Mitt Romney slams President Barack Obama on a variety of fronts Tuesday in a major foreign policy speech he delivered at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Nevada. Romney spoke before departing on visits to London, Poland and Israel later this week.
Obama has "diminished American leadership" and has not been a strong friend of Israel, an assertion the Obama team strongly denies. Vice President Joe Biden said Obama has done more for Israeli security "than any president since Harry Truman."
Romney said in his speech he will not take swings at Obama while abroad...there is a custom about not overtly campaigning or criticizing an administration while out of the U.S.
Romney on Israel and his trip: "I'm going to be leaving Reno this evening on a trip abroad. It will take me to England, Poland and Israel. And since I wouldn't venture into another country to question American foreign policy, I'll tell you right here before I leave what I think of this administration's shabby treatment of one of our finest friends.
"President Obama is fond of lecturing Israel's leaders. He's even caught -- he was even caught by a microphone deriding them. He's undermined their position, which was tough enough as it was. And even at the United Nations, to the enthusiastic applause of Israel's enemies, he spoke as if our closest ally in the Middle East was the problem.
"The people of Israel deserve better than what they have received from the leader of the free world. And the chorus -- and the chorus of accusations and threats and insults at the United Nations should never again include the voice of the president of the United States."
Click below for transcript of Romney speech followed by Biden statement...
Remarks by Mitt Romney Tuesday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Convention in Reno...
Transcript courtesy Federal News Service
MITT ROMNEY: Thank you so much. Thank you. (Cheers.) Thank you! (Cheers, applause.)
That was a quite an introduction. But thank you, Commander DeNoyer. I appreciate your generous words. And it's -- it's a real source of pride for us to see a combat veteran from Massachusetts serving as the national commander of the VFW. Great job, Commander. Thank you. (Applause.)
Ladies Auxiliary President Grand Rank -- Glen -- Gwen Rankin, incoming National Commander John Hamilton, incoming Ladies Auxiliary President Leanne Lemley, Adjutant General Allen "Gunner" Kent, executive director Bob Wallace, distinguished guests and members of the VFW, thank for your generous welcome.
Now I want to start today with a few words about the unimaginable tragedy in Colorado last week. We've since learned that among the victims were four people who had served or were serving our country in uniform. Today our hearts go out to the families of John Larimer of the United States Navy; Rebecca Wingo, an Air Force veteran; Jesse Childress, an Army veteran and member of the Air Force Reserve; and Jonathan Blunk, a Navy veteran who died shielding his girlfriend from a spray of bullets.
The loss of four Americans who served our country only adds to the profound tragedy that day. All Americans are grateful for their service and deeply saddened by their deaths. We mourn them and we remember them.
Now, the VFW, as you know, is now over 2 million strong. It has a special place in America's heart. Some of you fought recently in Iraq or Afghanistan; others are old enough to have marched, flown or sailed by orders of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Whatever your age, whether you're Republican or Democrat, whenever you served, there's one thing you have in common -- you answered the call of your country in a time of war.
From December 7th -- (cheers, applause) -- from December 7th, 1941, to September 11th, 2001, whenever America has been tested, you stepped forward. You come from our farms, our great cities, our small towns and quiet neighborhoods. Many of you have known violence so that your neighbors could know peace. You've done more than protect America; your courage and service defines America. You're America at our best. And it's an honor to address you today. (Applause.)
Our veterans are part of a proud tradition that stretches back to the battlefields of Lexington and Concord, and now to places like Fallujah and Kandahar. Year after year, our men and women in uniform have added proud achievements to their record of service. President Obama appropriately pointed to some of them yesterday in his speech. Any time our military accomplishes a vital mission, it's a proud moment for our nation.
But we owe our veterans and our military more than just an accounting of our successes. They deserve a fair and frank assessment of the whole picture of where we are and where we want to be. And when it comes to national security and foreign policy, as with our economy, the last few years have been a time of declining influence and missed opportunity.
Just consider some of the challenges I discussed with you at your last national convention. Since then, has the American economy recovered? Has our ability to shape world events been enhanced or diminished? Have we gained greater confidence among our allies, and greater respect from our adversaries? And, perhaps most importantly, has the most severe security threat facing America and our friends, a nuclear-armed Iran, become more likely or less likely?
