Romney, Obama focus on U.S. posture abroad

The Marine One helicopter, with President Barack Obama aboard, lands at the Wall Street heliport in New York, Monday, Sept. 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

NEW YORK: President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are sparring over how best to address U.S. challenges abroad in nearly back-to-back addresses Tuesday at the Clinton Global Initiative's annual meeting.

Following deadly anti-American protests in Muslim countries over the past two weeks, Romney was to outline plans Tuesday to rework the U.S. foreign aid system, tying development money to requirements that countries allow U.S. investment and remove trade barriers. Obama also was to address top foreign leaders, CEOs and non-governmental organizations at the gathering spearheaded by former President Bill Clinton.

The event puts the two presidential contenders in front of the same audience on the same day Obama was delivering a major address to the United Nations General Assembly. Both men were drawing contrasts in a presidential contest in which the state of the U.S. economy has been paramount, but which shifted focus this month to foreign policy after attacks in Libya killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to the North African country.

In interviews and at campaign events Monday, Romney assailed Obama's leadership abroad, leading a chorus of Republicans in criticizing the president for what they said was minimizing the death of the Ambassador Chris Stevens. Obama, in an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes," said recent violence in the Mideast was due to "bumps in the road" on the way to democracy. Romney on Monday also suggested Obama was leaving American foreign policy at the mercy of events instead of working to shape global politics in America's interest.

I can't imagine saying something like the assassination of ambassadors is a bump in the road, when you look at the entire context, the assassination, the Muslim Brotherhood president being elected in Egypt, 20,000 people killed in Syria, Iran close to becoming a nuclear nation, that these are far from being bumps in the road," Romney told ABC television.

White House press secretary Jay Carney called the accusations "desperate and offensive," an attempt by the Republican presidential candidate and his allies to gain political advantage in the latter stages of a close race that seems to be trending the president's way.

The back and forth on foreign policy occurred as Romney said he was shifting to a more energetic schedule of public campaign events, bidding to reverse recent erosion in polls of the battleground states likely to decide the election.

The U.S. president is not chosen by popular vote but by state-by-state elections, making states that don't reliably vote Democrat or Republican important in such a tight race.

While national polls make the race exceedingly close, Obama has gained ground on Romney in many recent surveys when potential voters are asked to compare the two rivals in their ability to fix the economy. Sluggish growth and national unemployment of 8.1 percent make the economy by far the dominant issue in the race.

The same polls show Obama with a healthy lead over Romney when voters are asked which candidate is better equipped to handle foreign policy, and the president has not shied away from trumpeting his decision to order the secret mission by U.S. forces that killed terrorism mastermind Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani hideout more than a year ago.

At the same time, Romney's advisers say voters are more inclined to question Obama's handling of foreign policy after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, earlier this month.

At the United Nations, Obama planned a sweeping defense of his policy of engagement overseas. The president planned to "send a clear message that the United States will never retreat from the world, will bring justice to those who harm Americans and will stand strongly for our democratic values abroad," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in an email.

Romney's focus on foreign aid was likely to draw attention to the situation in Egypt, a U.S. ally and the recipient of billions of dollars in American assistance each year. That aid has come under new scrutiny in the wake of protests that saw Egyptians scaling the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Romney has said he would put stricter conditions on U.S. aid to Egypt's newly installed government, now headed by an Islamist president. The Obama administration reinstated military aid to Egypt earlier this year despite concerns about abuse as the country transitions to democratic rule.

Romney's campaign said Monday that the current system of foreign aid "reflects an outdated way of thinking about the world."

Both Romney and Obama will appear on a stage at the gathering led by Clinton, who just a few weeks earlier was offering a forceful defense of Obama's economic record and plans for the future at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"I think the president's plan is better than the Romney plan, because the Romney plan fails the first test of fiscal responsibility: The numbers don't add up," Clinton said in that speech, one of several jabs at the Republican nominee.

During the last presidential election, both Obama and 2008 Republican nominee John McCain spoke at Clinton's annual meeting. That year, the former president had warm words for both men. He praised McCain's stance on global warming and complimented Obama's approach to a meeting the two had held earlier in the month at Clinton's Harlem office.

After his speech to the Clinton meeting, Romney planned to discuss education policy at a forum sponsored by NBC News. He also planned to join running mate Paul Ryan at a campaign rally in Ohio.





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