In a speech Monday, Mitt Romney called for a change of course in the Middle East, criticizing the policies of President Barack Obama in that region.
Romney spoke at the Virginia Military Institute, giving the first hints of his foreign policy agenda in advance of presidential debates on Oct. 16 and Oct. 22 that will address foreign policy.
Romney criticized President Obama's reaction to both the Arab Spring and to the Sept. 11 attack in Libya that killed US Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
“The attacks on America last month should not be seen as random acts. They are expressions of a larger struggle that is playing out across the broader Middle East — a region that is now in the midst of the most profound upheaval in a century. And the fault lines of this struggle can be seen clearly in Benghazi itself,” Romney said.
Romney's speech continued, according to a transcript published by The New York Times:
“The attack on our consulate there on September 11th, 2012, was likely the work of forces affiliated with those that attacked our homeland on September 11th, 2001. This latest assault can’t be blamed on a reprehensible video insulting Islam, despite the administration’s attempts to convince us of that for so long. No, as the administration has finally conceded, these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others, especially on women and girls; who are fighting to control much of the Middle East today; and who seek to wage perpetual war on the West.”
Romney has questioned Obama's response to the Libya attack before. The day after the attack, Romney claimed Obama and his administration "sympathize with those who waged the attacks."
On Syria, Romney said that he would not only support the Syrian rebel mission, but arm and train them. The Obama administration has not provided arms to the rebels.
According to the transcript of his remarks, Romney said, "In Syria I’ll work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and then ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks helicopters and fighter jets."
Romney also put Iran "on notice," saying that the US and their allies must "prevent [Iran] from acquiring nuclear-weapons capability."
Romney's speech acts as a precursor to the upcoming second presidential debate on Oct. 16, where foreign policy will be a main issue.
Following the first presidential debate on Oct. 3, Romney saw a small bump in the polls. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, Romney picked up 2 more points, putting him at 45 points to Obama's 47.
The Obama campaign blasted Romney's speech, calling it full of "heated rhetoric" and "chest-thumping" but short on detail.
"This is Mitt Romney's seventh attempt, by our count, to reboot his foreign policy," said campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki, according to Politico. "When you're commander in chief, you don’t get to bring an Etch a Sketch into the Oval Office. You don’t get second chances, never mind seven chances."
"And as the American people are looking at what he had to say today, but also his record from the last few months, the areas that should be of concern are: This is somebody who leads with chest-pounding rhetoric, he's inexperienced, he’s been clumsy in his handling of foreign policy, and most of all, all of these factors lead to a risk that were going to go back to the same policies that lead us to some of the challenges we faced in the last few years," she said.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said, "On the one hand, [Romney] suggests the president hasn't been supportive enough of the Democratic aspirations of people in the region and on the other hand he says that we should withdraw our conditioned support"