These clear measures are the ultimate tests of American leadership. And by these standards, we haven't seen much in the president's first term that inspires confidence in a second. The president's policies have made it harder to recover from the deepest recession in 70 years, exposed the military to cuts that no one can justify, compromised our national-security secrets. (Applause.) And in dealings with other nations, he has given trust where it is not earned, insult where it was not deserved, and apology where it is not due. (Cheers, applause.)
From Berlin to Cairo to the United Nations, President Obama has shared his view of America and its place among nations.
I've come here today to share mine.
I am an unapologetic believer in the greatness of America. (Cheers, applause.) I am not ashamed of American power. I take pride that throughout history, our power has brought justice where there was tyranny, peace where there was conflict and hope where there was affliction and despair. I do not view America as just one more place on the map, one more power to be balanced. I believe our country is the greatest force for good the world has ever known and that our influence is needed today as ever before. (Applause.)
And I am guided by one overwhelming conviction and passion: This century must be an American century. In 1941 Henry Luce called on his countrymen, just then realizing their strength, to create the first great American century. And they did: Together with their allies, they won World War II, they rescued Europe, they defeated communism, and America took its place as leader of the free world. Across the globe, they fought, they bled, they led. They showed the world the extraordinary courage of the American heart and the generosity of the American spirit.
That courage and generosity remains unchanged today, but sadly, the president has diminished American leadership, and we're reaping the consequences. The world is dangerous, destructive, chaotic. And the two men running to be your commander in chief must offer their answers to the challenges we face. Like a watchman in the night, we must remain at our posts and keep guard of the freedom that defines us and ennobles us and our friends.
In an American century, we have the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world. In an American century, we secure peace through our strength. And if, by absolute necessity, we must employ it, we must wield our strength with resolve. In an American century, we lead the free world, and the free world leads the entire world. If we don't have the strength or vision to lead, then other powers will take our place, pulling history in a very different direction. A just and peaceful world depends on a strong and confident America. And I pledge to you that if I become commander in chief, the United States of America will fulfill its destiny and its duty. (Applause.)
Now, our leadership depends, as it always has, on our economic strength, on our military strength and on our moral strength. If any one of those falter, no skill of diplomacy or presidential oratory could compensate. And today, as you know, the strength of our economy is in jeopardy. And a healthy American economy is what underwrites American power.
When growth is missing, government revenue falls, social spending rises, and many in Washington look to cut defense spending as an easy way out. That includes our current president.
Today we are just months away from an arbitrary, across-the-board budget reduction that would saddle the military with a trillion dollars in cuts, severely shrink our force structure and impair our ability to meet and deter threats. Don't bother, by the way, trying to find a serious military rationale behind any of that, unless that rationale is wishful thinking. Strategy is not driving the president's massive defense cuts. In fact, his own secretary of defense warned that these reductions would be devastating. And he's right.
And that devastation starts at home. Mark my words, those cuts would only weaken an already stretched VA system and our solemn commitment that every veteran receives care second to none. If I am president of the United States, I will not let that happen. (Applause.)
This is no time for the president's radical cuts in our military. Look around the world. Other major powers are rapidly adding to their military capabilities, some with intentions very different than our own. The regime in Tehran is drawing closer to developing a nuclear weapon. The threat of radical Islamic terrorism persists. The threat of weapons -- of weapons of mass destruction proliferation is ever present. And we're still at war and still have uniformed men and women in conflict.
All this and more is going on the world. And yet the president had -- has chosen this moment for wholesale reductions in the nation's military capacity.
When the biggest announcement in the last State of the Union address on improving our military was that the Pentagon will start using more clean energy, then you know it's time for a change. (Cheers, applause.)
Now, we're not the first people to observe this. It's important that Bob Gates, the president's first secretary of defense, bluntly addressed another security problem within this administration. After secret operational details of the bin Laden raid were given to reporters, Secretary Gates walked into the West Wing and told the Obama team to shut up, and he added a colorful word for emphasis. Lives of American servicemen and women are at stake.
