Obama and Romney campaigns duel on foreign policy

Obama and Romney campaigns duel on foreign policy

In a rare moment amid a presidential campaign more often focused on bread-and-butter issues like jobs, economic growth, and deficit spending, the Barack Obama and Mitt Romney teams are ramping up their foreign-policy messaging this week as the former Massachusetts governor sets off for a major trip abroad.

In what has become a new ritual of American politics, both candidates will address the Veterans of Foreign Wars conference in Reno this week.

Ahead of Obama’s Monday afternoon visit there, the president’s campaign released a new video touting his administration’s treatment of veterans and the president’s moves to complete the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq last year.

Romney will speak to the conference on Tuesday before heading off on a three-nation foreign trip. On July 25, Obama surrogate and former Pentagon official Michèle Flournoy will square off with Romney advisor Rich Williamson, George W. Bush‘s envoy to Sudan, in a debate at the Brookings Institution.

Earlier Monday, Flournoy and Colin Kahl, another former defense official, held a conference call with reporters, during which Kahl pledged that Obama would visit Israel in his second term if he is re-elected.

Kahl’s pledge comes in response to the Romney camp’s criticism that the president has been a fickle ally of Israel, a critique the GOP candidate is looking to exploit during his upcoming stop in Jerusalem.

After Romney speaks to the VFW Tuesday, he heads off that evening to London to attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympics and meet with British officials. Romney then goes on to Israel and Poland before returning to the United States.

On their own conference call with reporters, several Romney policy advisors emphasized that Romney will not be criticizing Obama’s foreign policy on the trip.

"This trip is really an opportunity for the governor to learn and listen," said Lanhee Chen, the Romney campaign’s policy director. "There are a number of challenges the world is facing today and this is an opportunity for him to visit three countries that each have a strong and important relationship with the U.S."

"So this trip demonstrates Governor Romney’s belief in the worth and necessity of standing with our allies and locking arms with our allies," said Chen. "Each of these nations shares our love of liberty as well as our fortitude to defend it. They are each pillars of liberty and have fought through periods where liberty was under siege. This trip is an opportunity for us to demonstrate a clear and resolute stand with those nations that share our values."

The Obama campaign set his own marker for Romney’s trip.

"He’ll need to prove to the American people that he sees foreign-policy issues as worthy of substantive discussion rather than just generalities and sound bites in this campaign," said Obama senior advisor Robert Gibbs Monday. "This trip and this campaign begs several questions and I think Mitt Romney owes it to the American people to say where he stands on these important issues as he’s trying out to be leader of the free world."

In London, Romney will meet with the leaders of the British government and opposition, including Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, Foreign Minister William Hague, Labor Party leader Ed Miliband, Liberal Democrat Party leader Nick Clegg, and former prime minister Tony Blair.

In Israel, Romney will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Perez, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Kadima Party Leader Shaul Mofaz, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro.

This will be Romney’s forth trip to Israel. He made a family trip there in the late 1990s and then visited in January 2007 and gave a speech at the annual Herzliya conference. In January 2011, Romney visited Israel as part of a three-nation trip that also included stops in Afghanistan and Jordan.

Romney is visiting Poland at the invitation of former president and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and he will also meet with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, and Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski. He will also visit Polish sites of historical significance, his advisors said.

In Poland, Romney will thank Poland for its commitments of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and tout Poland’s relative economic success during the European fiscal crisis.

"This is a country that stands in sharp contrast economically to the rest of Europe… and Poland’s success is rooted in its commitment to the principles of free market economies and capitalism," said Romney advisor Ian Brzezinski.

Although Romney will hold public events at all three stops, don’t expect any big policy speeches or attacks on the administration’s international actions.

"This trip is solely an opportunity to listen and the contrasts will be kept here in the States," said campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul.