LEXINGTON, Va. — President Barack Obama’s chief foreign policy achievement in his first term was his order to carry out the daring raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden. But Mitt Romney challenged his rival on that turf Monday, arguing Obama has not done enough to secure peace in the Middle East, allowing terrorist networks to build strength while “leaving our destiny at the mercy of events.”
During a formal foreign policy address at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney said Americans should take pride “in the blows that our military and intelligence professionals have inflicted on al-Qaida” in Pakistan and Afghanistan — which he called “real achievements won at a high cost.”
But he argued that al-Qaida “remains a strong force in Yemen and Somalia, in Libya and other parts of North Africa, in Iraq, and now in Syria.”
“Drones and the modern instruments of war are important tools in our fight, but they are no substitute for a national security strategy for the Middle East,” Romney said.
Romney’s comments contradict the Obama administration’s arguments that its years of counter-terrorism efforts have decimated al-Qaida, the primary terrorist threat. But U.S. officials and private terrorism experts acknowledge that militant groups with ties to al-Qaida or at least similar aims continue to flourish in many parts of the world, including the Middle East and North Africa. Terrorist groups in Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Mali, among other places, have become a growing focus of U.S. and Western efforts.
The influence of al-Qaida is a new point of emphasis for Romney, and a clear pivot from the economy, after many months in which foreign policy has been an afterthought for his campaign. With little foreign policy expertise of his own and after a difficult foreign trip where he managed to offend both the Brits (over the handling of the Olympics) and later the Palestinians (with an offhand comment about the wealth disparity between Israel and Palestine), the area has long appeared to be a vulnerability for Romney.