But astonishingly, the administration failed to change its ways. More top secret operations were leaked, even some involving covert action going on in Iran. This isn't a partisan issue. It's a national security crisis. Just yesterday Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein, who's chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, and I quote, I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from their ranks, end quote. This conduct is contemptible. It betrays our national interests. It compromises our men and women in the field.
And it demands a full and prompt investigation by a special counsel with explanation and consequence. Obama appointees who were accountable to President Obama's attorney general should not be responsible for investigating the leaks coming from the Obama White House.
Whoever provided classified information to the media, seeking political advantage for the administration, must be exposed, dismissed and punished. The time for stonewalling is over. (Applause.)
It's not enough to say the matter is being looked into and just leave it at that. When the issue is the political use of highly sensitive national security information, it is unacceptable to say, we'll report our findings after the election.
Exactly who in the White House betrayed these secrets? Did a superior authorize it? These are things that Americans are entitled to know and they're entitled to know now. If the president believes, as he said last week, that the buck stops with him, then he owes all Americans a full and prompt accounting of the facts. (Applause.)
And let me be very clear: These events make the decision we face in November all the more important. What kind of White House would reveal classified material for political gain? I'll tell you right now: Mine will not. (Applause.)
As you know, the harm that's done when national security secrets are betrayed extends to the trust that allies placed in the United States. The operating principle of American foreign policy has been to work with our allies so that we can deter aggression before it breaks out into conflict. That policy depends on nurturing our alliances, standing up for our values.
Yet the president's moved in the opposite direction. It began with the sudden abandonment of friends in Poland and the Czech Republic.
They'd courageously agreed to provide sites for our anti-missile defense systems, only to be told, at the last hour, that the agreement was off. As a part of the so-called reset in policy, missile defenses were sacrificed as a unilateral concession to the Russian government. And if that gesture was designed to inspire good will from Russia, it clearly missed the mark. The Russian government defended the dictator in Damascus, (aiming/aiding ?) him as he slaughtered the Syrian people.
We can only guess what Vladimir Putin makes of the Obama administration. He regained the Russian presidency in a corrupt election, and for that, he got a congratulatory call from the Oval Office. And then there was that exchange picked up by a microphone that President Obama didn't know was on. We heard him asking Dmitry Medvedev to tell Mr. Putin to give him space. This is my last election, he said; after my election, I'll have more flexibility.
Why is it that flexibility with Russian leaders is important to him than transparency for the American people? (Applause.)
Now, the president did have a moment of candor, however, just the other day. He said that the actions of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez have not had a serious national security impact on us. In my view, inviting Hezbollah into our hemisphere is severe, it's serious, and it's a threat, and I'll recognize it as such. (Applause.)
But at least he was being consistent. After all, this is the president who faltered when the Iranian people were looking for support in their struggle against the ayatollahs. That uprising was treated as an inconvenient problem for the president's policy of engagement, instead of a moral and strategic opportunity.
That terrible misjudgment should never be repeated. When unarmed men and women in Tehran find the courage to confront their oppressors, at risk of torture and death, they should hear the unequivocal voice of an American president affirming their right to be free.
I'm going to be leaving Reno this evening on a trip abroad. It will take me to England, Poland and Israel. And since I wouldn't venture into another country to question American foreign policy, I'll tell you right here before I leave what I think of this administration's shabby treatment of one of our finest friends.
President Obama is fond of lecturing Israel's leaders. He's even caught -- he was even caught by a microphone deriding them. He's undermined their position, which was tough enough as it was. And even at the United Nations, to the enthusiastic applause of Israel's enemies, he spoke as if our closest ally in the Middle East was the problem.
The people of Israel deserve better than what they have received from the leader of the free world. And the chorus -- and the chorus of accusations and threats and insults at the United Nations should never again include the voice of the president of the United States. (Applause.)
There are values and causes and nations that depend on American strength, on the clarity of our purpose and on the reliability of our commitments. There is work in this world that only America and our allies can do, hostile powers that only we can deter and challenges that only we can overcome.
For the past decade among those challenges has been the war in Afghanistan. As commander in chief, I will have a solemn duty to our men and women in uniform.
