Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney issued a sweeping indictment Tuesday of President Barack Obama's conduct of foreign policy, including a charge that the White House sought political gain by leaking classified details of the military raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
The stunningly sharp attack on Obama, issued in a Reno, Nevada, speech to the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, sets up Romney's journey this week to Britain, Israel and Poland, key American allies.
Romney did not detail how, specifically, he would alter U.S. policy even as he implied that Obama had stood by as Washington lost global supremacy and leadership of the free world.
"If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your president. You have that president today," the former Massachusetts governor told the appreciative audience of veterans.
Both candidates have been trading charges over who was best able to reinvigorate the struggling U.S. economy, but have turned to foreign affairs in recent days in advance of their speeches to the VFW and Romney's travels abroad. Polls show the economy remains uppermost in the minds of voters in what is expected to be one of the closest presidential elections in recent history.
The most serious charge among Romney's many allegations against Obama was the accusation of leaking secrets. Romney demanded that a special independent counsel be assigned to investigate to ensure that those involved are "exposed, dismissed and punished. The time for stonewalling is over."
Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed two federal prosecutors to get to the bottom of the leaks, but Romney suggested that wasn't good enough. The White House has rejected calls for a special prosecutor, saying there is no need for one.
Romney stopped short of accusing Obama specifically of leaking information that includes details of the mission that killed Osama bin Laden last year.
Obama has strongly rejected the leak accusations that, until Tuesday, had been contained to Republicans in Congress.
During a news conference last month, Obama called the accusations "offensive" and "wrong."
White House spokesman Jay Carney responded Tuesday by saying Obama "feels extremely strongly about this" and noting Holder's appointment of the two federal prosecutors to investigate.
"The president has made abundantly clear that he has no tolerance for leaks and he thinks leaks are damaging to our national security interests," Carney said.
Reflecting the campaign's recent attention to veterans, Obama added a visit Tuesday with some of them to his fundraising schedule in Portland, Oregon.
Obama slid into a blue vinyl booth with three middle-aged veterans who were among the lunchtime crowd at The Gateway Breakfast House. The conversation turned quickly to veterans care, including those who live in rural areas.
Campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said Romney was resorting to "cheap attacks" on the president "that lack credibility."
Among the vast array of attacks on Obama, the Republican candidate said:
—The president was "fond of lecturing Israel's leaders" and that his administration was among the "chorus of accusations, threats and insults (against Israel) at the United Nations."
—Obama's plan to have U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014 was "a politically timed retreat." However, Romney agreed that Afghan forces should be in charge of their own security by that time.
—Foreign aid to Egypt should be tied to peaceful relations between Egypt and Israel.
—Obama had engaged in appeasement of Russia that "began with the sudden abandonment of friends in Poland and the Czech Republic" where the administration of former President George W. Bush had planned to install missile defense systems to guard against Iranian attack. Russia contended the installations would upset the carefully crafted balance of missile forces in Europe.
Romney closed his fiery attack by saying he would "use every means necessary" to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.
He failed to acknowledge that Obama also has said he does not rule out using military force if negotiations fail to dissuade Tehran from the enrichment of uranium to levels that could be used in building a bomb.
The conduct of foreign policy is one of Obama's greatest strengths going into the November election. The administration's counterterrorism fight against al-Qaida and especially the killing of bin Laden has undercut the label Republicans have long attached to Democrats as soft on defense.
But Romney, taking a page from the Obama playbook, was trying to turn the foreign policy issue into a negative for the incumbent.
Obama has used that tactic in attacking Romney on issues relating to his readiness to handle the struggling U.S. economy. Polls show Americans trust Romney more than Obama on the economy.
To counter that, Obama's campaign has incessantly questioned the reasons behind the super-wealthy former businessman's refusal to release more of his tax records, by seeking answers about Romney's having sent money to overseas accounts and by linking him to Bain Capital's closure of American factories and sending the jobs overseas. Romney co-founded Bain in 1984 and says he left the company in 1999, before such business practices became widespread.
But news media reports show that Romney was still listed in filings with the federal government as holding the top positions at Bain as late as 2001, when some companies it controlled were closed and jobs lost.
In his speech to the VFW convention on Monday, Obama cast himself as a steady commander in chief, tested by two wars and the successful raid that killed the al-Qaida leader bin Laden in his Pakistan hideout. The president touted his record as one of promises kept, including ending the war in Iraq and winding down the conflict in Afghanistan.
Obama also said Romney would have kept troops in Iraq indefinitely and criticized him for opposing the president's 2014 timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan.
"That's not a plan for America's security," Obama told the veterans group.
Obama campaign officials have challenged Romney to offer clear policy ideas during his three-country trip, which will be viewed as a measure of how well the Republican candidate can stand up on the world stage. Obama took an even broader foreign trip as a candidate in 2008.
Vice President Joe Biden hit Romney for "reflexively" criticizing Obama's policies without offering alternatives.
"When he does venture a position, it's a safe bet that he previously took exactly the opposite position and will probably change his mind again and land in the wrong place — far out of the mainstream," Biden said in a statement.
Romney is expected to meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, among others.