Updated: October 8, 2012 11:07AM
LEXINGTON, Va. — Republican Mitt Romney said Monday the risk of conflict in the Middle East conflict “is higher now” than it was when President Barack Obama took office. He proposed that the U.S. take a more assertive role in Syria and claimed Obama’s withdrawal of troops from Iraq has jeopardized U.S. interests.
Declaring that “it’s time to change course in the Middle East” and accusing Obama of “passivity,” the Republican presidential nominee called for the U.S. to work with other countries to arm the Syrian rebels to help them defeat President Bashar Assad’s army. Romney aides said he is not calling for the U.S. to directly arm the Syrian rebels, but said he would support providing them with enough force to force Assad from power.
Romney said the American gains in Iraq — won during the war started by President George W. Bush — have eroded. “America’s ability to influence events for the better in Iraq has been undermined by the abrupt withdrawal of our entire troop presence,” he said.
In a speech at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney looked to paint the Democratic incumbent as a weak leader who has limited America’s influence on global affairs.
While Romney took a hawkish tone during the GOP primaries earlier this year, Monday’s address highlighted the work of “patriots of both parties” and looked to cast the Republican nominee as a statesman and part of a long and bipartisan tradition of American leadership in the world.