Skip to content Skip to footer

A Timeline of Romney’s Campaign Foreign Policy Positions

Mitt Romney has spent considerable effort trying to avoid foreign policy and national security this campaign season. But when he’s had to engage, he’s forced to strike a delicate balance between satisfying his neocon advisers and right-wing war base on the one hand — while speaking to the rest of the country, which has no … Continued

Mitt Romney has spent considerable effort trying to avoid foreign policy and national security this campaign season. But when he’s had to engage, he’s forced to strike a delicate balance between satisfying his neocon advisers and right-wing war base on the one hand — while speaking to the rest of the country, which has no appetite for the militaristic Republican policies that have plagued this country since 2001, on the other.

In recent weeks, Romney made good on a promise he made earlier this year to a wealthy donor that he would try to exploit a foreign policy crisis for political gain. “If something of that nature presents itself,” Romney said, referring to the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, “I will work to find a way to take advantage of the opportunity.” With the attack that killed four Americans at the U.S diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya last month, Romney has done just that.

The basis of Romney’s foreign policy critique of President Obama is that Obama went around the world and apologized for America after he became president. Of course, this never happened, but the baseless attack has been a hallmark from Romney’s campaign with respect to foreign policy. Indeed, Romney’s foray into foreign policy has been a bumpy road. Here’s a timeline from throughout the 2012 presidential campaign that lays it all out:

EARLY 2011

Romney accused President Obama of “mission creep” and “mission muddle” in Libya. “Military action cannot be under-deliberated and ad hoc,” he said. Libyan rebels ousted then-Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi five months later. (In his book, Romney attacked Obama for appeasing Qaddafi.) [4/21/2011]

– Romney announces he is officially running for president and, in doing so, chides Obama for “leading from behind” in Libya. One wonders if Romney would criticize Nelson Mandela, who once said: “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.” [6/02/2011]

Romney says he will let the generals dictate his Afghanistan policy. “I want those troops to come home based upon not politics, not based upon economics, but instead based upon the conditions on the ground determined by the generals,” he said. [6/13/2011]


Romney struggled to differentiate his Iran policy from President Obama’s. This problem dates back well into last year, as Romney called on Sept. 13 for a “credible military threat” that already exists and “crippling sanctions” that are already in place. [9/13/2011]

– The Washington Post observed that the words “Afghanistan” and “Iraq” did not at that time appear on Romney’s campaign website. [9/14/2011]

– Romney continues his call for Obama to ramp up the war rhetoric on Iran. [9/15/2011]

– MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, slammed Romney for “undermining our president” on Middle East policy. [9/21/2011]

Romney said the U.S. should “reconsider” its relationship with countries that supported Palestine’s bid for U.N. recognition: that could have included Russia, China, India, Brazil, South Africa and the Non-Aligned Movement, a U.N. block consisting of 118 members, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan, Chile and Peru. [9/28/2011]


– The Romney campaign announces Romney’s foreign policy advisers, many of whom have called for war with Iran and helped push the U.S. into war with Iraq. Another adviser was tied to a Christian militia that committed atrocities in Lebanon’s civil war. [10/07/2011]

Romney delivers his first major foreign policy speech, which was all fear and no substance. The speech demonstrated Romney’s Cold War mentality as he announced his plan to restore ship-building to levels not seen since the early 1990s. [10/07/2011]

Romney backs off his stance allowing the generals to dictate his Afghanistan policy. “I said I would listen to the generals and receive the input of those who are the commanders in the field, and then I would make the –- my own decision,” he said, which also happens to be exactly what President Obama did. [10/10/11]

Romney announces his opposition to withdrawing troops from Iraq. “President Obama’s astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women,” he said. [10/21/2011]

“I don’t think America should play the role of the leader of the [Middle East] peace process,” Romney said, adding, “My inclination is to follow the guidance of our ally Israel.” [10/28/2011]


Romney’s foreign policy adviser makes the case for striking Iran “before it’s too late.” [11/09/2011]

Romney said he would start foreign aid for every country “at zero” and call on them to make their case for U.S. financial assistance. [11/10/2011]

– In one of his many foreign policy flip-flops, Romney — who had previously called Obama’s decision to withdraw from Iraq an “astonishing failure” — said Obama’s plan is “appropriate.” [12/09/2011]

– The Washington Post fact-checker debunks Romney’s oft-repeated claim that Obama “went around the world and apologized for America.” “Take it from us,” the Post concluded, “The apology tour never happened.” [12/10/2011]

