* Republican will set the stage for second debate
* He would seek to arm Syrian rebels
* Obama campaign fires off sharp response
By Steve Holland
LEXINGTON, Va., Oct 8 Republican presidential
nominee Mitt Romney will vow to pursue a more aggressive policy
toward the Middle East on Monday if elected in an attempt to
draw a sharp distinction with how President Barack Obama has
handled Libya, Iran, Syria and the Arab-Israeli dispute.
Romney, in remarks at the Virginia Military Institute in
Lexington, will make a case that his policy views reflect what
advisers called the mainstream "peace through strength" doctrine
they said had been pursued by prior presidents from Harry Truman
to Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton.
The address will help Romney set the stage for his second
presidential debate with the Democratic incumbent on Oct. 16.
The next debate, at Hofstra University in New York state, will
cover both domestic and foreign policy in a town hall format.
Romney was widely seen as having won the first debate last
Wednesday in Denver, and his strong performance has halted a
slide in the polls and appears to have given him new confidence
for the last month of campaigning.
Romney will say that Obama has pursued a strategy of
"passivity" instead of partnership with U.S. allies in the
"I know the president hopes for a safer, freer, and a more
prosperous Middle East allied with the United States. I share
this hope. But hope is not a strategy," he will say, according
to speech excerpts released by his campaign.
Romney will use to illustrate his views the Sept. 11 assault
on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, in which U.S.
Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
Romney got himself into trouble in the immediate aftermath
of the attack by accusing the Obama administration of an
apologetic response to Muslims upset over a video made in the
United States that lampooned the Prophet Mohammed. Romney was
seen as injecting politics into a national tragedy.
But the criticism of late has turned to the Obama
administration's handling of the situation, with some lawmakers
accusing the State Department of providing insufficient security
for Americans there.
And the White House for days clung to its insistence that
the attack was linked to the Mohammed video until finally
conceding publicly that it was a terrorist action on the 11th
anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"No, as the administration has finally conceded, these
attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence
to impose their dark ideology on others, especially women and
girls; who are fighting to control much of the Middle East
today, and who seek to wage perpetual war on the West," Romney
Romney will promise that if elected Nov. 6, he will
vigorously pursue those responsible for the Libyan attacks, as
Obama has vowed to do.
He will also pledge to tighten sanctions on Iran to give up
its alleged nuclear weapons ambitions and deploy warships in the
region to apply pressure on Tehran.
He would also increase military assistance and coordination
to Israel, which has threatened a pre-emptive strike against
Iranian nuclear facilities.
Romney will pledge that his administration would work to
find elements of the Syrian opposition who share U.S. values and
ensure they obtain weapons needed to defeat Syrian leader Bashir
al-Assad's forces and end his brutal crackdown. Syrian rebels
have accused the United States and Western allies of sitting on
the sidelines of the conflict.
"Iran is sending arms to Assad because they know his
downfall would be a strategic defeat for them. We should be
working no less vigorously with our international partners to
support the many Syrians who would deliver that defeat to Iran
-rather than sitting on the sidelines," Romney will say.
Romney will say electing a new U.S. president will offer a
fresh opportunity to try once again to reach a peace agreement
between the Israelis and Palestinians. Romney is a strong
supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Advisers to Romney said the Republican's foreign policy
should be viewed through a mainstream context, that Democratic
and Republican presidents have projected American muscle abroad
and that Obama has departed from this tradition.
"I do think it's a bipartisan tradition. It's a recognition
that strength is not provocative. It's weakness that is
provocative, and there is a fundamental difference between
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney," said a top Romney foreign policy
adviser, Rich Williamson.
The Obama campaign issued a withering attack on Romney ahead
of the speech, pointing out that the Republican committed
several verbal gaffes that generated controversy during his July
trip to London, Jerusalem and Poland.
"Just as a reminder, this is the same guy who, when he went
overseas on his trip, the only person who has offended Europe
more is probably Chevy Chase," she told reporters in a reference
to the actor who starred in the comedy "National Lampoon's