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WASHINGTON - Mitt Romney is intensifying his efforts to draw a sharp contrast with President Obama on national security in the campaign's closing stages, portraying Obama as having mishandled the tumult in the Arab world and having left the nation exposed to a terrorist attack in Libya.
In a speech on Monday at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney will declare that "hope is not a strategy" for dealing with the rise of Islamist governments in the Middle East or an Iran racing toward the capability to build a nuclear weapon, according to excerpts released by his campaign.
The essence of Romney's argument is that he would take the United States back to an earlier era, one that would result, as his foreign policy director, Alex Wong, said Sunday, in "the restoration of a strategy that served us well for 70 years."
Romney has yet to fill in many details of how he would conduct foreign policy, or resolve deep ideological rifts within the GOP and his own foreign policy team. It is a disparate and politely fractious team of advisers that includes warring tribes of neoconservatives, traditional strong-defense conservatives, and a band of self-described "realists" who believe there are limits to the degree the United States can impose its will.
Each group is vying to shape Romney's views, usually through policy papers that many of the advisers wonder if he is reading. Indeed, in a campaign that has been so intensely focused on economic issues, some of these advisers say they have engaged with him so little on issues of national security that they are uncertain about how he would govern.
"Would he take the lead in bombing Iran if the mullahs were getting too close to a bomb, or just back up the Israelis?" one of his senior advisers asked. "Would he push for peace with the Palestinians or just live with the status quo? He's left himself a lot of wiggle room."
Indeed, while the theme Romney plans to hit the hardest in his speech at VMI -- that the Obama era has been one marked by "weakness" and the abandonment of allies -- has political appeal, the specific descriptions of what Romney would do, on such issues as drawing red lines for Iran's nuclear program and threatening to cut off military aid to difficult allies such as Pakistan or Egypt if they veer away from U.S. interests, sound at times quite close to Obama's approach.
And the speech appears to glide past positions Romney himself took more than a year ago, when he voiced opposition to expanding the intervention in Libya to hunt down Moammar Gadhafi. He called it "mission creep," although within months, Gadhafi was gone. And last spring, Romney was caught on tape telling donors he believed "there's just no way" a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can work.