RENO – GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Tuesday delivered a full-throated attack on President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, accusing him of insulting Israel, cozying up to Russia and leaking national security information to gain “political advantage” for his re-election.
Romney called for a “full and prompt investigation” of the Iran leaks by a special counsel, something the White House swiftly rejected, saying Obama already ordered an in-house probe.
“Whoever provided classified information to the media, seeking political advantage for the administration, must be exposed, dismissed and punished,” Romney said to loud applause from veterans attending the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno. “The time for stonewalling is over.”
Romney’s remarks came a day after Obama addressed the veterans organization to tout the end of the Iraq War, the ongoing drawdown of troops in Afghanistan and the U.S. military killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden as his major successes as commander-in-chief.
Romney’s critical speech kicked off a weeklong overseas trip in which he plans to meet with leaders of Britain, Poland and Israel – a country Obama has not yet visited as president.
The back and forth between Obama and Romney on foreign policy could influence how Nevada’s 300,000 veterans vote in a battleground state where they account for 10 percent of the population and lean Republican. Romney got a warmer reception than Obama did.
“He’s right on the money,” Helen Carter said of Romney after the speech. An auxiliary member of the Army from North Carolina, she said her husband served in Vietnam, and her two sons are Marines. “We have not had a strong national defense. We needed to get out of Iraq, but we needed to do it correctly, not just pull out and let the security fall apart.”
Romney said if he were president, he would not allow leaks that could harm U.S. security.
“These events make the decision we face in November all the more important,” Romney said to about 2,000 veterans at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center. “What kind of White House would reveal classified material for political gain? I’ll tell you right now: Mine won’t.”
In June, Obama said the White House had not been behind the recent leaks, and he vowed to prosecute the people responsible for disclosing classified information if they could be caught.
White House press secretary Jay Carney dismissed Romney’s call for an outside probe.
“There are two experienced federal prosecutors investigating the leaks in question,” Carney told reporters traveling with Obama on Tuesday. “As a general matter, the president has made abundantly clear that he has no tolerance for leaks and he thinks leaks are damaging to our national security interests.”
Earlier this summer, Attorney General Eric Holder assigned two U.S. attorneys to lead separate criminal investigations into the recent disclosures to the news media of national security secrets.
The appointments followed calls in Congress for a crackdown on leaks after disclosures on the selection of drone strikes and a computer virus attack against Iran’s nuclear program, among other matters. Several of the revelations were published by The New York Times. The leaks showed an aggressive White House acting against Tehran’s nuclear weapons development.
Several members of Congress from both parties had called for the appointment of a special prosecutor with greater independence from the Obama administration to investigate.
Romney, in his speech, noted even Democratic allies and those in the Obama administration have expressed alarm at the leaks, including details of the U.S. raid that killed bin Laden.
Robert Gates, the president’s first secretary of defense, was privately upset, Romney said.
“After secret operational details of the bin Laden raid were given to reporters, Secretary Gates walked into the West Wing and told the Obama team to ‘shut up.’ He added a colorful word for emphasis,” Romney said, drawing chuckles from the veterans. “Lives of American servicemen were at stake. But astonishingly, the administration failed to change its ways.”
Later, top-secret operations were leaked about Iran, Romney said. He said that on Monday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, said: “I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from their ranks.”
“This conduct is contemptible,” Romney said. “It betrays our national interest. It compromises our men and women in the field. And it demands a full and prompt investigation, with explanation and consequence.”
After Romney’s speech, Feinstein put out a statement trying to undo the damage. “I stated that I did not believe the president leaked classified information,” she said. “I shouldn’t have speculated beyond that because the fact of the matter is I don’t know the source of the leaks.”
Romney suggested the Obama administration is hoping to ride out questions until Nov. 6.
“It is not enough to say the matter is being looked into, and leave it at that,” Romney said. “When the issue is the political use of highly sensitive national security information, it is unacceptable to say, ‘We’ll report our findings after Election Day.’ ”
In a wide-ranging 27-minute speech, Romney criticized Obama on defense spending with another $500 billion in potential automatic cuts coming if the president and Congress don’t reach a budget deal. Obama blames the GOP for the standoff.
“These cuts would only weaken an already stretched VA system and our solemn commitment that every veteran receives care second to none,” Romney said. “I will not allow that to happen.”
On Israel, Romney accused Obama of not being a good ally. He recalled the president was “caught by a microphone deriding them” in an unguarded moment. Obama also has joined other leaders at the United Nations lecturing Israel regarding its treatment of Palestinians, he said.
“The people of Israel deserve better than what they have received from the leader of the free world,” Romney said. “And the chorus of accusations, threats and insults at the United Nations should never again include the voice of the president of the United States.”
As for Russia, Romney recalled that Obama ditched a missile defense site agreement with Poland after taking office because of Moscow’s sensitivities.
“We can only guess what Vladimir Putin makes of the Obama administration,” Romney said, using a scoffing tone. “He regained the Russian presidency in a corrupt election, and for that, he got a congratulatory call from the Oval Office.”
On Iran, Romney said the United States and the world must impose stricter sanctions against Tehran and demand it stop enriching uranium.
“A clear line must be drawn: There must be a full suspension of any enrichment, period,” Romney said, adding Iran may be closer to building a bomb under Obama.
Romney called Obama’s decision to set a time frame for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan a “political” decision. Still, the GOP challenger said he, like Obama, would aim to hand security over to Afghan forces by the end of 2014 based on security prospects.
“I will evaluate conditions on the ground and solicit the best advice of our military commanders,” Romney said. “And I will affirm that my duty is not to my political prospects, but to the security of the nation.”ROMNEY’S OVERSEAS TRIP
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is embarking on a weeklong overseas trip. Here is a look at his schedule and some of the leaders he will meet with, according to his campaign:
• On Thursday, Romney will be in London to meet with British leaders, including Prime Minister David Cameron. Romney will meet with former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband, Foreign Secretary William Hague and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.
• On Friday, Romney will meet with Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the prime minister, and U.S. Olympic athletes before attending the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics.
• On Sunday, Romney in Israel will meet with U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and the leader of the opposition party. He will visit with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Romney is set to deliver a policy speech at a public event in Israel.
• On Monday, Romney will be in Poland to meet with Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Former President Lech Walesa. Romney will visit historical sites.
• On Tuesday, Romney will remain in Poland for more meetings, including with Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and President Bronislaw Komorowski. Romney is expected to deliver a public speech in Poland, probably aimed at Russia policy.
from wire services