WASHINGTON — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney outlined his vision of U.S. national security policy on Tuesday, challenging President Barack Obama over everything from classified information leaks to his handling of the war in Afghanistan.
Speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Nev., Romney challenged Obama on what Democrats believe is one of Obama's strengths as he seeks re-election. The former Massachusetts governor was also trying to counter administration claims that he is inexperienced and unprepared for leadership on the world stage.
Here are some of the central tenets of Romney's plan:
Romney wants to reverse the military spending cuts made since Obama came into office, maintaining defense funds at a minimum of 4 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. That level could slide below 4 percent based on current spending cuts under consideration. Romney is also calling for a 67 percent increase in new naval vessels, an additional 100,000 active troops and enhanced missile defense investments.
Like Obama, Romney says Iran cannot be allowed to become capable of building nuclear weapons. But Romney wants to present a clearer military threat to the Islamic republic. He'd order the regular presence of an aircraft carrier in the Eastern Mediterranean and Persian Gulf and look to increase military coordination with U.S. allies in the Arab world and Israel. On sanctions, Romney says he'd withhold exemptions from countries such as China that continue to purchase significant amounts of Iranian oil. He'd also seek an indictment of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for incitement to genocide, though under what tribunal is unclear.
Romney says he won't politicize decisions on troop levels and withdrawal timetables. He'll call for a review of the transition in Afghanistan, but with the same goal as Obama of ending U.S. combat operations in 2014. The pace and scale of withdrawal, however, would be based on conditions on the ground and the advice of military commanders, he says. Afghan President Hamid Karzai would be pressed harder to crack down on corruption, fight the drug trade and advance democracy; Pakistan's government would be pushed to sever links between its intelligence services and militant groups fighting the U.S. across the border in Afghanistan.
Romney wants more military capabilities in the Pacific to challenge Beijing's growing influence in East Asia. Romney says he'll also get tougher with the communist government on its human rights record, respect for religious freedom and minority rights. And on trade, he'll threaten to formally declare China a currency manipulator, punish government subsidies by setting higher tariffs on Chinese products. He says he'll create an international coalition to prevent technology reaching China because it doesn't respect intellectual property rights.
Like Obama, Romney promises support for groups and governments that advance democracy, economic opportunity and human rights. Romney says he'll oppose any extension of Iranian or "jihadist" influence. Wants to convene a world summit to help nations in transition.
Romney says he'll restore the U.S.-Israel relationship, making the Jewish state his first foreign destination as president. He pledges increased military assistance to Israel. The Palestinians face a reduction in aid if they pursue statehood at the United Nations or establish a unity government that includes Hamas.
Echoes Obama's demand that President Bashar Assad must leave power. But Romney says he'd be prepared to arm opposition groups that are aligned with U.S. interests. And he says he'll assure the opposition of American support when it gets the chance to forge a post-Assad government.
Romney wants to reset the Obama "reset" in relations with the Kremlin. He says he'll review the New START agreement that reduced the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals and check Russia's expansionist behavior by helping Central Asian states and European countries reliant on Russian energy. Romney wants greater civil society exchange with Russians to challenge the "authoritarian" practices of the government.
He wants to encourage greater trade with democracies, while countering Iran's interest in the region and helping contain drug gangs. Romney says he'd improve coordination of intelligence among U.S. allies to combat narco-terrorists and prevent Hezbollah from making inroads. He vows to complete a high-tech fence along the U.S.-Mexican border. But he also proposes greater U.S.-Mexican military training cooperation and intelligence sharing to combat drug cartels.
Romney is championing harsher sanctions on the nuclear-powered nation. These would include tougher penalties on banks working with the government and companies engaged in commercial shipping in and out of North Korea.