Romney said Obama should have ordered a military strike to take out a downed U.S. drone in Iran. [12/14/2011]


– Despite his attacks on Obama for allegedly not having a “credible” military threat against Iran over its nuclear program, Romney said he doesn’t “want to threaten specific action right now.” [1/02/2011]

Romney receives a key endorsement from John Bolton. Bolton had spent the better part of the past few years calling for war with Iran. [1/11/2011]

Romney said the U.S. should not negotiate with the Taliban. Romney foreign policy surrogate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) disagreed. [1/16/2011]

– Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Republican, says the claim that Obama is ushering U.S. military decline — an assertion Romney regularly makes — is “ridiculous.” [2/02/2012]

– Romney supporter former Utah governor and former U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman calls Romney’s China policy “wrongheaded.” (Romney’s own adviser later said that Obama “has a good policy in Asia, particularly in dealing with China. I think he’s strengthened our position in Asia with our allies.”) [2/16/2011]

MARCH 2012

– Romney ignores U.S. intelligence assessments, claiming that Iran has “a nuclear bomb program.” [3/05/2012]

– Former Israeli intelligence chief Efraim Halevy said that Romney’s militaristic talk on Iran “is making the situation worse.” [3/06/2012]

– Romney says now is not the time to be “talking about a peace process” between the Israelis and Palestinians. [3/06/2012]

Mitt’s Cold War mentality continues. Russia “is without question our number one geopolitical foe,” he says on CNN, sparking ridicule from foreign policy experts of all stripes. [3/26/2012]

APRIL 2012

– Vice President Biden states the obvious: Romney “seems to be uninformed” on foreign policy. [4/01/2012]

– Exposing his hypocrisy, Romney said he would keep his conversations with Israeli leaders “private,” after his campaign repeatedly called on Obama to disclose the contents of his meetings with foreign leaders. [4/09/2012]

– As Ron Paul’s presidential aspirations subside, military members shift their campaign donations to President Obama. Military donations to Romney’s campaign “remained anemic.” [4/25/2012]

– Romney’s campaign criticizes the Obama administration for having an open discussion about the consequences of attacking Iran. [4/25/2011]

– Biden blasts Romney’s “loose talk of war” and his “Cold War mindset.” [4/26/2012]

– The Romney campaign claims that Obama hasn’t done anything for the nation’s veterans (not true). Yet the attack exposes the fact that Romney himself has no plan to address veterans issues. [4/27/2012]

MAY 2012

– After Obama’s campaign pointed out that in 2007, Romney said he would not order a military raid similar to the one Obama ordered that ended up killing Osama bin Laden, Romney says “of course” he would have ordered the raid, adding “any thinking American would have ordered exactly the same thing.” (Biden and Gates advised Obama against it.) [5/01/2012]

Right-wing foreign policy don Bill Kristol calls Romney “foolish” for attacking Obama on his handling of the affair surrounding Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng. [5/03/2011]

Romney continues to demonstrate his ignorance of the basic facts of the raid that killed bin Laden. [5/09/2012]

– CNN reports on a new analysis of Romney’s plan for the military budget which found that he plans to increase military spending by a whopping $2.1 trillion with no plan to pay for it. Romney did not dispute this figure during his Oct. 3, 2012 debate with Obama. [5/10/2012]

– The New York Times reports that Romney’s adviser says the GOP presidential nominee “doesn’t really want to engage” on foreign policy issues until he becomes president. [5/12/2012]

– Former Bush administration Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell asks Romney to be more “mature” when talking foreign policy and criticized Romney for calling Russia America’s “number one geopolitical foe.” “Come on Mitt,” Powell said, “think.” Powell also said of Mitt’s advisers: “I don’t know who all of his advisers are but I’ve seen some of the names and some of them are quite far to the right.” ThinkProgress took an in-depth look into some of Romney’s far-right foreign policy advisers here. [5/23/2012]

The Romney team tries and fails to offer a substantively different policy on Syria from the Obama administration, continuing a trend throughout the campaign. The Los Angeles Times observes days later, “Yet for all his criticisms of the president, it has been difficult to tell exactly what Romney would do differently.” [5/29/2012]

JUNE 2012

– The AP reports that, despite having said in 2007, “I longed in many respects to actually be in Vietnam,” Romney said in 1994 that “it was not my desire to go off and serve in Vietnam.” [6/05/2012]

– Romney adviser John Bolton cheers for diplomacy with Iran to fail. [6/05/2012]

– Continuing the trend, the Romney campaign lays out its Iran policy, which happens to be nearly identical to President Obama’s. [6/13/2012]

