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Romney, Obama Battle Over Foreign Policy Records


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. First this hour, two presidential races - one here in the U.S., the other in Egypt. So far in this country's presidential race, foreign policy has not been at the top of the list of issues. But today, it was a subject of attacks and counterattacks from the Obama and Romney campaigns. NPR's Mara Liasson was listening.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: It's not often that national security and foreign policy are pluses for a Democratic presidential candidate but this year, the Obama campaign is confident about the president's record. Today, at a speech in New York City, Vice President Biden said it could be summed up on a bumper sticker.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It's pretty simple: Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive.

LIASSON: That's become one of Biden's favorite lines but today, he added this:

BIDEN: Had Gov. Romney been president, could he have used the same slogan in reverse?

LIASSON: Biden, who sounded unusually subdued today, went on to blast Romney for a foreign policy Biden said would look like George W. Bush's.

BIDEN: Back to a foreign policy that would have America go it alone; shout to the world you're either with us or against us; lash out first and ask the hard questions later, if they get asked at all; isolate America instead of isolating our enemies; waste hundreds of billions of dollars, and risk thousands of America's lives, on a war that's unnecessary.

LIASSON: Mitt Romney was also in New York City today, but he was attending private fundraisers and left the counterattack to his foreign policy advisers, including Dan Senor, a former Bush administration official who, on a conference call, accused President Obama of departing from the foreign policy principles upheld by every modern American president except Jimmy Carter.

DAN SENOR: Principles like America will stand by its allies; America will stand by dissidents fighting for freedom; and three, that America will have the military resources to send a message symbolically, to back up these principles. There's basically been a consensus.

LIASSON: And, Senor pointedly added:

SENOR: So it's President Obama who's an outlier, in terms of America's leadership in the world.

LIASSON: This idea is a constant for Gov. Romney, who often says Mr. Obama, quote, "takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe." Here's Romney at The Citadel in October, in his only foreign policy speech of the campaign to date.

MITT ROMNEY: I will not surrender America's role in the world. This is very simple: If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on Earth, I'm not your president. You have that president today.


LIASSON: Romney has laid out only a few, specific differences with the president on foreign policy. He would reverse Mr. Obama's defense cuts; and he suggests he'd be tougher on Iran, Syria, North Korea and China. On the increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan, Romney supports the president's plan to pull out U.S. troops in 2014 - contingent on the advice of the military - although Romney says he never would have announced the date publicly. Dan Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University.

DAN DREZNER: Romney's best line of attack is going to be to try to paint Obama as someone who advocates foreign policies that are out of the American mainstream. And this is sort of the subtle way of suggesting that Obama is somehow different and therefore, not truly American.

LIASSON: For both President Obama and Gov. Romney, foreign policy has become a proxy for Romney's charge that the president has undermined the U.S. at home and abroad, and for Mr. Obama's charge that Romney wants to turn back the clock to the policies - domestic and foreign - of the Bush administration. Dan Drezner says American voters don't usually care about foreign policy - except in one, important way.

DREZNER: All major candidates, I think, have to meet a minimum foreign policy threshold. For lack of a better way of putting it, I do think voters care enough about foreign policy so they want to look at whoever is running for president and think yes, I can picture that person sitting in a room with the premier of China, or with the prime minister of Great Britain, and they will ably represent U.S. interests.

LIASSON: Romney has next to no foreign policy experience outside his business career, but Drezner thinks he already cleared that threshold in the primaries, if only because he seemed more sober and mainstream than his more hawkish or isolationist Republican opponents. As for the president, he doesn't have to do much to call attention to his credentials as commander-in-chief. Tomorrow, for example, he and the first lady travel to Fort Stewart, Georgia, to meet with soldiers; and next Tuesday is the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.

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