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Analysts Try To Define Romney's Foreign Policy


Now, one way Mitt Romney has challenged President Obama is by going after his foreign policy record. Romney has been especially critical of the president's handling of Iran and Syria. But those attacks aside, some analysts say it's been hard to define where Romney stands on key international issues and whether he differs all that much from the president.

Here's NPR's Jackie Northam.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Till now, the presidential campaign has largely focused on the dismal economy here in the U.S. But with a number of serious situations brewing overseas - in Pakistan, for example, and North Korea and China - there are increasing questions about how Mitt Romney would respond to a crisis.

During a speech at the Citadel late last year, he promised the U.S. would be resolute and that it would always retain its military supremacy.

MITT ROMNEY: American foreign policy must be prosecuted with clarity and resolve. Our friends and allies must have no doubts about where we stand, and neither should our rivals.

NORTHAM: The speech broadly laid out how he would deal with some of the more difficult international challenges. But Jon Alterman with the Center for Strategic and International Studies says Romney has been consistently short on details when it comes to foreign policy issues and that he prefers to deflect.

JON ALTERMAN: Instead, there's an effort to say the president is wrong without a really clear sense of how the president's wrong and what a Romney administration would do dramatically differently.

NORTHAM: But Rich Williamson, Romney's foreign policy advisor, says there's a profound difference between the two men. Williamson says unlike President Obama, Romney would not have false hopes about engagement with so-called rogue nations and would use a credible threat of violence.

RICH WILLIAMSON: The fundamental differences about a naive faith in engagement and a dangerous reliance on the Security Council versus having an approach where you have strength, where you're willing to lead, and where you have strong relationships with our friends and allies.

NORTHAM: Romney demonstrated that approach during a Republican debate last year, when he knocked Mr. Obama for his handling of Iran's controversial nuclear program.

ROMNEY: Look, one thing you can know, and that is if we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if we elect Mitt Romney, if you elect me as the next president, they will not have a nuclear weapon.

NORTHAM: But Alterman says when pressed Romney could not offer up a strategy that was much different from President Obama's. Alterman says over course of the campaign, Romney has made conflicting statements about foreign policy. Regarding Syria, he suggested that President Obama be more aggressive, yet Romney also suggested that he would not be anxious to use military force there. Richard Stoll, a professor of political science at Rice University in Houston, says few presidential candidates or presidents have a background in foreign policy and they have to rely on their advisors.

RICHARD STOLL: And if you look at Romney's advisors, they are sort of a collection of people, many of whom are sort of known within the foreign policy community - they tend to be kind of hardliners.

NORTHAM: Analysts say some in the Republican establishment are concerned about this hardline approach. In one of his political ads, Romney says if he's elected, on day one he will declare China a currency manipulator. And some of Romney's comments hark back to the Cold War. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell called him out on it during an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program.


NORTHAM: Powell has not endorsed Romney nor have other Republican foreign policy heavyweights, such as Henry Kissinger or Brent Scowcroft. But last week, two former secretaries of state did - Condoleezza Rice and George Schultz. Rice University's Stoll says Romney's forward-leaning positions may have to be tempered if he gets into office.

STOLL: I think any candidate, Republican or Democrat, wants to portray things as being somewhat simple, but then once you get into office it's a lot more complicated.

NORTHAM: And Stoll says Romney has five months before the election to better articulate his message. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.

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