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Romney's Citadel Address Hammers Obama on Foreign Policy

Mitt Romney spelled out his differences with Barack Obama on foreign policy. Israel's welfare is part of the Republican consensus.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 10/10/2011, 8:39 AM

Due to the onset of Yom Kippur, Mitt Romney's Friday speech at the Citadel College – a military academy in South Carolina -- did not receive the attention it merited.

The Citadel is located in South Carolina, a key early primary state where Romney was given no chance. Now, with Rick Perry's campaign in the doldrums, Romney is making forays into the state. If he can score in a rock-ribbed conservative state, the game may be over quickly.

Another sign of Romney's growing confidence is that he departed from his signature issue of economic competence to concentrate on foreign policy in his speech.

Romney promised his audience that as president he would restore the United States to its position as undisputed world leader by rebuilding the sources of American strength: "a strong economy, a strong defense, and the enduring strength of our values."

Obama, argued Romney had permitted all three of these sources to atrophy.

Despite America's weakened economic position, America under Romney would not heed the isolationist siren nor would it seek refuge in a balance of power system where the United States is merely one player.

"I will not surrender America’s role in the world. 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."

An important aspect of Romney's speech is his opposition to Obama's "reset" policy of "realistic" accommodation towards Russia. Romney views Putin as yearning for a Soviet style revival and therefore he plans to end the reset. He feels that Putin may attempt "to bludgeon the countries of the former Soviet Union into submission, and intimidate Europe with the levers of its energy resources."

Russian President Dimitry Medvedev has already announced that Russia supports Obama's reelection.

Romney hammered Obama for appearing to accommodate America's rivals while displaying coolness to allies. "Our friends and allies must have no doubts about where we stand. And neither should our rivals." Romney returned to this theme later on in his address:

"And I will bolster and repair our alliances. Our friends should never fear that we will not stand by them in an hour of need. I will reaffirm as a vital national interest Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. I will count as dear our Special Relationship with the United Kingdom."

Romney's address also demonstrated to what extent Israel has become a consensus issue for the overwhelming majority of the Republican Party and its potential candidates.

South Carolina is not noted for its Jewish population, nor is the Citadel's student body Jewish, but Romney recurred to the subject of Israel again and again in his address.

This started with the foreign policy hazards he saw facing the United States in the immediate future. The first problem that he mentioned was the threat posed by a nuclear Iran: "a nuclear Iran is nothing less than an existential threat to Israel. Iran's suicidal fanatics could blackmail the world."

Romney feared that those "who seek Israel's destruction" could feel emboldened by American ambivalence and this could force Israel into fighting another war for its existence.

Romney pledged to help transform the UN and other international bodies who have become "forums for the tantrums of tyrants and the airing of the world’s most ancient of prejudices: anti-Semitism."

To counter Iran, Romney pledged to station two carrier groups on a regular basis -- one in the Eastern Mediterranean and the second in the Persian Gulf region. "I will begin discussions with Israel to increase the level of our military assistance and coordination. And I will again reiterate that Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is unacceptable."

Among the forces opposing the United States, Romney singled out fundamentalist Islam, something from which the Obama administration has shied away.

In summation, Romney's address left no doubt that he was an internationalist and not a realist of the James Baker-Brent Scowcroft school of thought.