Obama: I've Proven Democrats Not 'Weak on Defense'

MANHATTAN - President Obama says his administration's foreign policy over the past three years  effectively neutralizes longstanding Republican criticism that Democratic presidents are "weak on defense."

"When it comes to foreign policy, I'm actually finding it very interesting," Obama told a group of his wealthiest campaign donors at a $35,800-a-plate dinner at ABC Kitchen, the trendy Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant on the Lower East Side.

"The other side traditionally seems to feel that Democrats are somehow weak on defense, but they've had a little trouble making that argument this year because what we've shown is there's no contradiction between being tough and strong and protecting the American people but also abiding by those values that make America great," he said.

Obama added that "believing in diplomacy,  believing in engagement, believing that it's not a sign of weakness when we try to resolve issues peacefully, even as we're prepared when we need to, for our own security, to act militarily" have been hallmarks of his approach since 2009.

Republicans, including the party's leading presidential contenders, have consistently assailed Obama as a weak commander in chief and international leader.  In a major foreign policy speech late last year, GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney called Obama "feckless" and claimed he did not want the U.S. to be "the strongest nation on earth."

Obama indirectly rebuffed the criticism on several occasions during his fundraising swing through New York City tonight, hailing a successful end to the war in Iraq, preservation of a "sacrosanct commitment" to Israeli security and the killing of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.

"Al Qaeda is weaker than it's ever been, and bin Laden is no more," Obama told a gathering of 100 donors at the Upper West Side home of Sarah and Victor Kovner, drawing resounding applause.

"There's no contradiction between having a smart foreign policy, a foreign policy that is consistent with our values, but also being tough and looking out for America's national security," Obama said.

Obama's foreign policy will be thrust back into the spotlight early next week when  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the White House for discussions about the Middle East peace process and the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program.

"The sacrosanct commitment that we make to Israel's security is not only a matter of providing them the military capabilities they need, not only providing the sort of qualitative military edge that they need in a very tough neighborhood, but also that we are a partner with them to try to bring about a peace in the region that can be lasting," he said. "And that is a challenge."