Budget experts are stumped by Romney’s plan to boost military spending by $2.1 trillion while at the same time planning to cut revenue. [6/18/2012]

– The Romney team’s still having trouble explaining how Mitt would pay for that military build up. [6/25/2012]

– Top Romney foreign policy surrogate Condi Rice struggles to differentiate Romney’s foreign policy from Obama’s. [6/26/2012]

– Reuters reports that according to campaign aides, Romney’s “instinct is to call the Cheney-ites” on foreign policy issues — referring to those staffers whose views are closer to those of former Vice President Cheney. [6/27/2012]

JULY 2012

– Numerous reports have emerged of disarray and lack of direction from Romney’s foreign policy team. [7/01/2012]

– A Russian official says Romney’s harsh rhetoric toward Russia could bring a “full-scale crisis” should be become president. [7/03/2012]

– Another day, another Romney adviser has a hard time differentiating Romney’s Iran policy from Obama’s. [7/03/2012]

– Dick Cheney hosts a fundraiser for Romney (highlighting Romney’s closeness to the Cheney world view). Romney’s team forbids the media from photographing the two together. [7/12/2012]

– Experts say Romney hyping the threat from Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is “pure electoral politics.” [7/12/2012]

– Romney confirms his relationship with Cheney. “We did speak, at some length, about foreign-policy matters.” [7/17/2012]

– Romney adviser is stumped when asked for specifics of Romney’s Afghanistan policy. Romney himself can’t offer any either. [7/19/2012]

– CNN takes notice: “Tuesday’s speech by Mitt Romney laying out his foreign policy plans, at some points seemed not only vague, but not very different from President Barack Obama’s positions in key areas.” [7/24/2012]

The Romney Stimulus: military spending creates jobs, other government spending does not. [7/25/2012]

– Another day, another Romney adviser can’t explain how Romney will pay for his massive military build-up. [7/26/2012]

– A VFW official says “we haven’t … heard any specific plans yet from Governor Romney or his campaign” on veterans issues. [7/26/2012]

– Romney breaks with every GOP president, pledging to never criticize Israel. [7/29/2012]

Romney Shambles. Romney ventures to Europe and Israel in an effort to boost his standing on foreign policy issues. But the trip turns out to be a disaster. Romney ends up offending the British, re-living the Cold War in Poland and claiming Israelis are superior to Palestinians. [7/27 – 8/1/2012]

International media criticize Romney’s foreign trip. ‘The Republican has done damage.” Even Republicans mock his trip: “Seemed like a good idea at the time.” Another Republican says “it made him look like Rip Van Winkle.” [7/31/2012]

– CAP charts Romney’s plan to boost military spending. It doesn’t look good [7/31/2012]


– Romney refuses to condemn Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-MN) widely criticized anti-Muslim witch hunt. Bachmann claimed that a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is part of a Muslim Brotherhood plot to infiltrate the U.S. government. [8/3/2012]

– A top Romney adviser falsely claims sanctions aren’t slowing Iran’s nuclear progress. [8/16/2012]

– A foreign policy adviser to Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan calls on Congress to authorize war with Iran. [8/21/2012]

– A Romney foreign policy adviser says the campaign hasn’t had “a big conversation” about diplomatic efforts to end the Iranian nuclear crisis. [8/27/2012]

– Top Romney foreign policy surrogate Condi Rice can’t name a specific Obama foreign policy failure. [8/29/2012]

– Romney campaign chair Tim Pawlenty says Romney’s call to zero out foreign aid is “directionally not correct.” Pawlenty also said he supports Congress authorizing war with Iran. [8/30/2012]

– Romney spends just 202 words on foreign policy during his Republican National Convention speech. Most of Romney’s foreign policy claims were false and misleading. [8/30/2012]

– Bill Kristol attacks Romney for ignoring the war in Afghanistan and the military in his speech to the Republican National Convention. Romney later addressed the criticism, saying, “When you give a speech you don’t go through a laundry list, you talk about the things that you think are important.” [8/31/2012]


– In a widely praised speech, President Clinton calls out Romney for his plan to increase military spending with no plan to pay for it. “They want to the same old policies that got us in trouble in the first place,” Clinton said. [9/5/2012]

– A Romney adviser refers to foreign policy as “a distraction.” “It doesn’t surprise me that they’re raising foreign policy because it’s another distraction from the Administration’s terrible economic record,” O’Brien told BuzzFeed. “They’re going from one shiny object to the next.” [9/12/2012]

