A girl wearing a Big Bird sweater waves at President Barack Obama at the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Keene, …KEENE, Calif.—President Barack Obama's re-election campaign and the White House defended his handling of world affairs from a scathing attack by Republican challenger Mitt Romney, arguing that the former Massachusetts governor is fond of "chest-pounding" and "saber-rattling."
"This is somebody who leads with chest-pounding rhetoric," campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One.
"He's surrounded himself with a number of people who were advisers to past President Bush, people who have used saber-rattling rhetoric when it comes to Syria and Iran," she said. "And that's something that we think the American people should take a look at."
But she also claimed that Romney's speech at the Virginia Military Institute aimed to "reboot" his foreign policy after a series of troubled attempts—notably a summertime overseas trip marred by verbal missteps.
"When you're commander in chief you don't get to bring an Etch A Sketch into the Oval Office. You don't get second chances, never mind seventh chances," she said. (But presidential foreign policy has to adapt: Obama's approach to Iran, for example, went from offering unconditional negotiations during the 2008 campaign to overseeing the toughest economic sanctions regime against Tehran by 2012.)
Psaki noted Romney's criticisms of the troop withdrawal from Iraq, saying "that's one of the president's proudest accomplishments." And she scolded the Republican for saying Obama had not signed any trade agreements, calling that charge "absurd" and "inaccurate" since the president "renegotiated" commercial pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama and then signed them.
White House press secretary Jay Carney accused Romney of making "an attempt to draw a distinction and to suggest that this president's commitment to Israel's security is not strong."
"And yet Israel's leaders themselves have said that military cooperation and support, and intelligence cooperation and support from this president and this administration is unprecedented in the U.S.-Israeli relationship," Carney said.
Obama's personal relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is famously frosty, and Romney is closer to Netanyahu on the Iran nuclear issue. Obama has said he won't rule out the use of military force to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Romney (and Netanyahu) has said the key is preventing Tehran from attaining the ability to build a nuclear weapon.
On Iran, "there has been a lot of heated rhetoric and chest-thumping," Carney told reporters. "But every concrete prescription that the president's critics, including Gov. Romney, have put forward—concrete prescriptions that make sense—have been acted on," he said.
Psaki and Carney also defended Obama's handling of the broader Middle East.
Romney "said that the president and his team are not doing enough when it comes to Syria, when it comes to Libya, and several events in the Middle East," Psaki said. "What exactly are they suggesting we do? What exactly is their plan and their proposal? So if they're going farther, they should say that."