LEXINGTON, Va.- Mitt Romney in a foreign policy address Monday accused President Obama of making America less safe, jeopardizing U.S. interests in the Middle East and running a weak foreign policy based solely on political calculation.
Challenging Obama on foreign policy issues that had been the president's strong suit, Romney pointed to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack at the U.S. consulate in Libya as proof the president's first term had diminished American standing on the global stage.
"Hope is not a strategy," Romney said at the Virginia Military Institute. "We cannot support our friends and defeat our enemies in the Middle East when our words are not backed up by deeds."
The Republican challenger ripped the president for being soft on Iran, ending the war in Iraq too abruptly and failing to secure trade agreements that could help kick-start a stagnant economy.
Romney, riding a wave of momentum from the first presidential debate, is looking to convince Americans that he is up to the task of assuming the role of commander in chief.
Romney's criticisms of Obama are rooted in the fallout from the deaths of a U.S. ambassador and three others in Libya that the White House initially claimed was a random act of violence prompted by an anti-Islam video. The administration only later acknowledged that the coordinated attack was the work of terrorists aligned with al Qaeda.
"The attacks on America last month should not be seen as random acts," Romney said. "They are expressions of a larger struggle that is playing out across the broader Middle East -- a region that's now in the midst of the most profound upheaval in a century."
The Obama campaign countered that Romney had already proved he's unprepared for the duties of commander in chief. In a new ad released in Virginia on Monday, Obama reminded voters of Romney's missteps abroad, including his questioning London's readiness for the 2012 Olympics and his premature, partisan statement on the Libyan attacks.
Romney also failed to explain to voters specifically what he'd do in the Middle East, Obama's camp said.
"There's an awful lot of rhetoric and things, but when you get to the specifics, you just get the sense he doesn't know exactly what tools to use," former Secretary of State Madeline Albright said on behalf of the Obama campaign. "To those not totally into foreign policy, it sounds pretty good, but it's really full of platitudes."
In many ways, the differences Romney cited with Obama on this military campus were more about style than policy. He blistered the president for "leading from behind."
"President Obama believes that American strength is provocative, that we are too much in the world, and that a U.S. recessional is necessary and appropriate," said former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, a Romney supporter. "This is exactly opposite of what we need."
And even as progressives ripped Romney for a lack of specifics, his tough talk appeared to pay off with voters in this battleground state.
"The more and more I see of Romney, the more presidential he looks," Lisa Reed, a stay-at-home mom, said at a diner near the VMI campus. "I'm starting to come around on him. He looks the part -- and I'd feel safe with him in charge."