Obama and Romney on the Middle East

Sunday, October 28, 2012 | 12:00 p.m. CDT; updated 8:48 a.m. CDT, Monday, October 29, 2012

This article is one of 12 that examines where President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney stand on some of the issues that are important to voters.

The Middle East

Barack Obama

Obama oversaw the end of the Iraq War in 2011 and is drawing down the war effort in Afghanistan.

“I promised to refocus on the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11,” Obama said at the Democratic National Convention on Sept. 6. “And we have. We've blunted the Taliban's momentum in Afghanistan, and in 2014 our longest war will be over."

Obama also has ordered the use of drone strikes to kill high-profile terrorist targets in the Middle East, including one that killed a U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was a leader of al-Qaida's affiliate in Yemen.

Regarding the Arab Spring, Obama said the United States supported protests in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. In the case of Egypt, he said in a Sept. 25 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, “our support for democracy ultimately put us on the side of the people.”

Regarding Syria, Obama said during the third presidential debate that the United States would do everything it can to make sure it is helping the opposition but that, ultimately, “Syrians are going to have to determine their own future.”

In Libya, Obama authorized the use of U.S. military force to help enforce a no-fly zone that contributed to the capture of Col. Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

After terrorists killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, at a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, the Obama administration initially blamed protestors opposing an American-made anti-Islamic video. The State Department later said there were no protests before the attack and that it was instead a planned assault by terrorists. Investigations are ongoing.

Mitt Romney

Romney has openly criticized Obama for projecting weakness to the rest of the world. He says the potential for conflict in the Middle East is higher now than it was when Obama first took office.

Regarding drone attacks, Romney said that he thinks “the president was right to up the usage of that technology” and that the United States should continue to use drones to go after those who threaten America. He also believes they are no substitute for a legitimate national security strategy in the Middle East.

Romney says he would support people seeking to instill “lasting democratic values” in the Middle East and would organize all diplomatic efforts in the region under one director.

He says he also would place a greater focus on keeping Egypt as a U.S. ally. With a population of more than 80 million people, Egypt helps determine the future of the entire region, he notes.

Regarding Syria, Romney criticized Obama for failing to establish a transition plan and for passing on leadership to the United Nations. He says he would work to arm “responsible members of the opposition” to hasten the transition to a stable government in Syria. He does not, however, want to have the U.S. military involved in Syria.

Regarding the attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya, Romney has criticized the Obama administration for failing to place more security at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and for blaming the American-made YouTube video that caused riots elsewhere in the Middle East.


MU political science professor Cooper Drury said that Obama’s foreign policy has been rather conservative, and there is virtually no difference between former President George W. Bush’s foreign policy and Obama’s. The drone strikes and the troop surge in Afghanistan are examples of that.

Drury said there also are few differences in the foreign policy proposals offered by Obama and Romney. The president is doing something most Republicans agree with, Drury said. He added that Romney, whose proposals he called relatively moderate, criticizes Obama’s foreign policy because he has to. He can’t just say, “Oh, by the way he’s doing a great job,” even if his policies would be the same.

The Associated Press published a fact-checking report after the third debate that verified the accuracy of statements from both candidates.

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