Time and again, we've been told that the economy is the most important issue in this year's campaign. But political scientist Douglas Hibbs believes economic indicators aren't the sole predictors of election outcomes. His "Bread and Peace" model, which forecasts the winner of presidential races based on growth in personal, after-tax income and American fatalities in unprovoked wars, is the only forecasting model I've come across that takes foreign policy into account in divining whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will triumph next week.
And unlike several competing models that focus on economic measures, Hibbs's has Romney beating Obama -- by a comfortable margin of 53-47.
So, is it the Peace component that's tipping the scale for Romney? Not so much. "There's not much action, I don't think, from Afghanistan on Obama's vote share," Hibbs told Foreign Policy, adding that there have been roughly 1,500 U.S. military fatalities in Afghanistan under the president's watch. "Proportional to U.S. population, that's just way too small to have great electoral effect." It's paltry income growth and the sluggish economic recovery, he argues, that could dash Obama's quest for a second term.
Hibbs, who cites John Mueller's 1973 study War, Presidents, and Public Opinion as a major influence on his work, says that since World War II, troop fatalities have only played a decisive role in two elections: 1952 and 1968. In those instances, the bloody Korean and Vietnam wars torpedoed the campaigns of Adlai Stevenson and Hubert Humphrey despite favorable economic conditions.
"Absent America's interventions in the Korean and Vietnamese civil wars, the strong real income growth record prior to those elections (particularly in 1968) should easily have kept the Democrats in the White House," Hibbs wrote in a recent article for the journal PS: Political Science and Politics. His graph below shows the extent to which the 1952 and 1968 election results were outliers when you plot income growth against the incumbent party's share of the vote. As Hibbs sees it, the deeply unpopular wars raging during those two years produced the anomalous outcomes:
For some perspective on how today's post-draft, high-tech wars differ from Korea and Vietnam, consider this: There were 29,260 U.S. military deaths (190 per millions of U.S. population) in Korea at the time of the 1952 election and 28,900 (146 per millions of U.S. population) in Vietnam at the time of the 1968 election. The 1,500 fatalities under Obama, by contrast, amount to roughly five deaths per millions of U.S. population.
In his model, Hibbs distinguishes between "provoked" and "unprovoked" conflicts, with the implicit assumption that voters are more willing to stomach fatalities when the United States has been attacked. And he posits that when voters are unhappy about military casualties, they punish the party that initiated the deployment of U.S. forces. According to this logic, Americans won't hold fatalities in Iraq against Obama this year because he inherited the war from George W. Bush. But they will attribute fatalities in Afghanistan to the president, since Bush invaded Afghanistan in response to al Qaeda's provocation on 9/11 while Obama recast the conflict as a "war of necessity" and ordered a troop surge in the country.
It's unclear from polling whether voters make these distinctions and consider the Afghan conflict Obama's war, but Americans have clearly soured on the military engagement. According to a Pew Research Center poll last month, 60 percent of Americans want to remove troops from the country as soon as possible regardless of whether the situation there is stabile, and more than half think the military effort isn't going well. When pollsters ask voters what the most important issue facing the country is, the war in Afghanistan typically garners no more than 5 percent of responses.
I asked Hibbs whether military fatalities would have a more pronounced impact on the electorate if the media covered the Afghan war more extensively. "In an open and democratic society with quite a free and inquisitive and aggressive press, the press follows the reality, it doesn't create it," he responded. "If we had 1,000 guys coming home in body bags a month in Afghanistan like we did in Vietnam ... the press would be all over it."
MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images
Last week we noted Florida Rep. and Senate candidate Connie Mack's freakout over the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe -- which he seemed to confuse with the U.N. -- sending observers to monitor U.S. elections. Now, Politico reports, two states are not exactly rolling out the welcome mat for the observers:
Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz — like Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott last week — on Tuesday threatened Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe election observers with arrest if they came within 300 feet of a polling place’s entrance, in violation of state law. (In Texas, it’s 100 feet.)
“My office met with two delegation representatives last week to discuss Iowa’s election process, and it was explained to them that they are not permitted at the polls,” Schultz said in a statement. “Iowa law is very specific about who is permitted at polling places, and there is no exception for members of this group.”
I see the Obama campaign has a new YouTube ad featuring Girls star (and fellow Oberlin alum!) Lena Dunham:
"Your first time shouldn't be with just anybody. You want to do it with a great guy," she says, referring to casting your first ballot for Obama. (What were you thinking?)
It's a clever conceit, but feels a bit familiar. Perhaps because the same joke was used in an ad for Vladimir Putin's presidential campaign earlier this year:
A suggestive ad rallying support for Putin's presidential campaign shows a young woman seeking a fortune-teller's advice. "Let's find out, cutie, who is intended to you by destiny," the mystic says. The girl replies, "You know. I wish it to be for love -- It is my first time."
Here's that one:
Another ad from the same campaign featured a doctor telling a young woman, "The main thing is to be sure it's safe. Especially the first time."
Let's just hope the campaign doesn't delve further into the Putin catalog.
Update: Looks like Reagan may have beaten Putin to this joke by a few years.
