automatic defense cuts included in last summer's debt ceiling agreement be undone before taking effect in 2013.
The former Massachusetts governor's alternative, he said, would amount to an "American Century" in which the U.S. wouldn't flinch from a leading international role.
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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during the 113th National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars on July 24 in Reno, Nevada.
"This is very simple: if you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your President. You have that President today," Romney told VFW members gathered in Reno, NV.
The speech was Romney's last official event in the U.S. before embarking on a key journey abroad intended to bolster his foreign policy credentials versus Obama. The trip will take Romney to the United Kingdom, as well as two other nations he name-checked in the speech, Israel and Poland.
Tuesday's speech, along with the trip, comes amid new data in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that shows Obama with a 10-point advantage over Romney on the question of which candidate would serve as a better commander-in-chief.
To that end, Romney sought to weaken Obama's standing on national security issues by highlighting the recent controversy over leaks of classified information - including details of the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden and covert subterfuge meant to slow Iran's nuclear progress - that many Republicans believe were orchestrated by the White House for political gain.
"This conduct is contemptible. It betrays our national interest. It compromises our men and women in the field." Romney said."Whoever provided classified information to the media, seeking political advantage for the administration, must be exposed, dismissed, and punished. The time for stonewalling is over."
Romney also attacked the planned cuts to the defense budget agreed to in a bipartisan debt deal as "wholesale reductions in the nation’s military capacity," and laid full blame at the president's feet. He also linked the cuts to care for veterans - the singular issue in which many in the crowd said they felt the greatest personal investment.
"Mark my words: These cuts would only weaken an already stretched VA system and our solemn commitment that every veteran receives care second to none," Romney said. "If I am president of the United States I will not let that happen."
Romney opposed the deal that congressional Republicans struck with the White House to raise the debt ceiling, though the former Massachusetts governor hasn't specified how else he would have structured such an agreement.
Romney name-dropped two nations that he will visit on his foreign tour, beginning tomorrow, as part of his attack on President Obama by accusing the president of "abandonment" in the case of Poland, which had planned missile defense sites pulled, and of "shabby treatment of one of our finest friends" in Obama's treatment of Israel.
Also notable was what Romney did not say in this major address. He never mentioned Al Qaeda and made only passing reference to Iraq. Two new policy details, flagged by aides to his campaign, were buried in a speech heavier on red rhetorical meat than policy details.
In a fact sheet released during the speech, the Romney campaign called for all future military aid to Egypt to be tied to that nation's upholding of a peace agreement with Israel, and future civilian aid would be linked to good governance measures.
On the prospect of a nuclear Iran, of which Romney said there is "no greater danger in the world today" he pledged yet again to employ "every means necessary to protect ourselves and the region" from the dangers of a nuclear Iran. The fact sheet released by the campaign made clear that this included making sure any negotiated agreement with Iran ascribe to the international "redline" on nuclear enrichment -- that no deal would be considered without Iran fully halting its enrichment activity.