Romney to call for change in America’s approach to Middle East [UPDATED]

Alex Pappas Political Reporter

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney used a wide-ranging foreign address at the Virginia Military Institute on Monday to criticize the Obama administration’s foreign policy approach and declare, “It is time to change course in the Middle East,” according to excerpts provided by the Romney campaign.

The Republican departed from his usual economic-focused campaign message in his “The Mantle of Leadership” speech and hit Obama on his administration’s policies on Israel, Iran, Libya and Afghanistan.

Romney directly criticized the Obama administration for its response to the attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi last month that left the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans dead.

“This latest assault cannot be blamed on a reprehensible video insulting Islam, despite the administration’s attempts to convince us of that for so long,” Romney said at the Virginia school.

“No, as the administration has finally conceded,” Romney said, according to prepared remarks, “these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others, especially women and girls; who are fighting to control much of the Middle East today; and who seek to wage perpetual war on the West.”

Romney also said that Obama’s “hopes for a safer, freer, and a more prosperous Middle East allied with the United States” is “not a strategy.”

“We cannot support our friends and defeat our enemies in the Middle East when our words are not backed up by deeds, when our defense spending is being arbitrarily and deeply cut, when we have no trade agenda to speak of, and the perception of our strategy is not one of partnership, but of passivity,” Romney said.

When it comes to dealing with Iran, Romney promised to “not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran, and will tighten the sanctions we currently have.” He also promised to work with Israel to increase America’s military assistance and coordination.

“For the sake of peace, we must make clear to Iran through actions — not just words — that their nuclear pursuit will not be tolerated,” he said.

He also criticized Obama for not signing any new free trade agreements over the last four years.

“I will reverse that failure,” Romney said.

As for the war in Afghanistan, he called for a “real and successful transition to Afghan security forces” by the end of 2014.

“President Obama would have you believe that anyone who disagrees with his decisions in Afghanistan is arguing for endless war,” he said. “But the route to more war — and to potential attacks here at home — is a politically timed retreat that abandons the Afghan people to the same extremists who ravaged their country and used it to launch the attacks of 9-11.”

Romney also said that Obama has failed at the “goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel.”

“In this old conflict, as in every challenge we face in the Middle East, only a new president will bring the chance to begin anew,” he said.

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