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McCain leads attack on Obama foreign 'drift'

Nominee Mitt Romney pledges an assertive US if he wins, but remains light on the detail.

WASHINGTON //Foreign policy made a rare appearance in the US presidential campaign as Republicans at the party's national convention in Florida promised a more assertive America should Mitt Romney win November's election.

Republicans have largely left foreign policy - an area seen as one of Barack Obama's strong points - alone since Mr Romney clinched his party's nomination.

The president, after all, can boast of authorising the operation that killed Osama bin Laden, ending the Iraq war and winding down the Afghanistan war.

But that didn't stop two Republican foreign policy heavyweights on Wednesday from criticising the Obama administration's record and accusing the president of lacking global leadership.

John McCain, the senior Republican senator and the man Mr Obama beat to become president in 2008, said the US had "drifted" from its global leadership tradition. Mr McCain said the president had failed to support Iranians when demonstrations broke out in 2009 against Iran's government after elections there. He blamed a lack of White House leadership for projected US$500 billion (Dh1.836 trillion) cuts in the defence budget - cuts decreed after Congress failed to agree on a budget plan last year.

And he criticised Mr Obama for announcing a date for the Afghanistan withdrawal - even though Mr Romney also supports a US withdrawal by 2014 - saying it had "discouraged our friends and emboldened our enemies".

Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state and the only member of the last Republican administration to put in a personal appearance at the Tampa convention, sounded a similar note. The question at the moment, Ms Rice said, is "where does America stand?" The Obama administration, she said, had failed to take a clear position on anything while on Syria, the White House had allowed China and Russia to "prevent a response".

Mr Romney took time out from Florida to address a gathering of veterans from the American Legion in Indianapolis on Wednesday, promising to stop "reckless" defence cuts.

In dealing with other countries, he said, Mr Obama, had "given trust where it's not earned, insult where it's not deserved and apology where it's not due".

But for all the swagger, Republicans are unlikely to want to dwell too long on foreign policy.

Mr Romney has no such experience, and though he has sounded belligerent on America's foes and competitors, notably Iran, Russia and China, he has not formulated any clear policy differences.

One potential break with past policy that Mr Romney has hinted at is in repeatedly calling Jerusalem the capital of Israel. Yet even in trying to out-match Mr Obama on Israel, Mr Romney has left himself room to wriggle.

He did not make it clear whether he would order the US Embassy in Tel Aviv to move to Jerusalem, nor what he meant by Jerusalem - whether the whole city or just part.

And though the Jewish vote will play an important part in Florida itself - a crucial swing state - the voting bloc remains solidly Democratic.

The salient fact for Republicans remains this: for once, a sitting Democratic president is not vulnerable on foreign policy.

In a Gallup poll released last week, in fact, Mr Obama held a significant 14 per cent advantage over Mr Romney on the issue.

okarmi@thenational.ae