By JULIE PACE, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Raking in campaign cash, President Barack Obama blitzed through Manhattan Thursday night, offering donors at ritzy fundraisers a vigorous defense of his foreign policy record, saying his administration's successes abroad would weaken one line of Republican attack in the presidential election.
"The other side traditionally seems to feel that the Democrats are somehow weak on defense. They're having a little trouble making that argument this year," Obama told supporters at a $35,800-a-person dinner.
From ending the war in Iraq to ordering the raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the president said his approach to foreign policy was based on the belief that "there's no contradiction between being tough and strong and protecting the American people, but also abiding by those values that make America great."
Despite Obama's assertions, Republican presidential candidates have hardly backed away from criticizing his foreign policy record. GOP front-runner Mitt Romney has said Obama's foreign policy is based on saying "pretty please" to overseas foes. And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich repeatedly criticized Obama for apologizing to Afghan authorities for burned Qurans on a military base, saying the apology was "astonishing" and undeserved.
At a separate fundraiser earlier Thursday — a $5,000-a-person reception — Obama defended his commitment to Israel's security, particularly amid the turbulence in the Middle East and North Africa, where some long-time leaders having been pushed from power over the past year.
The sweeping changes, he said, make foreign policy in the region more complex. "It used to be easier to deal with one person who was an autocrat when it came to knowing who you could strike a deal with," Obama said.
With the region's leadership structure changing, Obama said the U.S. would have to take into account the "politics and the attitudes of people in the region," some of which he acknowledged were anti-Israel.
Further underscoring tensions in the Middle East, a supporter at yet another fundraiser urged the president to avoid a war with Iran over its disputed nuclear program.
"Nobody has announced a war," Obama cautioned. "You're jumping the gun a little bit."
The president also sought to cast the Republican Party as having moved to the far right and compared it with his 2008 general election opponent, Sen. John McCain. The senator from Arizona, Obama said, "could never get a nomination in the Republican Party this time around, would be considered too liberal."
Before raising money in New York, Obama focused his political sights on snowy New Hampshire, where he demanded that Congress eliminate oil and gas company subsidies that he called an outrageous government giveaway. Though politically a long shot, the White House believes the idea resonates at a time of high gasoline prices.
"Let's put every single member of Congress on record: You can stand with oil companies or you can stand up for the American people," Obama said, reiterating an appeal he made last year as gas prices were rising.
The president also said Republican charges that his policies are driving up gas prices won't pass "a political bull-detector" test and pointed to a chart that showed decreasing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
His remarks came as retail gasoline prices rose Thursday to a national average of $3.74 per gallon.
Obama has repeatedly called for an end to about $4 billion in annual tax breaks and subsidies for oil and gas companies, government support that Obama has said is unwarranted at a time of burgeoning profits and rising domestic production.
"It's outrageous. It's inexcusable. I'm asking Congress: Eliminate this oil industry giveaway right away," he told a crowd at Nashua Community College after touring the school's automotive lab.
Republican presidential contenders and GOP leaders in Congress denounced Obama's appeal for ending subsidies and called on Obama to take further steps to expand oil production in the United States.
Obama's move was his latest and most direct appeal to Congress to act on the tax breaks, a move that is certain to get stiff Republican opposition and that failed even when Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress.