* Romney echoes Obama on Afghanistan, drones, Iran
* Analysts see effort to embrace moderate stances
* Republican emphasizes peace, not war
By Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON, Oct 23 At times, it was as if Mitt
Romney had come to praise Barack Obama's foreign policy rather
than to bury it.
Monday night's foreign policy debate between the Republican
presidential nominee and the Democratic president was striking
for the frequency with which Romney aligned himself with Obama's
strategies rather than distancing himself from them.
On topics from withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by 2014
to avoiding a U.S. military entanglement in Syria, Romney echoed
Obama in what analysts saw as a conscious effort to appear a
moderate who would not drag the United States into another war.
"His objective here was not to differentiate himself from
the president but to present himself as a plausible commander in
chief," said Martin Indyk, vice president of foreign policy
studies at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington.
"I'm not sure it succeeded, but it was a very interesting
approach on his part to try to consolidate his image as a
peacemaker, not a warmonger," he added. "I suspect that the
reason is that their polling shows the same sentiment on foreign
policy issues: that the American people are tired of wars ...
and they won't support a candidate that wants to start another
GRENADES AND BOUQUETS
Romney lobbed some grenades at Obama, accusing him of
presiding over a decline of U.S. influence, of failing to bring
Israelis and Palestinians into peace talks, of doing too little
to support Iranian protesters in 2009 or to stop Syria's
But he also tossed the president some bouquets.
On Afghanistan, where Romney has at times accused Obama of
"a politically timed retreat," he lauded the president's "surge"
of forces into the country.
"The surge has been successful and the training program is
proceeding apace," he said, saying there were 350,000 Afghan
forces "ready to step in to provide security and we're going to
be able to make that transition by the end of 2014."
Asked about his stance on drones, Romney solidly backed
Obama's extensive use of the unmanned aircraft for surveillance
and targeted killings without putting U.S. troops in harm's way.
"I support that entirely, and feel the president was right
to up the usage of that technology," Romney said, although he
added that "we can't kill our way out of this mess" and that
Obama should have done more to combat "Islamic extremism."
On Iran, where Romney has at times stressed the threat of
military strikes to discourage Tehran from seeking nuclear arms,
he instead praised sanctions imposed by Obama, put the accent on
a negotiated solution and called force a last resort.
"It is also essential for us to understand what our mission
is in Iran, and that is to dissuade Iran from having a nuclear
weapon through peaceful and diplomatic means," Romney said.
"It's absolutely the right thing to do, to have crippling
sanctions. I would have put them in place earlier. But it's good
that we have them," he said. "They do work. You're seeing it
right now in the economy."
Iran denies it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, saying
its atomic program is for peaceful purposes such as generating
electricity as well as isotopes for medical uses.
One of the few places where Romney offered new policy
details was in how he would tighten U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Romney proposed barring ships that carry Iranian oil from
U.S. ports and indicting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the
Crime of Genocide for "genocide incitation."
Visiting New York last month on the sidelines of the U.N.
General Assembly, Ahmadinejad said the Jewish state had no roots
in the Middle East and would be "eliminated."
'VERY LITTLE PRODUCT DIFFERENTIATION'
Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the
Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in
Washington, said Romney did little to advance a foreign policy
vision for his Republican Party.
"The question, it seems to me, that continues to loom out
there is that the Republican Party remains divided between
realists and neo-conservatives and neo-isolationists and we
still have no clear idea how a Romney administration would
reorient the party and try to consolidate those views," he said.
Ken Lieberthal, a China expert who served on President Bill
Clinton's national security staff, said Romney may have tempered
his positions, calculating that with a domestic-focused
election, he would not suffer from echoing Obama's foreign
"He was willing to risk very little product differentiation
in order to sound statesmanlike, mature, and quite reasonable
and moderate," Lieberthal said. "This debate had Romney sounding
much more like Obama than he ever has before."
"But I interpret that as meaning that he feels that this
election is really going to be decided on the domestic side and
therefore he simply doesn't want to look bad on foreign policy,"
he added. "He carped a lot and they traded barbs back and forth
but when you look at the fundamentals, it was hard to see how
Romney differed from Obama's foreign policy."