The president owes our troops, their families and the American people a clear explanation of our mission and the commitment not to play politics with the decisions of war.
I've been critical of the president's decision to withdraw the surge troops during the fighting season, against the advice of commanders on the ground. The president would have you believe that anyone who disagrees with his decision is arguing for endless war. But the route to more war and potentially to attacks here at home is the politically timed retreat. As president, my goal in Afghanistan would be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014. And I'll evaluate conditions on the ground and solicit the best advice of our military commanders. And I will affirm that my duty is not to my political prospects, but to the security of the nation and the safety of our troops. (Cheers, applause.)
We face another challenge in a rising China. China is attentive to the interests of its government, but it too often disregards the rights of its people. It's selective in the freedoms it allows. And as with its one child policy, it can be ruthless in crushing the freedoms it denies.
In conducting trade with America, it permits flagrant patent and copyright violations, forestalls American businesses from competing in its market and manipulates currency to obtain unfair advantage. It's in our mutual interest, of course, for China to be a partner for a stable and secure world. And we welcome its participation in trade. But the cheating must finally be brought to a stop. The president hasn't done it and won't do it, and I will.
We will need that same clarity of purpose and resolve in the Middle East. America can't be neutral in the outcome there. We've got to clearly stand for the values of representative government, economic opportunity and human rights. And we must stand against the extension of Iranian or jihadist influence.
Egypt's at the center of this drama. In many ways, it has the power to tip the balance in the Arab world toward freedom and modernity. As president, I'll not only direct the billions in assistance we give to Egypt toward that goal, but I'll also work with partner nations to place conditions on their assistance as well.
Unifying our collective influence behind a common purpose will foster the development of a government that represents all Egyptians, maintains peace with Israel and promotes peace throughout the region. The United States is willing to help Egypt support peace and prosperity, but we will not be complicit in oppression and instability.
Now, there's no greater danger in the world today than the prospect of ayatollahs in Tehran possessing nuclear weapons capacity. Yet for all the talks and conferences, all the extensions and assurances, can anyone really say we're farther from this danger now than we were four years ago?
The same ayatollahs who each year mark a holiday by leading chants of "death to America" are not going to be talked out of their pursuit of nuclear weapons. What's needed is all the firmness, clarity and moral courage that we and our allies can gather. Sanctions must be enforced without exception, cutting off the regime's sources of wealth. Negotiations must secure full and unhindered access for inspections.
As it is, the Iranian regime claims the right to enriched nuclear material for supposedly peaceful purposes. This claim, of course, is discredited by years of deception. A clear line has to be drawn: There must be a full suspension of any enrichment whatsoever, period. (Applause.)
And at every turn, Iran must know that the United States and our allies stand as one in these critical objectives. Only this way can we successfully counter the catastrophic threat that Iran represents to us and the world. I pledge to you and to all Americans that if I become commander in chief, I will use every means necessary to protect ourselves and the region, and to prevent the worst from happening while there's still time.
It's a mistake, and sometimes a tragic one, to think that firmness in American foreign policy can only bring only tension or conflict. The surest path to danger is always weakness and indecision. In the end, it's resolve that moves events in our direction, and strength that keeps the peace. I will not surrender America's leadership in the world. We must have confidence in our cause, clarity in our purpose, and resolve in our might.
This is very simple: If you don't want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I'm not your president. But with his cuts to the military, you have that president today.
The 21st century can and must be an American century.
It began with terror, war, economic calamity. It's our duty to steer it onto the path of freedom and peace and prosperity.
Fewer members of the greatest generation are with us here today. And they can't hold the torch as high as they have in the past. They're getting older. It's now our turn. We've got to seize that torch they've carried so gallantly and at such great sacrifice. It's an eternal torch of decency and freedom and hope. It's not America's torch alone, but it's America's duty and honor to hold it high enough so the whole world can see it.
I love America. I love what America represents. I love the sacrifice America has made for freedom throughout the world. This is a critical time for our nation, a time of choice, a time to determine what America is going to be over this century. You know where I will lead it. We will have another American century with freedom blossoming and prosperity for all of our citizens, because I believe in America. I believe in you. I salute you. And together, we'll make sure we keep America the hope of the earth.
