US President Barack Obama offered a direct rebuttal Wednesday of Mitt Romney’s foreign policy critique, saying his leadership had forged a “different world” in just four years.
In a sweeping survey of his diplomatic worldview, Obama implicitly rejected claims he is wedded to national decline, and said he had restored US values and alliances and paved the way to a new “American Century.”
In parts, the address was a point-by-point rebuttal of a foreign policy speech given by his Republican election foe Romney in October, and previewed likely clashes between the two men at presidential debates later this year.
“Four years ago, you arrived here at a time of great challenge for our nation,” Obama told Air Force cadets, citing a time span that also coincides with much his term in office.
“Our forces were engaged in two wars. Al-Qaeda, which had attacked us on 9/11, was entrenched in their safe-havens.
“Many of our alliances were strained, and our standing in the world had suffered,” he said, offering a disdainful view of the legacy bequeathed by Republican former president George W. Bush.
“Our economy was in the worst recession since the Great Depression. Around the world and here at home, many questioned whether the United States still had the capacity for global leadership.”
“Today, you step forward into a different world,” Obama said, before implicitly giving his own policies credit for changing perceptions of American leadership and his nation’s position in the world.
“You are the first class in nine years that will graduate into a world where there are no Americans fighting in Iraq,” said Obama, who fulfilled a promise to get all US forces home last year.
Referencing the killing of Osama bin Laden, Obama claimed to have put Al-Qaeda on the path to defeat and to have offered a clear exit from Afghanistan.
The fact that the president chose to deliver the survey of US foreign policy at graduation ceremonies at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs could open him to charges of politicizing the armed forces he leads.
In a highly political passage of his address, Obama unapologetically strove to create a new feeling of national optimism.
“For a decade, we have labored under the dark cloud of war. Now, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon,” he said.
“Around the world, the United States is leading once more. From Europe to Asia, our alliances are stronger than ever.”
Romney has argued that Obama’s foreign policy is characterized by weakness and “appeasing” Iran, and says the president has weakened ties with US allies rather than strengthened them.
Last year at the Citadel military college, Romney savaged Obama’s “feckless” diplomatic strategy, warning of new threats from Russia and China and said Obama was “profoundly mistaken” as he did not believe in the concept of American exceptionalism.
“Let me make this very clear. As president of the United States, I will devote myself to an American Century. And I will never, ever apologize for America,” Romney said.
Obama directly repudiated those points on Wednesday.
“The United States has been, and will always be, the one indispensable nation in world affairs,” Obama said in the speech, coincidentally delivered in Colorado, an important swing state in November’s election.
“This is one of the many examples of why America is exceptional and it’s why I firmly believe that if we rise to this moment in history, if we meet our responsibilities, then — just like the 20th century — the 21st will be another great American Century.”
He also took aim at the view that US forces were not to the fore in the operation to protect Libyans from Moamer Kadhafi, popularized by a quote, “leading from behind,” which an anonymous official gave to the New Yorker.
He credited US forces for helping to prevent “a massacre in Libya with an international mission in which the United States — and our Air Force — led from the front.”