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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Romney Tells Veterans That Obama \'Dodged the Tough Choices\'


INDIANAPOLIS â€" Mitt Romney promised veterans at a convention on Wednesday that he would stop “reckless defense cuts” set for the end of the year and slammed President Obama as a commander in chief who has “failed to lead” and has “dodged the tough choices.”

Mr. Romney broke away from the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., to fly to the American Legion convention here as his party focused on national security, an area that has received little attention in a campaign dominated by the economy. Mr. Romney planned to return to Tampa in time to watch Wednesday night's speeches, including some by the party's national security leaders.

The speech here, his last one scheduled until he formally accepts the Republican presidential nomination on Thursday night, drew a sharp contrast with Mr. Obama on issues that have been a political strength for the president. Having ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden as well as scores of drone strikes that took out other terrorists, Mr. Obama has led Mr. Romney on his handling of international affairs in many polls.

But Mr. Romney complained that Mr. Obama remains too reticent about America's role in the world, expanding on a theme that has flavored the Republican nominee's speeches and a book he wrote called “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness,” which is being distributed to delegates in Tampa.

“For the last four years, President Obama has allowed our leadership to diminish,” Mr. Romney told thousands of veterans gathered here. “In dealings with other nations, he has given trust where it's not earned, insult where it's not deserved and apology where it's not due.”

The candidate concentrated in particular on automatic budget cuts that will take effect at the end of the year unless Mr. Obama and Congress agree on an alternative plan. Half of the cuts, or nearly $50 0 billion, are due to come from national security agencies, including the armed forces, over the next 10 years on top of a roughly similar amount already to be cut over a decade.

“The Obama administration is set to cut defense spending by nearly a trillion dollars. My administration will not,” Mr. Romney said. “I'll make reductions in other areas and install pro-growth policies to make sure that our country remains safe and secure.”

He also accused Mr. Obama of not doing enough to help veterans who seek help from the government.

Mr. Obama's campaign has rejected the Romney criticism, pointing to successes in dismantling terrorist groups over the last three and a half years. Independent analysts have called the notion that Mr. Obama apologizes for his country overstated or even false.

And the automatic budget cuts that Mr. Romney vowed to stop were part of legislation passed with the support of Republican leaders, including his running mate, Re presentative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, as a motivation to the two parties to come together on a more agreeable budget-cutting alternative. Mr. Obama, like Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan, does not want them to go into effect.

The Obama campaign fired back on Wednesday by saying that Mr. Romney should support higher taxes on the wealthy to shield the armed forces from deeper cuts.

“Throughout this campaign, Mitt Romney has offered a lot of reckless bluster and vague platitudes, but zero specific national security policies â€" and that continued at the American Legion today,” said Lis Smith, an Obama spokeswoman. “Lost in his speech was the fact that the only thing standing in the way of preventing the automatic defense cuts he decried is his refusal to ask for another dime from millionaires and billionaires.”

But Mr. Romney has made military spending a higher priority in his campaign speeches, vowing to protect it from the sort of cuts that he would impose on other government programs. And he has suggested that he would be less willing to let allies lead in situations like the Libya war, when Mr. Obama encouraged NATO countries in Europe to step forward.

“Our foreign policy should take a page from the U.S. Marine Corps â€" no better friend, no worse enemy,” he said. “A just, peaceful world depends on our strength and our confidence. Our foreign policy must demonstrate confidence in our cause, clarity in our purpose and resolve in our might.”

As Mr. Romney's motorcade arrived at the site of the convention here, the American Legion was deeply involved in the sorts of social issues that he has tried to avoid this campaign season, advancing resolutions promoting school prayer, a ban on flag burning, tougher crackdowns on illegal immigration and the adoption of English as the official language. Mr. Romney made no mention of such issues in his speech.

Mr. Romney's appearance before the veterans here reinfor ced a historical oddity: For the first time in 80 years, none of the presidential or vice-presidential nominees of the two major parties served in uniform.

National security has been largely a secondary campaign topic at a time of high unemployment and rising national debt. But the Romney campaign has concluded that it needs to make sure that the candidate comes across as a plausible commander in chief to make sure voters are comfortable casting ballots for him.

To that end, the campaign will roll out two of the best-known voices on foreign policy at the convention on Wednesday night, Senator John McCain, at 8 p.m., and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, at 10 p.m.

“The No. 1 issue on people's minds is the economy,” said Kevin Madden, a Romney adviser, “but national security, leadership abroad, America's place, American power around the globe is part of the course of consideration that many voters go through.”