Trailing the polls, Mitt Romney has brought foreign policy centre stage in the US election battle, promising a more assertive stance in world affairs, especially the Middle East, and - in a dig at President Obama - vowing that he would “never apologise for America.”
On Monday, he lambasted Mr Obama for his passivity in the face of turmoil in Libya and Syria, and the threat posed by Iran's nuclear programme. Yesterday, the Republican challenger forcefully made his case at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, telling the group set up by the 42nd President how America seemed to be "at the mercy of events, rather than shaping events."
At first glance the new focus might seem odd. Foreign policy is an area where Mr Obama consistently gets higher marks than his opponent. Ordinarily, moreover, it features little in presidential campaigns, especially those - like this one - in which economic problems are paramount.
But the Romney team senses an opening, amid the deepening violence in Syria, the murderous attack on the US mission in Benghazi earlier this month, and Monday's truculent Israel-mocking performance by Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, described yesterday by Mr Romney as "the voice of unspeakable evil."
Simultaneously, Mr Obama has run into criticism for his decision to skip bilateral meetings with world leaders (among them Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu) during his visit to the United Nations General Assembly, leaving them instead to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - even as he found time to appear with his wife Michelle on ABC television's daytime womens' chat show 'The View,' in which he at one point described himself as "eye candy."
At the Clinton forum, Mr Romney could not have been more presidential in demeanour, as he accused Mr Obama of passivity in confronting the challenges of the Middle East, and warned of the risks of "religious extremism" across the region. He also set out proposals of his own to make US foreign aid programmes more effective, insisting they must be tied to America's free enterprise values. When he travelled abroad, Mr Romney said, he had grown convinced that the critical difference between countries was not geography; rather that the "the richest countries were the freest countries."
Specifically, he called for "prosperity pacts," targeted at medium size businesses and designed first and foremost to create jobs. "Nothing we can do will change lives more permanently," the Republican candidate declared. Unusually too, Mr Romney managed a decent joke after he was presented yesterday by Bill Clinton.
Being introduced by the former president "can do a man a whole lot of good," he said, referring to Mr Clinton's rip-roaring, highly-praised speech putting Mr Obama's name into nomination at the Democratic convention. "All I have to do now is wait a few days for the bounce," he added, to much laughter from the audience.
And indubitably, Mr Romney needs one. More polls yesterday showed him trailing Mr Obama, both nationally and in key states - most notably Ohio, without which it is all but impossible for a Republican to win the White House, and where the president is ahead by 6 per cent, 50 to 44.Reuse content