Top foreign policy advisers for the Obama and Romney campaigns faced off at the Brookings Institution Wednesday, underscoring a week in which both candidates delivered addresses about their philosophies in dealing with other nations.
Critics on both sides of the aisle have called on Romney to communicate a distinctive foreign policy vision, differentiated from Obama‚??s, and he and adviser Rich Williamson responded this week by taking the offensive and accusing Obama for failing to act decisively toward hostile nations.
At Brookings, Williamson recalled a July 2008 speech by then-Senator Barack Obama that identifies Iran as a chief threat in the Middle East.
‚??Irrefutably, Iran is much closer today than they were three-and-a-half years ago‚?Ě to nuclear power, Williamson said. ‚??Whatever the strategies were, they‚??ve failed.‚?Ě
He castigated Obama for countenancing plans allowing Iran to enrich some uranium for ostensibly scientific purposes, saying a Romney administration would not tolerate any.
‚??There are winks and nods and suggestions there might be acceptance of a three-and-a-half or five percent enrichment. That would be unacceptable,‚?Ě he said.
Michele Flournoy, former undersecretary of Defense and a top Obama foreign policy adviser, countered that the administration was taking a hard line on Iran, though she acknowledged that attempts to negotiate with the country‚??s leadership had ended with disappointing failure.
‚??Today we have the most serious sanctions ever put in place against any country on the face of the earth,‚?Ě she said.
To counter the Iranian nuclear threat, she said U.S. military action remained on the table.
‚??The Pentagon is planning for this; it‚??s robust, it‚??s ready, it‚??s there as an option,‚?Ě she said. ‚??The president‚??s judgment is, right now is not yet the time.‚?Ě
Regarding the brutal Assad regime in Syria, Williamson challenged the administration for not coming to the aid of opposition forces sooner while a dictator caused thousands of his own people to be killed.
‚??The administration recently has been telling reporters that we‚??ve been willing to work with the opposition,‚?Ě he said. ‚??That‚??s great, but it‚??s 15 months late.‚?Ě
Williamson renewed Romney‚??s allegation that Obama was leading from behind on Syria and waiting for approval from coalition allies before taking decisive action.
Flournoy countered that the U.S. had been quietly aiding opposition forces in various forms for months before officials acknowledged the fact, and said the administration was developing a theory of how to weaken Assad by eroding his inner circle.
‚??I think working the political dimensions of this are the most important piece,‚?Ě she said.
Williamson also said Obama failed to take a hard line in dealings with Russia, even as Vladimir Putin assumed the presidency amid accusations of ballot-rigging and Russian leadership has continued to shield the Assad regime.
‚??There‚??s been an authoritarian drift in Russia during the last three-and-a-half years,‚?Ě Williamson said.
‚?? … I think what you‚??ve done is allow them to constantly test the limits. They‚??ve tested them and felt they could go further.‚?Ě
While Flournoy said Obama was ultimately a ‚??patriot and a pragmatist‚?Ě in terms of foreign relations, Williamson said the Romney campaign‚??s beef with the commander-in-chief was his persistent idealism, employing negotiation when strength and force were needed.
‚??As one person wrote, the president went to China thinking his eloquence would bend their behavior, and the Chinese found that curious,‚?Ě Williamson said. ‚??Romney is more in the tradition of Truman, Kennedy, and Reagan, and President Obama has a different approach.‚?Ě
Romney is on a five-day foreign relations tour of London, Israel, and Poland. Tuesday, he mentioned both Israel and Poland as valuable allies that have been slighted by the administration.