By Laura MacInnis
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Wednesday staunchly defended his foreign policy record against Republican election-year criticism that he has overseen a decline in American power in the world.
Addressing graduating cadets of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Obama touted his decisions on pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq, winding down the unpopular war in Afghanistan, and the raid that resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden - a record aides hope will counter voter discontent over a fragile economy and high unemployment.
"For a decade, we have labored under the dark cloud of war. Now, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon. The end of these wars will shape your service and it will make our military stronger," he said in Colorado Springs.
Mitt Romney, Obama's presumptive Republican challenger in the November 6 election, has accused the Democratic president of weakening America on the world stage.
Romney has chided Obama for setting a timeline for leaving Afghanistan and has called the Iraq withdrawal last year a premature move. The Iraq pullout followed a timetable put in place by former President George W. Bush.
Obama, in a weekend NATO summit in Chicago, acknowledged there were risks in withdrawing U.S. and allied forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. But at the Air Force Academy he pushed back hard against Romney's claim that America had lost ground under his leadership.
"Let's start by putting aside the tired notion that says our influence has waned, that America is in decline. We've heard that talk before," he said, declaring that his policies were seeding the way to a new "American Century."
Obama was speaking at the start of a three-state political tour that will mainly focus on raising funds for his 2012 re-election campaign.
The main focus of his two-day cross-country excursion - to Colorado, California and Iowa - was campaigning, with three fundraisers due to raise at least $3 million on Wednesday and his third big campaign rally of the 2012 season on Thursday.
After the Air Force Academy address, he was set to attend a reception in Denver for 700 people.
Polls show Obama and Romney locked in a close race. Colorado is one of the pivotal swing states that Obama needs to win and one where he could face tough competition from Romney.
It has traditionally voted Republican but Obama won it in 2008 and is fighting to hold it with appeals to young professionals and a growing Hispanic population.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and private equity executive, is climbing in opinion polls nationally and is virtually neck and neck with Obama.
From Denver, Obama flies to California to join an exclusive dinner at a home in Atherton, near the tech hub Palo Alto, where legendary rock musicians David Crosby and Graham Nash will perform. Then he has a reception for 1,100 people at a theater in nearby Redwood City featuring singer Ben Harper.
On Thursday, he holds a fourth fundraiser and then returns to Washington via Iowa, another battleground state, where he will speak about the clean energy sector at a wind turbine blade manufacturer, then hold a campaign event at the state fairgrounds in Des Moines.
About 2 million people have donated to Obama's re-election campaign to date, and he is expected to match or exceed the $750 million he raised in the 2008 election cycle.
According to the most recent campaign finance and political action committee reports, Obama has raised $169 million and Romney has raised $99 million.
(Editing by Jim Loney)
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