President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney’s positions on foreign policy and defense, broken down by subject:
Obama has overseen the most severe economic sanctions in Iran’s history in his administration’s efforts to prevent the Islamic republic from developing a nuclear weapon. He has said he would take “no options off the table" to achieve that goal, an implicit threat of military action. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful.
Obama has urged Israel — which considers a nuclear-armed Iran a threat to its existence — not to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities unilaterally, insisting that there is still time for a diplomatic solution to the standoff. His approach has drawn criticism from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has called on Obama to publicly define “red lines" that would trigger an attack. Obama has resisted those entreaties and repeated his commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
The president’s position is based on a belief that the sanctions against Iran will force the country to accept a compromise to curb its nuclear activities. Several rounds of sanctions have squeezed Iran’s economy, particularly the all-important oil sector, and greatly undercut the value of its currency. International nuclear talks with Iran are stalled.
Romney has said that it would be “unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon" and indicated that he would use economic sanctions and diplomacy to pressure the country to abandon its nuclear ambitions. His policies closely resemble those of the Obama administration, but his rhetoric has at times been more heated.
Romney has stopped short of asserting that he would support a unilateral military strike by Israel, but a top adviser has said the candidate would respect the Jewish state’s right to such action.
He has indicated that his “red line" for the use of force against Iran is distinct from that of the Obama administration. Although the president has said he would not permit Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, Romney has said he would not allow the country to develop a nuclear “capability."
Iran has enough enriched uranium to build at least one nuclear weapon, possibly more, but would first have to develop a warhead and delivery system.
Romney says he would put a permanent aircraft-carrier task force in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf as a warning to Iran.
He faults Obama for not deterring Iranian terrorism, such as the plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. He also has criticized Obama for not providing assistance to Iranian protesters during the 2009 Green Revolution.
In deciding in late 2009 to escalate U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Obama went against many Democrats and sided with the military. He increased the number of U.S. troops from just under 50,000 to about 100,000, coupling the rise with a promise to begin a gradual drawdown in 2011. Obama set a withdrawal date of 2014, earlier than some military commanders wanted.
He ramped up drone attacks on al-Qaida leaders and other militants hiding in northwest Pakistan, managing to kill about two-thirds of the terrorist organization’s leadership.
A key element of the Afghan transition has been the stepped-up training of the military and police, with a goal of a standing force of about 352,000. The numbers are being met, but a recent increase in insider attacks — in which Afghan security forces have targeted U.S. and other international troops — has raised questions about the effectiveness of the transition.
Obama’s biggest victory in the Afghan war occurred across the border in Pakistan. In 2011, he ordered a joint operation by the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Early on, Romney said U.S. forces should remain in Afghanistan until American military commanders say the job is done. The former governor said in 2009 that the United States should “nurture democracy and human rights all over the world."
Romney later said the United States should not “go off and try to fight a war of independence for another nation." He has said that the time has come for Afghan troops to earn and maintain their freedom, but he insists that Obama’s decision to withdraw earlier than many ground commanders advised gave the Taliban a reason to wait until the American departure before launching large-scale operations aimed at overthrowing the government in Kabul.
And Romney has said that he would have reached out more to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whom he met on a trip to Kabul in early 2010. He said he would consult with him “day to day."
Faced with a massive federal deficit, Obama announced plans in January for a leaner military that will tighten its overall spending while investing more heavily in Special Operations forces, drone aircraft and cybersecurity. A new military strategy he endorsed also emphasizes widening the U.S. security presence in the Asia-Pacific region.
The president’s budget, in line with the 2011 Budget Control Act, reduces defense spending next year for the first time since 1998 and slows previously planned budget growth over the next nine years. The Army and the Marine Corps will be cut by 100,000 troops over the next five years. Under the administration’s budget, the United States will invest almost $200 billion to modernize the nation’s nuclear weapons building complex and strategic submarines, bombers and delivery systems. But overall military spending will fall from the current level of 4.5 percent of estimated gross domestic product to 2.9 percent in 2017.
The Budget Control Act mandates about $600 billion in across-the-board defense cuts over the next decade, starting next year, if lawmakers cannot come up with a plan to trim the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion. The president and Congress have said they are exploring ways to avert the automatic cuts through budget savings or additional revenue.
Romney has vowed that he would maintain defense spending at a minimum of 4 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product and that he would increase active-duty military personnel by 100,000 troops.
The former governor has said he would reinvest in weapons systems. He has pledged to step up the Navy’s shipbuilding rate, from nine vessels a year to 15, and restart the production of Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor stealth fighter, which Defense Secretary Robert Gates ended in 2009.
Romney said he would call on NATO allies to devote 2 percent of their gross domestic product to security spending — a level met by only three of the 28 nations today.
To cover the increased costs, the candidate has said he would seek unspecified savings throughout the Pentagon budget, identifying inefficiencies in the Defense Department’s civilian workforce and instituting greater competition in procurement processes.
Obama has overseen the expansion of covert counterterrorism operations, and has authorized an increase in the number of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. Two-thirds of al-Qaida’s leaders have been killed during his administration, and most of the group’s fighters have been driven out of Afghanistan.
The president gave the orders that led to the killing of bin Laden in May 2011. Nearly four months later, Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born propagandist and key al-Qaida figure in Yemen, was killed in a U.S. drone strike.
U.S. officials have said that, despite al-Qaida’s losses in Afghanistan and Pakistan, some of the group’s affiliates are gaining strength. Members of a group called al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb have been linked to the attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, although there is no indication that the group directed the assault.
In one of his first official acts, Obama signed an order that limits U.S. interrogators to using only techniques outlined in the Army Field Manual. The decision effectively banned torture and practices such as waterboarding.
The president has been unable to shut down the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in part because of restrictions from Congress. The White House says he still intends to close it.
Romney has said that he is comfortable with the use of drones to strike suspected terrorists in Pakistan.
He advocates maintaining the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying that he does not want the inmates on U.S. soil and does not support giving them access to civilian courts. The former governor has said that he would not authorize the torture of terrorism suspects, but he said he would not be bound by the restrictions in the Army Field Manual. He said he does not think waterboarding constitutes torture.
Romney called the Sept. 11 strike on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi a terrorist attack. His campaign and various surrogates have criticized President Obama and administration officials for what they say are mixed signals about the nature of the assault. They say a clear explanation is needed.
Romney says the attack in Benghazi and anti-American protests should not be considered random incidents. Rather, he says, they are expressions of a larger struggle between tyranny and democracy in which Obama and his administration have not exerted the American leadership necessary to influence world events in the right direction. Not acting, Romney says, has cost the United States new friends and worried old friends.