CAIRO - While unveiling his foreign policy credentials, US presidential candidate Mitt Romney has outlined his strategy to combat extremism by joining hands with Muslims to build their countries, drawing fire from Republicans for being soft on foreign policy issues.
"The key that we're going to have to pursue is a pathway to get the Muslim world to be able to reject extremism on its own, Romney said during his third and final debate with President Barack Obama cited by The Guardian.
We don't want another Iraq; we don't want another Afghanistan. That's not the right course for us.
Meeting in their final debate on Monday, October 22, before the November election, Romney and Obama showed their credentials for fighting extremist groups.
Al-Qaeda is much weaker than it was when I came into office, Obama said.
And they don't have the same capacities to attack the US homeland and our allies as they did four years ago".
Hitting back, Romney painted Obama as weak in the Middle East, Romney accusing the Democrat leader of opening the way to a resurgent al-Qaeda and other extremist groups from Libya to Mali.
The Republican hopeful also described the election of a Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi, in Egypt as part of a "pretty dramatic reversal in the kind of hopes we had for that region".
While congratulating Obama on killing Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Romney unveiled a new policy with hallmarks of nation-building.
We can't kill our way out of this mess," he said.
"We're going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the world of Islam and other parts of the world, reject this radical violent extremism, which is certainly not on the run.
"The right course for us is to make sure that we go after the people who are leaders of these various anti-American groups and these jihadists, but also help the Muslim world, he said.
And how do we do that? A group of Arab scholars came together, organized by the UN, to look at how we can help the world reject these terrorists."
Romney said the scholars came up with a list of four priorities for foreign countries to combat extremism, beginning with economic development.
"We should key our foreign aid, our direct foreign investment, and that of our friends, we should coordinate it to make sure that we push back and give them more economic development," he said.
"No 2, better education. No 3, gender equality. No 4, the rule of law. We have to help these nations create civil societies."
But Romney's Republican partners were quick to clarify his engagement policy, fearing the strategy would require extended financial commitments.
"He was talking about better engagement, said Congressman Mike Rogers, a Republican hawk.
He denied that Romney was promoting nation-building, a trend rejected by Republicans who have their eye on the foreign aid budget for deeper spending cuts.
You can't walk away from those relationships completely. We are for commerce, not conflict.
What he was trying to say is we need to use American strength to pursue gender equality, which you see deteriorating all across the Middle East today. We show strength through trade agreements, using our economic power to try to bring those nations along into a more moderate place," he said.
As for education and civil society, Rogers said, "He wasn't talking about building schools."
John Sununu, George Bush Sr's chief of staff, said that Romney had identified the causes of the Arab uprisings that had to be addressed if conflict is to be quelled.
"I think he's laying down a set of principles that are important for the world as it deals with the realities of unrest that have been expressed in the Arab Spring, Sununu said.
There's a reason people are demonstrating in the streets and they correspond to the points Mitt Romney was making and he's saying those countries have to find a way to deal with it if they want us to help them economically.
The former chief of staff also sought to clarify Romney's suggestion for more aid and direct involvement.
"Romney's smart enough to know it's a different package for different countries," he said.
Yet, some conservatives were angry with Romney's suggestions, calling him soft' on foreign policy issues.
I am glad to know that mitt agrees with Obama so much. No, really. Why vote? Glenn Beck, a former Fox News anchor, tweeted sarcastically during the debate, The Daily Mail reported.
Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin wrote: Why hasn't Romney gone after Obama for Gitmo jihadist coddling, delaying justice for American victims' families?
David Frum, a conservative journalist who worked as a speechwriter for George W Bush, was also critical.Real bottom line: when debating in front of a big national audience, Romney will offer no substantial criticism of Obama foreign policy, he tweeted.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net