Washington:  Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney criticised Barack Obama's handling of threats in the Middle East, saying the incumbent President's lack of leadership has made the region more dangerous place than it was when he took office nearly four years ago.
    
Promising to restore America's foreign policy to its traditional role, Romney said, "Unfortunately, this president's policies have not been equal to our best examples of world leadership. And nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East."
    
In the major foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney said, "The President is fond of saying that 'the tide of war is receding'. And I want to believe him as much as anyone else."
    
"But when we look at the Middle East today, with Iran closer than ever to nuclear weapons capability, with the conflict in Syria threatening to destabilise the region and with violent extremists on the march, and with an American ambassador and three others dead -- likely at the hands of al-Qaeda affiliates -- it's clear that the risk of conflict in the region is higher now than when the president took office.
    
In the address, Romney cited the recent protest and violence in the Middle East, the relationship with Israel to prove his point.
    
"It is our responsibility and the responsibility of the President to use America's great power to shape history, not to lead from behind, leaving our destiny at the mercy of events," he said.
    
"Unfortunately, that's exactly where we find ourselves in the Middle East under President Obama. The relationship between the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel, for example, our closest ally in the region, has suffered great strains.
    
"The president explicitly stated that his goal was to put daylight between the United States and Israel, and he's succeeded. This is a dangerous situation that has set back the hope of peace in the Middle East and emboldened our mutual adversaries, especially Iran," he argued.
    
He accused Obama of a hasty troop withdrawal from Iraq, saying hard-fought gains there are being eroded by rising violence and a resurgent al-Qaeda.
"In Iraq the costly gains made by our troops are being eroded by rising violence, a resurgent al-Qaeda, the weakening of democracy in Baghdad and the rising influence of Iran. And yet America's ability to influence events for the better in Iraq has been undermined by the abrupt withdrawal of our entire troop presence," Romney said.
    
"The president's tried, he tried, but he also failed to secure a responsible and gradual drawdown that would have better secured our gains."

Romney said that Obama failed to offer support to America's partners and allies.
    
"Across the greater Middle East, as the joy born from the downfall of dictators has given way to the painstaking work of building capable security forces and growing economies and developing effective democratic institutions, the president has failed to offer the tangible support that our partners want and need," he said.
    
He said the president also failed to lead in Syria, where more than -- more than 30,000 men, women, and children have been massacred by the Assad regime over the past 20 months.
    
"Violent extremists are flowing into the fight. Our ally Turkey has been attacked. And the conflict threatens stability in the region," he said.
    
At the same time, he said, America can take pride in the blows that the military and intelligence professionals have inflicted on al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including the killing of Osama bin Laden.
    
"These are real achievements won at a high cost. al-Qaeda remains a strong force, however, in Yemen and Somalia, in Libya and other parts of North Africa, in Iraq and now in Syria. And other extremists have gained ground across the region. Drones and the modern instruments of war are important tools in our fight, but they are no substitute for a national security strategy for the Middle East," he said.
    
Referring to the current situation in the Middle East, Romney said: "It is time to change course in the Middle East". "That course should be organised around these bedrock principles, America must have confidence in our cause, clarity in our purpose and resolve in our might. No friend of America will question our commitment to support them. No enemy that attacks America will question our resolve to defeat them, he said.

"And no one anywhere, friend or foe, will doubt America's capability to back up our words."
    
Romney said he will put the leaders of Iran on notice that the US and its allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability.
    
"I will not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran and will -- and will tighten the sanctions we currently have."I will restore the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf. And I'll work with Israel to increase our military assistance and coordination.
    
"For the sake of peace, we must make clear to Iran through actions, not just words, that their nuclear pursuit will not be tolerated," he said.

Romney said he will champion free trade and restore it as a critical element of US strategy, both in the Middle East and across the world.

(Agencies)

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