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Robust Romney says 'unique US' should be ready to act alone

Mitt Romney, the front runner for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination, yesterday staked out a robust foreign policy vision, dripping with American exceptionalism and featuring higher military spending and a readiness by the US to go it alone if necessary to protect its interests.

"This is America's moment," he declared. "We should embrace the challenge, not shrink from it, not crawl into an isolationist shell, not wave the white flag of surrender, nor give in to those who assert America's moment has passed. That is utter nonsense."

Mr Romney's speech – in the deliberate setting of the Citadel military college in Charleston, South Carolina, a symbol of the South's warrior traditions and in a state holding one of the first primaries next January – is his first major foreign policy foray in a campaign set to be dominated by the country's grim economic situation.

Standing beneath a giant banner proclaiming "Believe in America", the former Massachusetts governor announced an eight-point action plan in his first 100 days in office. It includes a review of the current schedule for withdrawal from Afghanistan, steps to beef up the navy, and the restoration of cuts on missile defence, as well as a more vigorous campaign against cyber-espionage, and the permanent deployment of carrier groups off Iran. He pledged unwavering support for Israel, and vowed to maintain the so-called "special relationship" with Britain.

Above all, however, Mr Romney took direct aim at Barack Obama.

"God did not create this country to be a nation of followers," he said, reiterating Republican criticism that the Democratic incumbent had failed to stand up adequately for US interests. "I will never, ever, apologise for America," he said to loud applause.

The US had a "unique destiny", and was not meant to be "one of several equally balanced global powers". The country must lead the world – "or someone else will. The 21st century should be an American century, in which America has the strongest economy and the strongest military".

He came out strongly against the isolationist urgings of some of his competitors, notably the Kentucky Congressman Ron Paul and to a lesser extent governor Rick Perry of Texas.

Mr Romney maintained that the US should work with the United Nations "when appropriate".

"But," he added, "know this. While America should work with other nations, we always reserve the right to act alone to protect our vital national interests."

Underlining that assertive stance, Mr Romney has announced a team of foreign policy advisers larded with veterans of the previous George W. Bush administration, including several notable neo-conservatives and supporters of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Quite apart from its content, the speech was designed to bolster the sense that Mr Romney is the best-prepared and best-qualified contender in a Republican contest whose contours now seem set after the announcements this week by Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice-presidential nominee, and New Jersey governor Chris Christie that they will not run.