The Washington Times - Romney Backs Bush On War
By: Stephen Dinan
Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney yesterday fired the opening shot in what has become the presidential campaign's unofficial "defense week," tying himself to President Bush by praising the war on Islamic terrorism and calling for big increases in military spending to fight what he said is a threat Americans must take more seriously.
"We are fortunate today to have a president who loves America, who acts solely out of a desire to protect her and to promote liberty around the world," Mr. Romney said in prepared remarks for a speech he delivered at the George Bush Presidential Library calling for increasing the military by 100,000 troops and setting a floor for military spending of at least 4 percent of gross domestic product -- slightly higher than current spending.
The former Massachusetts governor's comments came as most of the top Democrats squared off on Iraq in a "virtual town hall" sponsored by MoveOn.org, and before today's major policy speech by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who is laying out his own vision in a speech at the Virginia Military Institute. Meanwhile, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat and presidential candidate, will deliver his own foreign-policy address tonight in Iowa.
The issue has drowned out most others in the Democratic race, which is unsurprising given so many of the top candidates serve in the Senate and have to vote on war funding and timetables for withdrawing troops. Iraq and the broader war on terrorism are becoming more central to Republicans' nomination contest as well, and top candidates are trying to play offense against Democrats.
Mr. Romney yesterday said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision to meet last week with Syrian President Bashar Assad was "one of the most partisan, divisive and ill-considered of any national leader in this decade."
He also called on Congress to line up behind Mr. Bush in fighting the war, but said his own defense philosophy follows from former President Ronald Reagan, who said, "Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong."
Defense has dominated the three federal elections since the September 11 terrorist attacks, and the candidates in both parties are banking on it being a deciding issue again.
Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a Republican, has made going on offense against radical Islam the major theme of his campaign so far, telling audiences he learned the nature of the enemy while handling the September 11 attacks.
Mr. McCain, meanwhile, is now betting his candidacy on success in Iraq.
He will deliver a speech today at VMI and teased some of the themes in an opinion piece published in The Washington Post this week that said "the new political-military strategy is beginning to show results." Mr. McCain blamed the press for not reporting on the progress.
"We have a long, tough road ahead in Iraq. But for the first time since 2003, we have the right strategy," he wrote.
It's safe ground for Republicans -- polls show about 65 percent of Republican voters oppose the Senate war-funding bill that set a March 2008 deadline for withdrawing troops -- which may explain why just about every Republican running or considering a run backs Mr. Bush's troop-surge plan.
Of those actively campaigning, only Rep. Ron Paul, the Texas Republican who voted against the war initially, and Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, oppose the reinforcements. Among those still considering a run, Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, has come out in opposition to Mr. Bush's plan.
Still, with polls showing a majority of voters oppose the war and the surge, Democratic candidates are piling on each other to show their opposition and to take shots at the Republicans.
In the MoveOn.org virtual town hall, which featured taped statements from the top Democrats seeking their party's presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama ridiculed Mr. McCain's stroll through a Baghdad neighborhood last week -- protected by body armor, helicopters and armored vehicles.
"The idea that the situation in Iraq is improving because it takes a security detail of 100 soldiers, three Black Hawk helicopters and a couple of Apache gunships to walk through a market in the middle of Baghdad is simply not credible and not reflective of the facts on the ground," the Illinois Democrat said.