TAMPA, Florida: Republicans delivered a scathing indictment of President Barack Obama's national security policy, although the Democrat's aggressive approach has often been compared to that of his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.
Defense and foreign policy, largely a footnote during the first two days of the Republican convention, were the core of speeches by Sen. John McCain, Obama's presidential rival in 2008, and Condoleezza Rice, Bush's secretary of state. Neither uttered Obama's name Wednesday night, but the target of their criticism was clear.
"For four years, we've drifted away from our proudest traditions of global leadership," McCain said. "We've let the challenges we face, both at home and abroad, become harder to solve."
McCain faulted Obama for an unwillingness to use more U.S. military force to stop the months of bloodshed in Syria, as well as for cuts to projected defense spending and a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan and. McCain drew the loudest applause when he criticized the government over suspected national security leaks.
Rice acknowledged the nation's weariness from the two long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that Bush started but said, "If we are not inspired to lead again, one of two things will happen - no one will lead and that will foster chaos - or others who do not share our values will fill the vacuum. ... We do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead - and one cannot lead from behind."
Republicans have seized on the words "leading from behind" that an unnamed Obama adviser used in a New Yorker article, even though the idea is to empower others while avoiding the perception of unilateral U.S. action.
Rice also addressed Syria's growing civil war. "Dictators in Iran and Syria butcher their own people and threaten the security of the region, China and Russia prevent a response, and all wonder, 'Where does America stand?'" she said.
In opinion polls, Obama gets high marks for his handling of foreign policy and edges out Romney on the issue. An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll earlier this month of registered voters found 54 percent approval for the president's work, while 40 percent disapproved.
National security has barely warranted a mention at the convention as jobs and the economy remain the dominant issues for voters. It also reflects a political reality of the past four years - Republicans have made little headway in challenging Obama's aggressive security policies.
Obama has waged a secret campaign against al-Qaida in two countries - one on the Arab Peninsula, the other on Africa's east coast. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011, and armed drones have pursued al-Qaida terrorists within the country, degrading the group.
The U.S. military and allied forces aided rebels who overthrew Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi last year. Prodded by Congress, Obama has imposed sanctions on Iran amid recent hints of a cyberwar against Tehran. The president has ended the war in Iraq and taken steps to draw down U.S. forces in Afghanistan after more than a decade of fighting.
Romney insisted Wednesday that Obama has been less than forceful.
"For the past four years, President Obama has allowed our leadership to diminish," the Republican presidential nominee told the American Legion in a speech. "In dealings with other nations, he has given trust where it is not earned, insult where it is not deserved and apology where it is not due."
Republicans are convinced, however, that they can make political inroads with cuts in military spending even though they voted for the reductions last summer.
"The Obama administration is set to cut defense spending by nearly a trillion dollars. My administration will not," said Romney, a former Massachusetts governor.
In fact, some $500 billion in cuts are over 10 years and were part of the deficit-cutting plan that Obama and congressional Republicans backed in August 2011. Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, and McCain voted for the reductions.
If Congress fails to agree on another plan to slash the deficit, an additional $500 billion in cuts would kick in during January 2013.