Mitt Romney, vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R) and Campaign Manager Matt Rhoades pose for a staff portrait on the steps of the stage at the Republican National Convention, August 30, 2012.
Mitt Romney, vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R) and Campaign Manager Matt Rhoades pose for a staff portrait on the steps of the stage at the Republican National Convention, August 30, 2012.
TAMPA, Fla. — The Republican National Convention is building Thursday toward its climactic final hour when presidential candidate Mitt Romney will accept the party's nomination in the most important speech of his career.  Reactions to Wednesday night's program have focused on a speech by Romney's running mate, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan.  But foreign policy also had a prominent role.

On the convention floor, the crowd erupted in cheers as Paul Ryan blasted President Barack Obama's economic record.

“So here we are, $16 trillion in debt and still he does nothing.  In Europe, massive debts have put entire governments at risk of collapse, and still he does nothing.  And all we have heard from this president and his team are attacks on anyone who dares to point out the obvious.  They have no answer to this simple reality: We need to stop spending money we don't have,” Ryan said.

President Obama's campaign accused Ryan of “breathtaking falsehoods.”

Before Ryan took the stage, it was the president's foreign policy approach that faced blistering criticism. Obama's 2008 election rival, Senator John McCain, faulted the president on defense spending and for not doing more to support the revolutions in the Middle East.

“In other times, when other courageous people fought for their freedom against sworn enemies of the United States, American presidents - both Republicans and Democrats - have acted to help them prevail. Sadly, for the lonely voices of dissent in Syria, and Iran, and elsewhere, who feel forgotten in their darkness, and sadly for us, as well, our president is not being true to our values,” McCain said.

Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice echoed McCain's comments, calling uncertainty over where America stands the “question of the hour.”

“If we are not inspired to lead again, one of two things will happen.  Either no one will lead and there will be chaos, or someone will fill the vacuum who does not share our values.  My fellow Americans, we do not have a choice.  We cannot be reluctant to lead, and you cannot lead from behind,” Rice said.

But Heather Hurlburt, executive director of the Democratic-leaning National Security Network, says the vision of the U.S. as an active agent of liberty has already been tested and failed.  She said it was surprising to see Rice front and center at the convention.

“It was quite extraordinary to see the chief foreign policy voice at the convention being taken by the person who as much as anyone is identified with the failed organization, planning and thinking that led up to the Iraq war and also to the early missteps in Afghanistan that really wasted the good things that U.S. troops did at first on the ground in 2002,” Hurlburt said.

Even some within the Republican Party are concerned. Texas delegate Tom Pauken, a former member of the Reagan administration, says he hopes the current approach to dealing with Islamic extremism will not be continued in a Romney administration.

“I would like to see us get away from this policy of excessive military interventionism.  I think we've made the problem of radicalism worse rather than better by the policies that have been pursued by this administration and the previous administration,” Pauken said.

Before Wednesday, foreign policy had largely taken a back seat to the economy at the convention, and it is not likely to be a focus on Thursday.

Romney, a former governor of the state of Massachusetts, will use his speech to reintroduce himself to the nation and build the case for his candidacy.

Hawaii delegate Lauren Berghell is optimistic.

“Governor Romney has so much experience, especially working with deficits and debt and turning it into surplus, and he knows what it's like to work in the private sector. He's a businessman, and I feel like he has the experience and the will to move America forward,” Berghell said.

After the Republicans wrap up their convention Thursday night, all eyes will turn to Charlotte, North Carolina where President Obama will receive the official nomination of his Democratic Party.