Thank you so very much, and God bless the VFW and the United States of America. (Cheers, applause.)
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN STATEMENT
Statement from Vice President Biden on Mitt Romney's VFW Remarks
CHICAGO - Vice President Joe Biden issued the following statement in response to Mitt Romney's remarks to the VFW National Convention today:
"Over the past three years, President Obama has taken the fight directly to America's enemies, confronting al-Qaeda head on and taking out Osama bin Laden. He ended the war in Iraq responsibly and has a plan to do the same in Afghanistan. He has done more for Israel's security than any President since Harry Truman, led international efforts to put the most pressure in history on Iran, protected the people of Libya from a brutal dictator and helped rebuild our alliances across the globe. He saved our economy from collapse with bold decisions, including the rescue of the automobile industry - which has made us stronger abroad. Because of President Obama's leadership, Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.
"Today, Governor Romney had an opportunity to fulfill a long-standing promise by laying out his foreign policy vision and agenda. He had a chance to say how he would lead as Commander-in-Chief. Instead, all we heard from Governor Romney was empty rhetoric and bluster. He reflexively criticizes the President's policies without offering any alternatives. When he does venture a position, it's a safe bet that he previously took exactly the opposite position and will probably change his mind again and land in the wrong place - far out of the mainstream. Or he mischaracterizes our record to create a non-existent contrast.
"Governor Romney supported the President's timeline to end the war in Afghanistan, then he opposed it and now it is hard to know where he stands. His misguided criticism of the President's new defense strategy is undermined by the fact that strategy was designed with and supported by the entire Defense Department senior leadership, uniform and civilian. It provides for a more agile, flexible force, better able to confront aggressors and project power, with strong partnerships to share the burden and smart investments in cutting edge capabilities. We proposed a budget to fully fund that strategy and keep faith with our veterans.
"When it comes to Russia - which he recently called "our number one geo-political foe" - Governor Romney remains mired in a Cold War mindset. We have serious disagreements with Moscow, but our cooperation has made the American people more secure. Russia cancelled the sale of cutting edge radar to Iran and joined us in imposing the toughest sanctions in history on Tehran. Together, we negotiated a major nuclear arms reduction treaty - New START - that virtually the entire Republican foreign policy establishment supported but Governor Romney and a very small group of Cold War holdovers opposed.
On Poland and missile defense:
"On the eve of his trip to Poland, the Governor is either profoundly misinformed - or misinforming the American people. He asserts that the President abandoned a missile defense system in that country. President Obama asked me to secure Allied support for a new missile defense plan for Europe. Who did we ask to host its main components? Poland, along with Turkey, Romania, Germany and Spain. These countries and all of NATO embraced our approach because it protects more of Europe more quickly than the old plan.
"Governor Romney continues his long litany of untruths about our administration's policies toward Israel. We've provided record levels of security assistance, funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system that intercepted nearly 80 percent of the rockets recently fired from Gaza, close collaboration on longer range missile defense systems, the largest joint military exercises in history, the most consistent and comprehensive exchanges ever between our top political, defense, security and intelligence officials. And, contrary to Governor Romney's outrageous accusation that the President joined in the chorus of insults levied against Israel at the United Nations, President Obama has stood up repeatedly, publicly and often alone against efforts to delegitimize Israel at the U.N. and around the world.
"On Iran, Governor Romney does a compelling job laying out exactly what the Administration is already doing. The only step he seems to think we should take that we are not already taking is to launch a war. If that is what the Governor is for, he should tell the American people.
On al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden:
"One thing the Governor did not talk about today was al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. That's not surprising. When he last ran for President, Governor Romney was asked what he would do about bin Laden. He said then: 'it is not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.' We know how Obama answered that question: by ordering our intelligence services to leave no stone unturned in the hunt for bin Laden, and then authorizing one of the highest risk missions ever to capture or kill our number one enemy.
"Thanks to President Obama's leadership, bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive -- and everything we have learned from Governor Romney today and during this campaign tells the American people that a Romney presidency would have resulted in just the opposite."