Obama, Romney deep in preparation as first of three debates looms

WASHINGTON: Republican Mitt Romney argued again Monday that the U.S. needs new foreign policy leadership, attacking President Barack Obama’s handling of the Middle East as both candidates prepared for their first presidential debate Wednesday.

This month’s three debates represent Romney’s best, and last, opportunities to stop Obama’s rise in polls in many of the nine battleground states that will determine the Nov. 6 election.

Adding to Romney’s performance pressure was the country’s growing momentum in early voting, with the most important of the battleground states, Ohio, starting to take ballots Tuesday. All but two of the decisive states have early voting.

In an opinion piece published in The Wall Street Journal, Romney accused the Obama administration of minimizing the seriousness of the recent deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya and other threats in the region.

However, none of his ads running in the battleground states mention world affairs and instead are focused heavily on the still-weak economy, voters’ top concern.

Romney’s campaign earlier this year had promised a focused argument against Obama’s handling of the economy. But the revelation last month of a secretly recorded video of Romney telling donors that 47 percent of the country believes they are victims entitled to government assistance has pushed his campaign off course.

The first debate is focused on domestic policy, and Romney adviser Ed Gillespie acknowledged Monday that the former Massachusetts governor expects questions about the video.

Obama was huddling with top advisers Monday at a desert resort in Nevada. Romney was practicing in Massachusetts before heading to Colorado, the site of the debate and another key state.

Romney has a chance to convince the public that he’s the better candidate to turn the country’s high unemployment around.

“What I’m most concerned about is having a serious discussion about what we need to do to keep the country growing and restore security to hardworking Americans,” Obama said during a rally in Las Vegas Sunday night. “That is what people are going to be listening for. That’s the debate you deserve.”

Republicans were keeping up the pressure on Obama on international issues, namely his administration’s handling of the attack in Libya that led to the death of a U.S. ambassador.

The Obama administration has called it a terrorist attack. It came amid violent protests in the Muslim world over an amateur anti-Islam film made in the U.S.

Romney’s opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal repeated his criticism of Obama for having called the attack and other unrest in the Middle East “bumps in the road.”

“Our country seems to be at the mercy of events rather than shaping them,” he wrote. “We’re not moving them in a direction that protects our people.”

He laid out few details about his proposed changes but did say a new course would mean “restoring our credibility with Iran.”

“When we say an Iranian nuclear weapons capability – and the regional instability that comes with it – is unacceptable, the ayatollahs must be made to believe us,” wrote Romney, who has accused Obama of being too tough on Israel and weak on Iran.

He also said the Obama administration’s policy toward Israel was incomprehensible and vowed to have ‘no daylight’ between the two countries. Friday, Obama spoke by telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and they offered a united front on preventing a nuclear Iran.

Romney’s new strategy would also include “using the full spectrum of our soft power to encourage liberty and opportunity for those who have for too long known only corruption and oppression,” the former Massachusetts governor added.

Gillespie told reporters during a conference call Monday that the piece is part of Romney’s argument that the country can’t afford four more years of Obama. “And we need a real recovery. We need policies that are going to help,” Gillespie said.

Romney, a former business executive, also cited the same prescription he has offered to revive the U.S. economy: jobs.

“The dignity of work and the ability to steer the course of their lives are the best alternatives to extremism,” he wrote.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 02, 2012, on page 11.




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