RENO - 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 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 at the gathering in Reno that Obama has 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 Tuesday on a remark by Sen. Dianne Feinstein the previous day, in which the California Democrat who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee said the White House appears to be responsible for some leaks.
Though Feinstein said she was sure Obama himself was not responsible for 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."
The speech came as Romney prepares for a week-long trip abroad, visiting England, Israel and Poland. The trip is in an opportunity for the former Massachusetts governor to cast himself as a capable statesman on the world stage.
Romney's address was in stark contrast to a speech to the same convention Monday, in which Obama said the United States is "safer and stronger and more respected in the world" than when he took office.
Romney accused the president of shrinking 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," and he said Obama faltered in his handling of the nuclear crisis in Iran.
Romney, for whom foreign policy has been a relatively weak point in the campaign, has been broadly critical of Obama's withdrawal of troops from Iraq and of the drawdown in Afghanistan, suggesting Obama's timing has been political, not strategic.
Romney said his goal in Afghanistan would be "to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014."
Romney also criticized a bipartisan budget deal in Washington that, absent an intervention by lawmakers and the White House, stands to reduce defense spending on Jan. 1. The agreement, reached last year, would shrink the federal deficit, but it has been criticized by both Democrats and Republicans in this election year.
"Today, we are just months away from an arbitrary, across-the-board budget reduction that would saddle the military with a trillion dollars in cuts, severely shrink our force structure and impair our ability to meet and deter threats," Romney said. "Don't bother, by the way, trying to find a serious military rationale behind any of that, unless that rationale is wishful thinking. 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."
Obama said Monday that many Republicans in Congress voted for those spending cuts and are only now "trying to wriggle out of what they agreed to."
"Instead of making tough choices to reduce the deficit, they'd rather protect tax cuts for some of the wealthiest Americans, even if it risks big cuts in our military," Obama said.
The candidates' speeches before the VFW marked a rare, if brief, turn in the presidential campaign away from the economy. 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 is worried that, on domestic issues, Romney is out of touch with many working-class Americans.
He said he can't see voting for either one of them.
"I may vote for Mickey Mouse," Devereaux said.
Romney's upcoming trip abroad is similar to one Obama made as a presidential candidate in 2008. In London, Romney will attend the Summer Olympics, recalling his role in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He is expected to meet with Prime Minister David Cameron, among others, and to raise money from Americans living abroad.
Romney then travels to Israel and Poland, where he will give speeches and meet with leaders.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that Romney has a "very high bar he has not yet jumped over to convince the American people that he wants to have a serious conversation about foreign policy."
She characterized his speech as nothing more than "an opportunity to launch baseless attacks on the president."
Watch the Feinstein interview here.
Photo caption: Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney meets VFW members following his speech to the VFW convention at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Reno, Nev. on Tuesday. Photo by Jose Luis Villegas