PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Republican Mitt Romney, blaming President Barack Obama's handling of foreign policy, warned financial backers 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.
Romney, who was trailed by accusations in 2012 that his wealth left him out of touch, declined on Friday to offer advice to Clinton in the wake an interview this week in which she said she and former President Bill Clinton were "dead broke" when they left the White House. Republicans seized on the comment, noting that Hillary Clinton had received an $8 million advance for her 2003 memoir.
"I think Secretary Clinton's challenges will not be about wealth or poverty but instead will be about her record as secretary of state," Romney told reporters Friday. "And I think that record has been extraordinarily lacking and ineffective, and I think that that's the real challenge that she'll have if she decides to run for president."
The conference is expected to feature 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.
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
He insisted to reporters later that he's not thinking about another White House bid despite some of his supporters urging him to reconsider.
"The unavailable is always the most attractive, right?" Romney said. "That goes in dating as well."
Romney said he instead hopes to help influence the GOP and its candidates.
"I want to be one of the voices," he said. "I'm not the only voice by any means, nor am I the most effective voice, having lost and not in office. But I'm one voice that could speak about issues of significance and lay out why I think my views ought to be adopted and considered by people who are running for office, whether for president or for other offices."
Thomas reported from Washington.