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Romney’s foreign policy: peace through strength

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney greets cadets Monday after delivering foreign policy speech VirginiMilitary Institute LexingtVa.  |  Charles

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney greets cadets Monday after delivering a foreign policy speech at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va. | Charles Dharapak~AP

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Updated: November 10, 2012 6:13AM

In a time of chronic unemployment and falling household income, foreign policy probably won’t sway many voters. But in a close election, every vote counts, so Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney took aim at those in the electorate for whom international issues count and delivered a foreign policy address Monday emphasizing strength in contrast to the diffident, differential approach of President Barack Obama.

In perhaps his boldest assertion, Romney challenged Obama’s claim that “the tide of war is receding” by noting the risk for new conflict in the Middle East: The Sept. 11 murders of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya; the widespread assaults on U.S. embassies; the growing menace of al-Qaida and its allies; the threat of the Syrian civil war becoming a regional sectarian conflict, and Iran’s persistent march toward nuclear weapons capability.

While recognizing that Americans are weary of war and the never-ending Mideast turmoil, Romney reasonably argued that America cannot retreat from the world. To do so would create a leadership vacuum that others hostile to U.S. interests would fill.

While arguing for vigorous U.S. leadership, Romney was careful to demand that our allies and those who want our aid meet their obligations as well.

He said NATO allies must help shoulder the burden of common defense by devoting 2 percent of their economies to security funding — a level that only three of the 28 NATO countries reach today. As for those nations who get U.S. taxpayer dollars, “they must meet the responsibilities of every decent modern government — to respect the rights of all of their citizens, including women and minorities, [and] ensure space for civil society . . .” That might not completely please Americans critical of foreign aid, but it justly links aid with the conduct of governments getting it.

While promoting the concept of peace through strength, Romney was not belligerent. Rather, he acknowledged the obvious — Obama’s submissive outreach to the Muslim world and reset with Russia have failed.

The world is ever a dangerous place populated by bad actors who honor and respect only strength. As Osama bin Laden put it, “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.” Obama may have killed bin Laden but he didn’t absorb the terrorist’s 9/11 message.

Romney didn’t shrink from advancing policies that could haunt him if elected. In Syria, he proposed arming “members of the opposition who share our values.” Sorting that out among the many combatants in that civil war is fraught with peril.

While he stuck to Obama’s timetable of a 2014 transfer of responsibility to Afghan security forces, he also said he would consider “the best advice of our military commanders,” seeming to indicate he’s open to some military component beyond then.

With the war in shambles — Obama’s policy of fighting the Taliban to the negotiating table is a failure and nearly one in five coalition casualties comes from attacks by Afghan security and police forces — it’s hard to see what can be gained by more American troop sacrifice.

Romney pledged a renewed commitment to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after Obama bungled it. Romney’s famous recorded remarks that the Palestinians don’t want peace is closer to a realistic assessment.

Still, all in all Romney deserves credit for advancing a foreign policy vision of renewed American leadership, U.S. strength and a demand for our allies to share the burden.

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