The Boston Globe - Romney Urges More Be Spent On Defense And Energy Research
By: Scott Helman
Mitt Romney, giving one of his first major addresses on foreign policy yesterday, called for the United States to commit far greater resources to national defense, including higher military spending, 100,000 new troops, and government investment in an "energy revolution" to make the country more self-sufficient.
With deep divisions in Washington over how to proceed in Iraq and how to conduct US foreign policy, Romney asserted a muscular vision of national security that would boost baseline defense spending to at least 4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. The current rate is about 3.9 percent, and the increase would mean an additional $30 billion to $40 billion, according to Romney's campaign.
"A strong America secures a safe world," Romney said to 900 people gathered at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum , revisiting a campaign theme about the underappreciated threat from radical Islam.
Romney delivered his speech as presidential candidates from both parties are struggling to define their visions for America's role in the world, and, chiefly, its place in Iraq more than four years after the US invasion. This morning, Arizona Senator John McCain, one of Romney's chief rivals for the GOP nomination, will give his own major foreign policy address at the Virginia Military Institute in which he will again urge the public's patience as the military tries to bring order to Iraq.
Romney lacks deep foreign-policy credentials but has worked to fill in the gaps, versing himself in current events and making several high-profile trips abroad, including a multi nation tour of Asia late last year and a visit to Israel in January.
As he's developed a hawkish posture, Romney has often used Democrats as a foil. He seized on Hillary Clinton's remarks earlier this year that the United States should have "engagement" with Iran. He's accused Congressional Democrats of undermining President Bush by attaching conditions to war appropriations bills. And he's been sharply critical of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her trip to Syria and meeting with the country's president, Bashar al-Assad, whom Washington has worked hard to isolate.
"At this time of war, her action stands as one of the most partisan, divisive, and ill-considered of any national leader in this decade," Romney said yesterday.
On Iraq, Romney has largely supported Bush, including his call for a troop surge in Baghdad earlier this year. But last week Romney drew criticism from Republican opponents for suggesting that the United States and the Iraqi government work out private timetables and benchmarks for troop withdrawals.
Dan Schnur, a Republican political strategist, said if McCain weren't so identified with the war effort, Romney and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani -- who also has been hawkish on Iraq -- would face much tougher questions about whether the president's course is the right one.
"Even though there's not much of a substantive difference between McCain and the other top-tier candidates on this issue, McCain has been such a high-profile supporter of the administration that he catches most of the backlash," said Schnur, a top aide to McCain in his 2000 presidential bid.
But Richard Semiatin, an assistant professor of government at American University, said that Romney, if he's going to be a leading candidate, will have to articulate a true plan for the war.
"If he's going to compete here, he's really going to have to come up with a specific Iraq policy," Semiatin said. Otherwise, he said, "he'll get cut up in debates."
The audience yesterday was largely supportive of Romney's remarks, but even here in Bush country not everyone was convinced Iraq is worth the fight.
"It's just like sending more boys to be killed," said Joan Lyons, a retired college English instructor living in College Station.
Romney, who showed a PowerPoint presentation as he talked, was introduced by former president George H. W. Bush, with whom he was to attend a private dinner last night.
"Howdy, y'all!" Romney said when he arrived on stage.
"Howdy!" the crowd said back forcefully
"Wow, isn't that great?" Romney said. "That's powerful."
Romney's call to peg defense spending to the GDP pleased the Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative Washington think tank whose scholars crafted such a proposal. Baker Spring, a Heritage fellow who helped devise the idea, said Romney was right to embrace it, because otherwise the military won't be able to adequately fund equipment and soldier pay.
At the same time, Romney has called for a tighter federal budget overall, a campaign pledge that could make it difficult to boost military spending without deep cuts elsewhere.
Romney also called for strengthening alliances such as NATO, and he reiterated his call for a "summit of nations" to help moderate Muslim nations develop the infrastructure and institutions to modernize.