What was billed as a major foreign policy speech today by Mitt Romney contained few new initiatives as the presumptive GOP nominee slammed President Obama on his handling of national security leaks in his administration, looming defense cuts and his "shabby" treatment of Israel.
"This isn't a partisan issue; it's a national security crisis," Romney said of the leaks at a speech to the VFW convention here on the eve of his week-long trip abroad. "This conduct is contemptible. It betrays our national interest. 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 are 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," Romney added.
The Romney campaign has cited a report in which Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who serves as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, pointed to the Obama administration as the potential source of the leaks.
"I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from their ranks," Feinstein reportedly told a World Affairs Council forum.
"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 are 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," Romney said. "And let me make this 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."
In a statement, Feinstein said she does not know the source of the leaks and expressed disappointment and regret for the way the Romney camp is using her comments on leaks against the president.
"I am disappointed by the statements made by Mr. Romney today regarding a question I was asked yesterday at the World Affairs Council. I was asked whether the White House might be responsible for recent national security leaks. I stated that I did not believe the president leaked classified information. I shouldn't have speculated beyond that, because the fact of the matter is I don't know the source of the leaks," Feinstein said. "I'm on record as being disturbed by these leaks, and I regret my remarks are being used to impugn President Obama or his commitment to protecting national security secrets."
In a gaggle with reporters on Air Force One, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the president has made clear he has no tolerance for leaks and that two experienced prosecutors have been tasked with investigating them, a situation the president takes very seriously.
Romney pounced on Obama for taking a backseat on impending defense cuts that take place in January if Congress does not come to agreement on deficit reduction. Romney said the defense cuts will "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 is right," Romney said. "That devastation would start here at home. Mark my words, these 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 allow that to happen."
Romney's speech to the VFW comes before a week-long foreign trip, the first of this campaign for the presumptive GOP nominee, who will travel to London, Israel and Poland in the next week to meet with world leaders.
Acknowledging his upcoming visit to Israel, Romney slammed the president for his "shabby treatment" of Israeli leaders and vowed to discard of this approach should he become president.
"President Obama is fond of lecturing Israel's leaders. He was even caught by a microphone deriding them. He has 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," Romney said. "The people of Israel deserve better than what they have received from the leader of the free world. And the chorus of accusations, threats, and insults at the United Nations should never again include the voice of the President of the United States."
Although many people expected him to outline new concrete foreign-policy initiatives before the trip, Romney presented few policy specifics in his VFW speech, instead focusing primarily on slamming the president on leaks and sequestration.
Romney campaign officials previewing his speech told reporters the presumptive GOP nominee would call for a "complete cessation of uranium enrichment" in Iran in order to ensure the country ends its pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
"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 enrich 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," Romney said in the speech. "At every turn, Iran must know that the United States and our allies stand as one in these critical objectives. Only in 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 is still time."
On Egypt and the Arab world, Romney said as president he would conditionally dedicate billions in assistance and work with allies to ensure that Arab world reaches "freedom and modernity." In a policy paper distributed by the campaign, the Romney camp says he would conditionally tie the $1.3 billion in U.S. military assistance offered to Egypt with a requirement that Egypt maintain its peace agreement with Israel along with placing conditions of good governance and peaceful relations on the additional billions in aid the country receives from the United States.
"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," Romney said.
Romney expressed criticism over the president's decision to announce a timetable for troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. During a November CBS/National Journal debate, Romney said he would support a 2014 drawdown date, a statement he reiterated today, but vowed today to only withdraw from the region after consulting commanders on the ground for assessment of the situation, offering little other specifics on dealing with policy in Afghanistan.
"As president, my goal in Afghanistan will be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014. I will 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," Romney said.
Romney criticized Obama for lacking a clear and decisive foreign-policy vision and presented himself as the alternative to ensuring that American retains a leading position in the world.
"I am an unapologetic believer in the greatness of this country," he said. "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 point on the strategic 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 as much now as ever. And I am guided by one overwhelming conviction and passion: This century must be an American Century," Romney said.
"If we do not 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. I pledge to you that if I become commander-in-chief, the United States of America will fulfill its duty, and its destiny."
In a statement Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden said Romney's speech was full of "empty rhetoric and blunder."
"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," Biden said.