By Mike Mount
As presidential races go, one expects a candidate's talking points on major issues to sometimes seem vague. Tuesday's speech by Mitt Romney laying out his foreign policy plans, at some points seemed not only vague, but not very different from President Barack Obama's positions in key areas.
The Republican presidential candidate delivered his speech before the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) a day after Obama spoke at the same convention.
While again railing against the president for removing surge troops early, before the fighting season ends in Afghanistan, he called the president's plan a politically timed retreat. But Romney did not offer any alternatives and instead called for a plan basically identical to that of the president's.
"As president, my goal in Afghanistan will be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014. I will evaluate conditions on the ground and solicit the best advice of our military commanders," Romney said.
In a press release sent out after the speech, it clarified that Romney's withdrawal timetable would be "based on conditions on the ground as assessed by our military commanders."
The current plan for U.S. troops in Afghanistan is to remove U.S. forces, except for a small number of trainers, by the end of 2014.
In his strongest language of his speech, Romney alluded to attacking Iran if the country does not bow to sanctions and diplomacy, though he did not offer details on what he would do if Iran did not allow in nuclear inspectors and did not halt its uranium enrichment program.
"I pledge to you and to all Americans that if I become commander-in-chief, I will use every means necessary to protect ourselves and the region, and to prevent the worst from happening while there is still time," Romney said.
The news release for his campaign said, "In his first 100 days, (Romney will) make clear that the military option is on the table by ordering the regular presence of an aircraft carrier task force in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region simultaneously."
The Obama administration earlier this month decided to keep a second aircraft carrier around Iran, in line with an existing two-year-old order that added a second aircraft carrier to the region, one in the Persian Gulf and one in the North Arabian Sea.
Romney's survey of how the Obama administration has been handling Iran criticized a lack of follow-through in diplomatic efforts.
"What's needed is all the firmness, clarity and moral courage that we and our allies can gather. Sanctions must be enforced without exception, cutting off the regime's sources of wealth. Negotiations must secure full and unhindered access for inspections," Romney said.
While this can be hard to measure, the Obama administration announced last week another round of even tougher sanctions which, the administration says, adds to the continued tightening and cutting off of money to the Iranian regime. The sanctions are also in conjunction with the European Union and involve other countries around the world.
One of the more hard-line positions was Romney's position on China. As he focused on military issues around the globe, Romney told the VFW audience China "permits flagrant patent and copyright violations, forestalls American businesses from competing in its market, manipulates its currency to obtain unfair advantage."
With growing military threats from China and suspected cyber-attacks believed to be originating from inside its borders, Romney told the crowd of military veterans, he would put a stop to economic and business "cheating" by China.
His comments were greeted by a generally sympathetic audience, although they might not have been exactly what an audience familiar with security matters might have expected.
The Romney campaign's foreign policy press release said it would, "maintain robust military capabilities in the Pacific to guarantee that trade routes remain open and East Asia's community of nations remains secure and prosperous." And, "deepen cooperation among regional partners like India and build stronger ties to influential countries like Indonesia."
Both lines reflect the ongoing policy of the Obama administration. In January the president announced a new focus on the Asia-Pacific region, and the Pentagon developed a new plan to assert more military influence in the region and adding new countries to its list of military partners.
While on a trip to the region in June, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited Indonesia, Vietnam and India, among others, to improve the Pentagon's military-to-military ties.
One point where Romney and Obama seemingly do stand apart is on the defense budget. Romney wants to reverse the planned massive spending cuts for the military and, in fact, grow the military. And while he outlined his plans to purchase more ships for the Navy, the Navy's fleet is already schedule to grow in the coming years.
Romney also told the audience that across-the-board automatic budget cuts – known as sequestration - would "weaken an already stretched VA system and impair our solemn commitment that every veteran receives care second to none."
While Romney was not clear on what he meant about weakening the VA, President Obama has said that sequestration would not affect veterans' benefits or any Veterans Affairs programs, exempting them from the potential sequestration cuts if they take effect on January 2, 2013.