Romney accuses President Obama of “sympathizing” with the attackers that killed four Americans in an assault on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. Romney had said at a fundraiser in early 2012 that he would try to capitalize politically on a future foreign policy crisis. “If something of that nature presents itself, I will work to find a way to take advantage of the opportunity,” he said. (Romney himself had previously warned against placing blame after a terror attack.) [9/11/2012]

Romney doesn’t back away from that statement the next day and his campaign even blamedObama for the attacks. Romney is widely criticized for politicizing the event, even byRepublicans. [9/12/2012]

– In a newly released video from a fundraiser in early 2012, Romney is caught saying “there’s just no way” to achieve Middle East peace and that his policy will be to “kick the can down the the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.” [9/18/2012]

– After having just said that he agrees with Obama’s Iran policy, Romney says his so-called “red line” for military action against Iran is the Islamic Republic’s “capability” to build nuclear weapons. Romney does not explain what “capability” means as many experts have said Iran already has the ability to produce nukes. The Romney campaign later amends its website to account for the shift. [9/21/2012]

– The New York Times reports on an internal Romney campaign memo urging Romney to “rescind and replace President Obama’s executive order” and permit secret “enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees.” [9/27/2012]

– A top Romney adviser criticizes Obama for not killing bin Laden fast enough. [9/29/2012]


– The head of the Office of Legal Counsel under President George W. Bush concluded that any return to the use of torture or any other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” would be both “indisputably illegal” and strongly opposed by the interrogators who would be tasked with the torturing. [10/03/2012]

– ThinkProgress outlines four key areas where Romney’s alleged “new” foreign policy is identical to Obama’s. [10/08/2012]

– Pundits, experts and media outlets widely panned Mitt Romney’s foreign policy speech he delivered Oct. 9 at the Virginia Military Institute. “Romney’s stated policies in Monday’s speech, just as they have been in the past, are either pretty much like Mr. Obama’s or, when there are hints of differences, would pull the United States in wrong and even dangerous directions,” a New York Times editorial stated, adding, “His analysis of the roots of various international crises is either naïve or deliberately misleading.” [10/09/2012]

– The mother of a former Navy SEAL who was killed in the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya asks Romney to stop recounting a story about meeting the former SEAL, Glen Doherty, at a holiday party a few years ago. His campaign complies. [10/10/2012]

Paul Ryan attacks former Defense Secretary Bob Gates for warning against an Iran attack.“What it does is it undermines our credibility,” Ryan said. [10/11/2012]

– The father of former U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, who was killed in an attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya says that it would be “abhorrent” to politicize his son’s death in the presidential campaign. Yet the Romney campaign continues to politicize the event. ThinkProgress has a timeline of the events. [10/14/2012]

– Top Romney surrogate Rudy Giuliani says Romney “should be exploiting” the Libya attack for political gain. [10/15/2012]

– The Romney team claims the Obama administration is deliberately misleading the public on the Libya attack. [10/16/2012]

CNN’s Candy Crowley fact checks Romney’s false claim during his debate with Obama that Obama waited 14 days to call the Libya attack an “act of terror.” (Obama actually called the incident terrorism well before Romney did.) [10/16/2012]

– During the same debate, Romney didn’t mention “foreign policy” when asked how he’d be different from George W. Bush. [10/16/2012]

– Obama is still outpacing Romney in military donations. [10/17/2012]

– Romney is again widely criticized for again politicizing the Libya attacks. Richard Clarke, who served as the top counter-terror official in Republican and Democratic administrations, lambasted Romney: “If there were not a presidential campaign going on, a campaign in which the incumbent has a stellar record of fighting terrorism, I doubt Romney would care about the details of what happened in Benghazi.” [10/17/2012]

– Another day, another Romney adviser can’t explain how Romney would pay for his massive military spending increase. This time, though, the adviser in question floats the idea of continuing war spending indefinitely. [10/18/2012]

– Romney’s attacks on Libya fall apart. [10/20/2012]

Tired of reading the same old news from the same old sources?

So are we! That’s why we’re on a mission to shake things up and bring you the stories and perspectives that often go untold in mainstream media. But being a radically, unapologetically independent news site isn’t easy (or cheap), and we rely on reader support to keep the lights on.

If you like what you’re reading, please consider making a tax-deductible donation today. We’re not asking for a handout, we’re asking for an investment: Invest in a nonprofit news site that’s not afraid to ruffle a few feathers, not afraid to stand up for what’s right, and not afraid to tell it like it is.