Biden to slam Romney on foreign policy Thursday

Olivier Knox

With the one-year anniversary of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden less than one week away, Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday will offer a ringing defense of President Barack Obama's national security record and hammer presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney's approach to foreign policy.

The vice president, in a 10:30 a.m. speech at New York University, "will contrast the Administration's record with the empty rhetoric of Governor Mitt Romney, who continues to distort and mischaracterize the President's accomplishments on foreign policy and national security without offering policy alternatives of his own," the Obama campaign announced. It did not offer details of the alleged distortions.

Biden, a former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, will also detail how "we have successfully confronted our enemies and strengthened our alliances to effectively meet the challenges we face overseas."The vice president was to speak a day after Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a rising star in the party and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticized Obama's foreign policy in a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington on Wednesday. Rubio, often discussed as a possible running mate for Romney, also rebuked those in his party who urge a retrenchment from the world.

Recent public opinion polls have found that Americans give Obama generally better grades on foreign policy than on the economy. And the president's political campaign has not been shy about using his decision to order the May 2011 raid in which elite American forces killed bin Laden as shorthand for "strong on national security." Biden, notably, dubbed it with typical audacity the boldest military plan in 500 years. And the vice president has repeatedly spoken what may be the pithiest "bumper sticker" re-election argument for Obama: "Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive. Think about it."

Still, Biden's speech comes at a time when Republicans have ramped up criticisms of the president on a range of foreign policy issues as the political campaign heats up. John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate's Armed Services Committee, has repeatedly condemned Obama's decision not to provide Syria's outgunned opposition with weapons to battle the country's government forces. Republicans of all stripes have pounded the president for telling outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently that the White House would have more "flexibility" on issues like missile defense after the November election. And conservatives have charged that America has received too little in return for Obama's policy of engaging China and Russia, and that the president is shortchanging Israel's concerns about Iran's nuclear program.

The president is walking a tightrope on the war in Afghanistan. Amid ebbing public support, he has repeatedly underlined that his strategy calls for shifting the burden for the war-torn country's security to Afghan forces next year on the way to a complete withdrawal of American combat forces by the end of 2014. At the same time, he has promised that the drawdown will be done "responsibly" to prevent the return of the Taliban to power and the possibility that al-Qaida, though badly degraded, could once again use remote areas of Afghanistan as bases to plan attacks on U.S. targets. And he has said that the number of troops that will leave and how quickly they do so will be under constant reassessment and will hinge on the judgment of military commanders.

A major test for Obama's approach will come at the late-May NATO summit in Chicago, when the alliance comes together to hammer out the details of the withdrawal plan, which it endorsed at a gathering in Portugal's capital of Lisbon in November 2010. NATO leaders are notably expected to sketch out a more precise timetable for the transfer of responsibility to Afghan forces. At the same time, some NATO members, like France, could be on a path to withdraw their troops more quickly than had been previously expected, a potential headache for their partners.

Senior administration officials, briefing reporters at the White House this week on condition that they be neither named nor quoted, dismissed any suggestion that Obama needs to step up his efforts to win over war-weary Americans to his approach to the conflict. And they predicted that the president would relish going toe-to-toe with Romney on the issue, painting the Republican as favoring perpetual war.

Romney's campaign website accuses Obama of disregarding the advice of top military commanders—notably on the size of the troop "surge" he ordered in late 2009—and of setting a "politically inspired" withdrawal timetable. (Look for Obama's aides and surrogates to counter that NATO has endorsed the drawdown.) It does not set a date by which American forces will come home, a step some Republicans have charged will only encourage Islamist fighters to wait out NATO and convince even locals sympathetic to the West to hedge their bets. And Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul charged in an email to Yahoo News that Obama had adopted a "feckless foreign policy" that "has emboldened our adversaries, weakened our allies" and left America "considerably weaker" around the world.

While the Obama campaign did not offer specifics of Romney's alleged distortions, the former Massachusetts governor has infuriated Democrats by constantly accusing the president of apologizing for America—a charge repeatedly debunked by independent fact-checking organizations. Romney has also accused Obama of failing to impose "crippling" sanctions on Iran in the standoff over its suspect nuclear program, a charge the White House counters by noting that the international sanctions regime on Tehran has toughened to an unprecedented level on this president's watch.

UPDATE 1:27 pm ET: This post has been updated to include a statement from Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul.

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