By Jeff Mason
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Vice President Joe Biden blasted Mitt Romney's foreign policy vision on Thursday as backward-looking and tied to George W. Bush, hammering the presumptive Republican nominee for thinking like a CEO and not like a commander in chief.
The remarks were Biden's latest attempt to define Romney as out of touch with Americans, and his foreign policy critique marked a shift from the Obama campaign's focus on economic and domestic differences with the president's Republican rival.
Biden, who has served as an attack dog against the former Massachusetts governor, executed a point-by-point smackdown of Romney's positions on Russia, Iran, and Afghanistan while defending the administration's national security record.
"Governor Romney, I think, is counting on collective amnesia," he said to a group of students in New York.
"Americans know that we can't go back to the future, back to a foreign policy that would have America go it alone, shout to the world 'You're either with us or against us,' lash out first and ask the hard questions later ... isolate America instead of isolating our enemies."
Though Biden did not dwell on Bush, the implication was clear: Romney would return to an era of go-it-alone bravado on the international stage. The Obama campaign wants to tie Romney directly to Bush for launching two unpopular wars and presiding over an economy that sputtered badly at the end of his term in office.
Though the economy is expected to be the defining issue of the 2012 election, Obama's advisers see his record on foreign policy as a strength.
Ending the war in Iraq and severely weakening al Qaeda are among the accomplishments that the campaign sees as unimpeachable victories to highlight with voters.
"If you are looking for a bumper sticker to sum up how President Obama has handled what we inherited, it's pretty simple: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive," Biden said.
Romney's campaign shot back in a conference call with reporters, describing the Obama administration as paralyzed over Syria and weak on Iran and North Korea.
"The vice president seems to focus on a fantasy narrative, if you will, about the Obama administration's record in improving America's relations in the world," said Romney senior adviser Dan Senor.
"It is President Obama's track record that has sent a message to our friends and allies, be they in governments or be they in dissident movements who want to stand with us, who want to lock arms with us, who are looking to American leadership, who are really left exposed and isolated," he said.
BIG STICK, COMMANDER IN CHIEF
Picking up on a theme often expounded by the Obama campaign, Biden criticized Romney for shifting positions on a variety of foreign policy issues, and used verbatim quotes from the governor to illustrate his point.
Romney applauded the withdrawal of troops from Iraq in December, then months later called it an "enormous error," the vice president said. Romney endorsed Obama's timeline for a 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan before later calling it a big mistake, Biden said.
Biden zeroed in on Romney for commenting that a president did not need to have foreign policy expertise because he could rely on advisers at the State Department.
"Governor Romney's fundamental thinking about the role of the president in foreign policy is fundamentally wrong," Biden said. "That kind of thinking may work for a CEO, but I assure you it will not and cannot work for a president, and it will not work for a commander in chief."
Romney has made his background as a businessman a top selling point of his presidential bid.
Romney's campaign said the president had given more than he got in arms reduction talks with Russia and that the White House had shown weakness by not arming Syrian rebels.
"We have to work with our Arab allies, with our Saudi and Turkish allies in the region, to meaningfully identify, organize and arm the opposition because currently they're up against a Syrian army which is being armed by Russia," said Romney foreign policy director Alex Wong.
"Right now what we see from the Obama administration has been confusion, delay and paralysis."
The White House says it does not believe this is the time to contribute to "militarization" in Syria.
Biden also took on Romney on the issue of Iran. Romney has said the president has been weak with Tehran and slow to impose tough sanctions.
"He says we need 'crippling sanctions,' apparently unaware that through President Obama's leadership we've produced just that: crippling sanctions," Biden said, knocking Romney for "loose talk" of war that drives up oil prices and could boost Iran's coffers.
"Now is the time to heed the timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt: speak softly and carry a big stick," Biden said. "I promise you, the president has a big stick."
(Additional reporting by Lily Kuo; editing by Mohammad Zargham)