LEXINGTON, Va. — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney slammed his rival's international strategy as weak Monday in a speech at Virginia Military Institute.
Despite his tough tone, the foreign policy positions he outlined hewed close to those held by President Barack Obama.
"I believe that if America does not lead, others will — others who do not share our interests and our values — and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us," Romney said.
The speech lambasted Obama's response to the Arab Spring, specifically his administration's handling of the violent attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
"I want to be very clear: The blame for the murder of our people in Libya, and the attacks on our embassies in so many other countries, lies solely with those who carried them out — no one else," Romney said. "But it is our responsibility and the responsibility of our president to use America's great power to shape history — not to lead from behind, leaving our destiny at the mercy of events."
In the address before more than 500 Virginia Military Institute cadets and local supporters, the former Massachusetts governor made his case to voters that he would be a more capable commander in chief than Obama.
"I know the president hopes for a safer, freer and a more prosperous Middle East allied with the United States. I share this hope," Romney said. "But hope is not a strategy. We cannot support our friends and defeat our enemies in the Middle East when our words are not backed up by deeds, when our defense spending is being arbitrarily and deeply cut, when we have no trade agenda to speak of and the perception of our strategy is not one of partnership, but of passivity."
As president, Romney said, he would work with U.S. partners to arm rebels in Syria, make aid to Egypt conditional on the development of democratic institutions — as well as peace with Israel — and advocate an independent Palestinian state coexisting with Israel.
Romney's most serious charge was that the president's national-security strategy is "not one of partnership but of passivity," said Karl Inderfurth, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a public-policy research institution.
"I think it's fair to ask Gov. Romney: What's his beef?" said Inderfurth, who was an assistant secretary of state under President Bill Clinton. "He basically endorses President Obama's approach on Iran, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and creating a Palestinian state, all the hot-button issues."