Image: Mitt Romney
Grace Beahm  /  AP
Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to supporters aboard the USS Yorktown in Charleston, S.C., on Thursday.
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updated 10/7/2011 5:00:04 PM ET 2011-10-07T21:00:04

Mitt Romney, the leading Republican presidential candidate, said Friday that he would strive for a century of American dominance, outlining proposals to strengthen the military while rejecting multilateral institutions like the United Nations when necessary.

The former Massachusetts governor also condemned the isolationist policies supported by the libertarian wing of his party in a speech delivered at The Citadel, a historic military college in South Carolina, which will hold the first presidential primary in the South early next year.

Romney's first major foreign policy speech as a candidate amounted to a show of force of sorts as he tries to position himself as the clear Republican front-runner in the White House race. Some Republicans remain reluctant to support him but Romney has resumed his place atop national polling following Texas Gov. Rick Perry's recent stumbles and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's decision not to run.

"When America is strong, the world is safer," Romney said.

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Video: Romney to explain foreign policy decisions (on this page)

The hawkish policies Romney outlined are designed to confront what may be the former businessman's most glaring weakness. While he served as a Mormon missionary in France more than four decades ago, he has only limited foreign policy experience. As he says in nearly every campaign stop, he has spent most of his life in the business world.

Next year's election is likely to be dominated by domestic issues, especially the weak U.S. economic recovery from the Great Recession that has left millions of Americans without jobs. And while polls show President Barack Obama may be vulnerable to criticism about the economy, he gets considerably higher marks in polls for his handling of foreign policy.

Romney said he would make it a priority to restore a strong American economy, which in turn would strengthen U.S. foreign policy.

"This century must be an American century. In an American century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world," Romney said. "God did not create this country to be a nation of followers. America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers. America must lead the world, or someone else will."

On the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, Romney also promised a full review with military commanders but he offered no clear direction for the conflict that is growing increasingly unpopular, even among conservatives.

"I will order a full review of our transition to the Afghan military to secure that nation's sovereignty from the tyranny of the Taliban," Romney said near the end of his remarks, listing the Afghan war among eight priorities for his first 100 days in office. "The force level necessary to secure our gains and complete our mission successfully is a decision I will make free from politics."

He also condemned the isolationist policies supported by some libertarian-leaning tea party activists who emphasize small government and deep spending cuts.

"This is America's moment. We should embrace the challenge, not shrink from it, not crawl into an isolationist shell, not wave the white flag of surrender, nor give in to those who assert America's moment has passed. That is utter nonsense," Romney told about 400 people gathered at The Citadel's Mark Clark Hall, named for the U.S. general who liberated Rome in World War II.

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He said other priorities for the first 100 days include rebuilding the Navy fleet, ordering aircraft carriers into the eastern Mediterranean and Persian Gulf to help pressure Iran, and deploying a national ballistic-missile defense system. He also called for 100,000 more troops.

He warned that "powerful, determined forces" threaten the nation's freedom, including Islamic fundamentalism and "anti-American visions of regimes in Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba — two of which are seeking nuclear weapons."

Romney also called for working with the United Nations when appropriate.

"But know this," he says. "While America should work with other nations, we always reserve the right to act alone to protect our vital national interests."

The hardline policies in some ways represent a return to those of the Bush administration. He announced that he had assembled a team of 22 moderate to conservative special advisers — almost all of whom held senior Bush administration positions in diplomacy, defense or intelligence — who will assist the Republican presidential hopeful "as he presents his vision for restoring American leadership in the world and securing our enduring interests and ideals abroad."

Two former Republican senators, Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Jim Talent of Missouri, are included as well as Bush-era CIA chief Michael Hayden and former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

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Yet the list doesn't include either of the two most recent Republican secretaries of state, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, or other key Bush administration policymakers such as two-time Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or former Vice President Dick Cheney.

The exact cost of Romney's plans is unclear, although it may be high. But any proposal to increase military spending is likely to face stiff opposition from Democrats who say the Defense Department should not be exempt from budget reductions at a time when social programs are already facing deep cuts.

Obama spokesman Jay Carney dismissed Romney's criticism of Obama's foreign policy, and pointed to comments Thursday from House Speaker John Boehner, who said he supported Obama's handing of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as terrorism.

Carney said Obama's "record on foreign policy and national security policy speaks for itself. We are stronger. We are safer."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Romney to explain foreign policy decisions

  1. Closed captioning of: Romney to explain foreign policy decisions

    >>> today mitt romney announced a team of dozens of foreign policy and national security advisers as a precursor to what his campaign is calling a major foreign policy speech scheduled for tomorrow in south carolina . richard williamson is a former u.s. ambassador and member of that team and someone we know well. thank you very much for being with us today. first of all, mitt romney is in south carolina and meeting with veterans at this hour as a matter of fact. and we've got the anniversary of the afghanistan war tomorrow. i wanted to ask you about what romney said in a major foreign policy announcement or pronounce. me ment in the new hampshire debate. he was in favor of withdrawing from afghanistan but not any faster or not against the advice of the generals, which created a big stir, people like danny plet ka said, wait a minute we thought he was a mainstream republican, is he saying withdraw right away? is he saying he would listen to the general's advice? what is your interpretation of his position on the afghanistan war ?

    >> first, andrea, thank you for letting me visit with you. we're excited about tomorrow's opportunity for governor romney to layout his foreign policy and the need for the 21st century to be an american century . in afghanistan he's been critical of the president's rapid drawdown, the fact that the president didn't follow the advice of any of his generals, the fact that his cia director testified that he didn't agree with the direction he went. so president obama has not done helped finish the job, governor romney thinks the job has to be finished. he believes we need to continue and accelerate our training of afghan security forces , both army and police. he and ambassador ryan, we have the best most experienced diplomats in history, we could work with him and make a smooth secure transition. but andrea, i was involved back in 1988 when we got the soviets to withdraw and we paid a price for leaving afghanistan in chaos. and while governors huntsman and perry are to the left of president obama on afghanistan , governor romney wants to see the job done but at the same time recognizes ultimately afghanistan 's fate will be with the afghanis.

    >> what has caused the confusion, to quote governor romney , he said on june 13th , it's time to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can. then he added of course consistent with the generals. in of course he was asked about it, we've helped the people in afghanistan establish freedom from the taliban. now we're at the point where they have to earn and keep the freedom themselves. this is not something we're going to do forever. you're saying that he is still against leaving on the accelerated pace that the president has set out?

    >> the precipitous withdrawal that president obama suggested and none of his own generals supported suggested by governors hunts man and perry would leave afghan san in chaos. it would undercut the work of our brave men and women in afghanistan and it would leave iran and afghanistan and pakistan in the worst situation, which endangers our security in a variety

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