PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Republican Mitt Romney criticized President Barack Obama's handling of foreign policy, telling financial backers at his annual conference Friday that everything the nation fought for during the lengthy Iraq war could vanish.
The 2012 Republican presidential nominee said at the start of his annual ideas summit at a luxurious Utah resort that the foreign policy agenda pushed by Obama, his former rival, Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been a "monumental bust."
"Tragically, all we've fought for in Iraq, all that 4,500 American lives were shed to gain, is on the cusp, potentially, of vanishing," Romney said.
Romney added his voice to a chorus of Republicans who have accused Obama of being slow to respond in Iraq following the capture of two cities by an al-Qaida inspired militant group and concerns it could push toward Baghdad. He spoke shortly before Obama told reporters from the South Lawn that he was weighing a range of options to halt the violent Islamic insurgency.
In his 15-minute address to about 300 former campaign donors and supporters, Romney pointed to a number of global hot spots that have developed during Obama's tenure, noting that Syria is in its third year of civil war, North Korea has carried out nuclear missile tests and Russia has captured Crimea.
He jabbed Clinton, the leading Democratic presidential candidate if she decides to run, reminding donors that she once presented Russia's top diplomat, Sergey Lavrov, with a red button labeled "reset" to symbolize the thawing of U.S.-Russian relations. The button contained a word in Russian meant to be a translation of "reset," but Lavrov said it was wrong.
Clinton, Romney said, has said during her book tour that some world leaders, like Russian President Vladimir Putin, might not be happy when they read her book. "Please. This was from the woman who was gushing with smiles when she presented the minion of Vladimir Putin with that reset button," Romney said.
The conference is expected to include speeches by a number of potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates, including Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul; and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Ryan, asked afterward by reporters about Romney's foreign policy remarks, offered a terse reply. "What Mitt said."
The conference was expected to attract an array of business leaders, including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, former Walmart CEO Lee Scott, DirecTV CEO Michael White and Univision CEO Randy Falco.
Other attendees included Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio; former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat who is mulling a 2016 presidential campaign; and former Secretary of State George Shultz. Most of the sessions were closed to the media, but reporters were allowed to attend Romney's speech.
Romney has quietly worked to develop a kingmaker status in the Republican party's effort to capture a majority in the Senate this fall and win back the White House in 2016. His activities have generated whispers that he may seek the presidency a third time, but advisers say he's more interested in helping other Republicans and introducing his top donors to the next generation of GOP leaders.
"I lost the election. We lost the election," Romney said. "But I and we will continue to fight."
Thomas reported from Washington.