Romney shifts to foreign policy

Speech today to put focus of campaign on national security

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WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney is intensifying his efforts to draw a sharp contrast with President Barack Obama on national security in the presidential campaign's closing stages, portraying the Democratic incumbent as having mishandled the tumult in the Arab world and having left the nation exposed to a terrorist attack in Libya.

In a speech today at the Virginia Military Institute, Mr. Romney will declare that "hope is not a strategy" for dealing with the rise of Islamist governments in the Middle East or an Iran racing toward the capability to build a nuclear weapon, according to excerpts released by his campaign. The essence of Mr. Romney's argument is that he would take the United States back to an earlier era, one that would result, as his young foreign policy director, Alex Wong, told reporters on Sunday, in "the restoration of a strategy that served us well for 70 years."

But beyond his critique of Mr. Obama as failing to project American strength abroad, Mr. Romney has yet to fill in many of the details of how he would conduct policy toward the rest of the world, or to resolve deep ideological rifts within the Republican Party and his own foreign policy team. It is a disparate and politely fractious team of advisers that includes warring tribes of neoconservatives, traditional strong-defense conservatives, and a band of self-described "realists" who believe there are limits to the degree the United States can impose its will.

Each group is vying to shape Mr. Romney's views, usually through policy papers that many of the advisers wonder if he is reading. Indeed, in a campaign that has been so intensely focused on economic issues, some of these advisers, in interviews over the past two weeks in which most insisted on anonymity, say they have engaged with him so little on issues of national security that they are uncertain what camp he would fall into, and are uncertain themselves about how he would govern.

"Would he take the lead in bombing Iran if the mullahs were getting too close to a bomb, or just back up the Israelis?" one of his senior advisers asked last week. "Would he push for peace with the Palestinians or just live with the status quo? He's left himself a lot of wiggle room."

Indeed, while the theme Mr. Romney plans to hit the hardest in his speech at VMI -- that the Obama era has been one marked by "weakness" and the abandonment of allies -- has political appeal, the specific descriptions of what Mr. Romney would do, on issues like drawing red lines for Iran's nuclear program and threatening to cut off military aid to difficult allies like Pakistan or Egypt if they veer away from American interests, sound at times quite close to Mr. Obama's approach.

And the speech appears to glide past positions Mr. Romney himself took more than a year ago, when he voiced opposition to expanding the intervention in Libya to hunt down Moammar Gadhafi, with what he termed insufficient. He called it "mission creep and mission muddle," though within months, Gadhafi was gone. And last spring, Mr. Romney was caught on tape telling donors he believed "there's just no way" a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can work.

Mr. Romney's speech today calls vaguely for support for Libya's "efforts to forge a lasting government" and to pursue the "terrorists who attacked our consulate in Benghazi and killed Americans." And he said he would "recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security" with Israel. But he does not say he say what resources he would devote to those tasks.

On Sunday in Port St. Lucie, Fla., Mr. Romney painted a dark vision of a second Obama term, telling more than 10,000 cheering supporters that the president would raise taxes on the middle class, weaken the military and explode the deficit if re-elected.

Before a boisterous crowd spread out on a grassy field next to the town square, Mr. Romney tried to capitalize on his momentum from his widely praised debate performance Wednesday.

"We had a little debate earlier this week, and I enjoyed myself," he said, adding that Mr. Obama has been making excuses for his own performance ever since. "Now of course, days later, we're hearing his excuses, and next January, we'll be watching him leave the White House for the last time," Mr. Romney said.

He also expressed confidence that he would capture this critically important state and its 29 electoral votes.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama had no public appearances Sunday but was scheduled to hold two fundraisers in Los Angeles.

Mr. Obama's main event was a "30 Days to Victory" concert at the Nokia Theatre, where Stevie Wonder, Katy Perry and Earth Wind and Fire were scheduled to perform. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and actor George Clooney were also to speak before the president delivered remarks. Six thousand tickets were sold for the event, beginning at $250 each.

Mr. Obama was to begin his evening with a small group of longtime donors at the home of entertainment mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, where Mr. Obama would be joined by former President Bill Clinton.

The president was scheduled to wrap up his night at Wolfgang Puck's WP24 restaurant. With 150 people expected at a cost of $25,000 per person, that event alone could have raised $3.75 million.

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The Washington Post contributed.


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