In a withering indictment of President Barack Obama's foreign policy record, Republican Mitt Romney accused the administration Tuesday of leaking national security secrets for political gain, weakening the U.S. military and the hurting the nation's stature abroad.
"Sadly, this president has diminished American leadership, and we are reaping the consequences," Romney said in a high-profile speech to the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "The world is dangerous, destructive, chaotic."
Romney said Obama had failed to prevent or explain leaks of national security secrets involving the killing of Osama bin Laden and other military operations, including in Iran.
"This isn't a partisan issue; it's a national security crisis," Romney said. "This conduct is contemptible. It betrays our national interest. It compromises our men and women in the field."
The Romney campaign seized on a remark Monday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., when the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said the White House appeared to be responsible for some of the leaks.
Though Feinstein said she was sure that Obama himself wasn't responsible for the leaks, she said, "I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from their ranks."
Obama has previously called "offensive" and inaccurate the suggestion that his administration would intentionally leak security secrets, and Feinstein issued a statement Tuesday walking back her remark. "I stated that I did not believe the president leaked classified information," Feinstein said. "I shouldn't have speculated beyond that, because the fact of the matter is I don't know the source of the leaks."
The timing of Feinstein's initial statement, however, could hardly have been better for Romney.
"What kind of White House would reveal classified material for political gain?" Romney said. "I'll tell you right now: Mine will not."
Vice President Joe Biden shot back later Tuesday, calling Romney's address an empty political attack.
"All we heard from Gov. Romney was empty rhetoric and bluster," Biden said in a statement. "He reflexively criticizes the president's policies without offering any 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."
Romney's critics called the criticism of the leaks a diversion to mask a lack of foreign policy and veterans' affairs specifics in his speech.
"It's more than a little surprising to see his discussion of national security leaks take up more space than his discussion of the war in Afghanistan," said Heather Hurlburt, the executive director of the National Security Network, a Democratic-leaning group.
The speech came as Romney prepared for a weeklong trip abroad, visiting the United Kingdom, Israel and Poland. The trip is an opportunity for the former Massachusetts governor to cast himself as a capable statesman on the world stage.
His address was a strong rebuttal to a speech to the same convention Monday, in which Obama said the United States was "safer and stronger and more respected in the world" than when he took office.
Romney accused the president of shirking responsibility in his dealings with foreign governments, alienating Israel and damaging the nation's relationship with other allies. "The people of Israel deserve better than what they have received from the leader of the free world," Romney said.
He called Obama's scrapping of a missile-defense agreement involving Poland a "unilateral concession to the Russian government." Obama in 2009 stopped deployment of a missile defense system with installations in Poland and the Czech Republic officially meant to defend Europe from Iran or other rogue nations but seen by Moscow as a cold-war affront to Russia.
Romney also said Obama had faltered in his handling of the nuclear program in Iran. In a fact sheet, Romney's campaign said he'd signal his willingness to use force if Iran doesn't respond to sanctions, by deploying a Navy aircraft carrier task force to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region and maintaining them there.
Broadly critical of Obama's withdrawal of troops from Iraq and timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan, Romney echoed Obama's goal of withdrawing combat troops by the end of 2014 but said he'd let commanders set the pace.
Romney also criticized a bipartisan budget deal in Washington that, absent action by lawmakers and the White House to cut the deficit elsewhere, stands to reduce defense spending on Jan. 1.
"Don't bother, by the way, trying to find a serious military rationale behind any of that," Romney said. "Strategy is not driving the president's massive defense cuts. In fact, his own secretary of defense warned that these reductions would be devastating, and he's right."
Several thousand veterans, many standing in the aisles or at their seats to take photographs, cheered Romney, a reception similar to the one afforded Obama.
Ronald Devereaux, a Navy veteran from Belding, Mich., said he agreed with many of Romney's criticisms of Obama, but he's worried that Romney is out of touch with many working-class Americans on domestic issues. He said he couldn't see voting for either of them. "I may vote for Mickey Mouse," Devereaux said.
(Siders reports for The Sacramento Bee. Douglas reported from Washington.)