The U.S. administration has managed to convince Russia to stop sending some arms shipments to the Syrian regime, including helicopters that were repaired and were in the process of being sent back to Damascus, an adviser for the campaign of President Barack Obama said.
Michelle Flournoy, who was the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy up until February, defended the Obama administration’s position of not arming the Syrian rebels at a foreign policy debate organized by the Brookings Institution.
“We have had some significant success in preventing Russia from resupplying and rearming the Syrian military. If we were to launch a major American weapons supply program to the opposition, we would lose a lot of leverage with Russia and it could basically open the floodgate for Russia to resupply the Syrian military in full and that would be pouring fuel on the flames on what is looking like an increasingly deadly conflict,” Flournoy said.
Her remarks came on the day Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney arrived in England, his first stop on a three-leg pre-election trip. Romney will visit Israel and Poland after attending the opening ceremony of the Olympics in London, scheduled on Thursday. His trip comes a day after he gave a major policy speech blasting Obama’s defense and foreign policies in front of a crowd attending the Veterans of the Foreign Wars annual convention.
“In dealings with other nations, he has given trust where it is not earned, insult where it is not deserved, and apology where it is not due,” Romney said in reference to Obama.
Romney’s trip is directing the attention of both campaigns on foreign policy, which is long considered a point of strength for Obama. Obama gets high marks for ordering the operation that killed Osama bin Laden and for winding down the war in Afghanistan and ending the war in Iraq.
Foreign policy has not played a large role this election cycle because the economy is the main priority for voters and because there is little stated difference between the two candidates on the main issues.
Romney’s campaign adviser Rich Williamson, a former ambassador and special envoy, participated in the foreign policy debate at Brookings with Flournoy, and said that a Romney administration would have identified and armed “moderate” opposition elements in Syria. Williamson said that Romney rejected former Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s calls for safe havens and no fly zones in Syria, but insisted that the U.S. “should not lead from behind.”
But perhaps the biggest foreign policy issue the Romney campaign is seeking to exploit is the perceived coldness between the Obama and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. An ill-fated attempt by Obama to convince Netanyahu to freeze settlement expansion earlier, in Obama’s term, lead to the perception -- among the more pro-Israeli American Jewish voters -- that Obama was not pro-Israel enough. Many of those voters reside in battleground states important for both candidates. Romney and his advisers have also criticized Obama for not visiting Israel as president.
Ads funded by a pro-Romney group, the Republican Jewish Coalition, titled “My Buyers’ Remorse” are set to air in key states. In one ad a voter says of Obama: “He’s going to place Israel in a position where they’re in danger.”
“President Obama is fond of lecturing Israel’s leaders. He was even caught by a microphone deriding them. He has undermined their position, which was tough enough as it was. And even at the United Nations, to the enthusiastic applause of Israel’s enemies, he spoke as if our closest ally in the Middle East was the problem.” Romney said at the VFW.
Obama’s advisers were quick to point out that his administration vetoed the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations, increased military aid to Israel and gave Israel what is called the “Iron Dome” defense shield capacity, which has greatly reduced the number of Israeli casualties from rocket attacks. “There is a lot of playing politics with this issue” said Flournoy.
But aside from criticizing Obama, Romney’s speech and his foreign policy adviser’s remarks were short on details explaining how Romney’s policies would be different. Williams said Romney would be tougher on Iran and would threaten the use of force against Tehran, but the Obama administration also says the threat of force is “always on the table.”
Following Romney’s remarks at the VFW, Vice President Joe Biden said that the Republican candidate “reflexively criticizes the president's policies without offering any alternatives.”