Sept. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Mitt Romney, responding to days of attacks by President Barack Obama and his campaign on national security, told National Guard members the U.S. must maintain a strong military as he pledged to improve benefits for veterans.
Early in his remarks yesterday, Romney said that, in recognition of the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., he wouldn’t focus on differences between his plans and Obama’s on defense policy and foreign affairs.
Yet, under sustained assault from the Obama campaign for failing to mention in his nomination acceptance speech the protracted U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Republican presidential candidate outlined how “American military power is vital to the preservation of our own security” and the “preservation of peace around the world.”
Along with citing Afghanistan and Iraq several times, he also used his speech in Reno, Nevada, to call for improved care for veterans -- attacking the current system as “in need of serious and urgent reform” -- and to decry the automatic cuts to defense spending scheduled to start next year.
“Time and again, America’s military might has been the best ally of liberty and peace: American forces rescued Europe, twice,” Romney said at the National Guard Association of the United States conference. “America’s military leads the fight against terrorism around the world -- and secures the global commons to keep them safe for the trade and commerce that are vital to lifting people from poverty.”
The Obama team has seized on Romney’s omission of references to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars in his Republican National Convention address, spotlighting it since his Aug. 30 remarks that wrapped up the gathering in Tampa, Florida.
Obama, addressing the Democratic National convention on Sept. 6, said Romney and Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican vice presidential candidate, were “new to foreign policy.” That thrust by the president is part of an effort to turn the tables on the traditional roles of the parties in the debate over national security.
In the 2004 campaign, then-President George W. Bush and his allies depicted the Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, as weak on defense. Senator John McCain of Arizona, Obama’s Republican opponent in 2008 and a former Navy pilot, attacked the then-Illinois senator for his opposition to the surge of troops in Iraq and his willingness to negotiate with countries including Iran.
Seeking to deflect the attacks on his credentials to serve as commander in chief, Romney yesterday told his audience of making phone calls to spouses and other relatives of National Guard members he met during a tour of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006 while he was governor of Massachusetts. “I made 63 calls on Memorial Day,” when he had returned home, he said.
Romney said the world remains dangerous and he can’t predict what new threats may emerge in the coming years.
“On Sept. 10, 2001, we had no idea that America would be at war in Afghanistan,” Romney said. “In December of 2010, we had no idea that a Tunisian street vendor would inspire a revolution that would topple three dictators. We live in a time of turbulence and disruption.”
He asserted that “this century must be an American century.” To ensure that, he said, “America must lead the free world, and the free world must lead the entire world. In our dealings with other nations, we must demonstrate confidence in our cause, clarity in our purpose and resolve in our might.”
Romney, who typically on the stump attacks Obama for lacking such clarity and resolve, refrained from doing so yesterday.
He did offer his usual criticism, without mentioning the president’s name, of the automatic cuts to federal spending starting in January 2013 that Obama and Republican congressional leaders agreed to last year as part of a battle over the U.S. debt. Those cuts include defense spending reductions of $500 billion, and have been criticized as a risk to national security by Republicans and Democrats alike. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said the cuts would be a “disaster.”
The return of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan “cannot and must not be used as an excuse to hollow out our military through devastating defense budget cuts,” Romney said. “We cannot cancel program after program; we cannot jeopardize critical missions, and we cannot cut corners in the quality of the equipment and training we provide.”
Recalling the Sept. 11, 2001, attack, Romney said he was in Washington that day meeting with members of Congress about security preparations for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, that he was spearheading. Leaving the city by car, Romney said, he came “within a few hundred yards of the Pentagon, which had been hit.”
“I could smell burning fuel and concrete and metal,” Romney said. “It was the smell of war, something I never imagined I would smell in America.”
The remarks marked a second tribute of the day for Romney, who was greeted at his plane in Chicago in the morning by more than 20 firefighters and first responders lined up in front of six fire trucks and emergency vehicles. The group observed a moment of silence at 7:46 a.m. central standard time, the moment the first plane hit the north tower in New York City.
Romney campaigns in Florida today.
To contact the reporter on this story: Phil Mattingly in Reno, Nevada, at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at email@example.com