Romney and Clinton in New York (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
NEW YORK—Months after he used former President Bill Clinton in ads to attack President Barack Obama, Mitt Romney finally shared a stage with the 42nd president. In an address at the Clinton Global Initiative's annual conference, Romney argued that the United States needs to retool how it allocates foreign aid.
Ahead of his speech, Romney poked fun at Clinton's influence on the 2012 race. After Clinton praised the former Massachusetts governor's support for the service programs City Year and AmeriCorps, Romney joked about the former president's glowing introduction.
"If there's one thing we've learned this election season, it's that a few words from Bill Clinton can do any man a lot of good," Romney said. "After that introduction, I guess all I have to do is wait a day or two for the bounce."
In his speech, Romney outlined plans for a "new approach" to America's foreign aid system, arguing that the U.S. should tie development assistance to requirements that would remove trade barriers to allow for greater U.S. investment and the spread of free enterprise.
"Ours is a compassionate nation. We look around us and see withering, suffering. Our hearts break," Romney said. "But too often our passion for charity is tempered by our sense that our aid is not always effective. We see stories of cases where American aid has been diverted to corrupt governments. We wonder why years of aid and relief seem never to extinguish the hardship, why the suffering persists decade after decade."
Romney argued that temporary aid under the current program can "jolt an economy" but "it can't sustain an economy" because "at some point, the money runs out." He insisted that a foreign aid program should be designed to foster private enterprise and job creation that would have a longer-lasting impact on a country's future.
Romney never directly referenced his Democratic opponent, but his speech was clearly meant to serve as a contrast to Obama's foreign policy approach, which has occurred against the backdrop of unrest in the Middle East and North Africa. The president speaks before the United Nations Tuesday about his policies.
Romney's speech came a day after he criticized Obama's comments on CBS' "60 Minutes" over the weekend, where the president suggested the recent outbreaks of violence overseas were just "bumps in the road." The Romney campaign immediately seized on the remark, suggesting that Obama was downplaying the death of Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and other Americans killed in attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions abroad.
Romney made no mention of Obama's comments but offered an implied criticism of the president's policies, arguing that the way to curb violence in the Middle East is to offer not simply foreign aid but opportunities for "work."
"That must be at the heart of our effort to help people build economies that can create jobs for people, young and old alike. Work builds self-esteem. It transforms minds from fantasy and fanaticism to reality and grounding," Romney said. "Work will not long tolerate corruption nor quietly endure the brazen theft by government of the product of hardworking men and women."
In a clear dig at Obama, Romney said if he wins the White House, he hopes to "remind the world of the goodness and bigness of the American heart."
"I will never apologize for America. I believe that America has been one of the greatest forces for good the world has ever known," Romney said. "We can hold that knowledge in our hearts with humility and unwavering conviction."