Also, whether you like the Dunham commercial or not, describing it as "further proof we live in a fallen world destined for hell fire" is um... going a bit far.
Last night I tallied up the number of times various countries were mentioned in Monday's foreign-policy debate. And today, not surprisingly, many of the most-mentioned countries are adding their two cents to the discussion. In China, the Global Times notes that President Barack Obama "surprised China and his own people by labeling China an 'adversary" while Xinhua cautiously observes that the candidates offered a "speck of belated comfort" by also referring to Beijing as a partner. Israeli columnists are discussing Obama's anecdote about visiting Yad Vashem and Sderot as Pakistani news outlets highlight Romney's pledge to continue drone strikes and attach conditions to Pakistani aid.
But it's the countries that didn't get mentioned last night that are issuing some of the most interesting commentary today. Blogging for the French newspaper Liberation, for example, Lorraine Millot notes that Europe was in the running with Australia for the most forgotten continent last night but adds that the silence may not be so bad, since Europe is a perennial scapegoat on the campaign trail. Palestinian political leader Hanan Ashrawi has called the lack of discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process a "sin of omission" and "clearly the elephant in the room."
Indian news outlets in particular have been wrestling with the meaning of their country's absence from the debate.
The Times of India, for its part, isn't surprised. "As expected, India did not come up even once during the 90-minute debate, not even obliquely or tangentially ... or in reference to China or Pakistan," the paper observes. But other outlets appear to be more taken aback. In an article for The Hindu entitled "Obama scores, but did the world lose?" Narayan Lakshman laments the narrow worldview that the candidates articulated on Monday night:
[B]oth men appeared keen to limit the debate to their respective talking points, which not only resulted in the debate often being pulled back into arguments over domestic issues such as the economy, it also led to a vast swathe of nations, allies and foes of U.S. alike, being entirely ignored. India and sub-Saharan Africa, for example, did not feature in the debate at all, and the European Union and Latin America were only given passing mentions.
In a far more pessimistic take at Business Line, J. Srinivasan accuses India's leaders of inviting the slight by scuttling the country's relationship with the United States and global ambitions:
Some years back, with 9 per cent-plus growth, India was the toast of the world, and the US. Obama had called India the ‘risen nation'. Washington and New Delhi finally seemed getting closer, overcoming the peculiar legacy of an uneasy relationship between the two largest democracies. Suddenly, all that bonhomie seems over.
Principally, the blame may lie with India. The US has been backing India in its anti-terror efforts at all fora. But the quid pro quo has not come. Washington must be most disappointed with New Delhi's waffling on serious foreign investments. Actually, the loser is India as it now gets only some portfolio investment that is notoriously fickle to boot. And, when the government has made some glacial moves, they have been politically stymied. India is still to open its banking and insurance sectors. Then, the off-putting corruption revelations.
Really, can the US, or any other country, be blamed for ignoring India? For all the big talk of our political class, the sad truth is forget a chair, we don't get a stool at the world high table. We, the aam aadmi [common man], must also wake up to the reality that if our political class continues in its ways, we cannot catch up with China warts and all.
At First Post, Venky Vembu has a little more fun with the omission:
What's the point of our "stealing" so many middle-class American jobs through the outsourcing route if we can't even find one measly mention in the US presidential debate? What price our status as a "risen power" (to quote Obama, during his visit to India in November 2010) if we cannot colonise the mindspace of even one of the two men who are vying to be the next president of the US?
Even lowly Pakistan came in for mention, uncharitable though it was....
But while Vembu, like J. Srinivasan, argues that India's political, economic, and diplomatic problems may contribute to the country's irrelevance in the current U.S. foreign-policy debate, he adds that America's increasing isolationism is also to blame:
[America's] foreign policy horizons are shrinking, as an economically enfeebled America increasingly focuses inwards.
India and the US, it has been famously said, are "estranged democracies" that ought to have gotten along a lot better than the vicissitudes of geopolitics have allowed. History, of course, comes with its own baggage, but today, as both India and the US retreat into the recesses of their minds, the capacity for India to inject itself into American foreign polity thinking stands vastly diminished.
If it's any consolation, Obama did mention India once in the second debate. The context? Condemning Romney for supporting tax breaks that would create jobs in countries like India.
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
A growing body of research may suggest that there are very few truly undecided voters still out there, and that their role in deciding elections is exaggerated. But the Gallup polling firm apparently believes it's tracked down 80 politically uncommitted Long Islanders to compose the audience at tonight's town hall-style presidential debate, which will touch on a mix of foreign and domestic policy issues. All this raises the question: What's the foreign policy of undecided voters?
I haven't come across a study on this topic specifically, but a national poll released by the Foreign Policy Initiative late last month offers some clues. Here's a quick look at the ways self-identified independents responded to the organization's questions:
Independents, of course, are not necessarily synonymous with undecided voters (according to the FPI poll, more than 40 percent of independents report that they're either voting for Obama or leaning toward doing so, and just under 40 percent say the same about Romney).
But if you track another, significantly smaller group in the survey -- those who identify as "firm undecideds" when it comes to the election -- on the issues listed above, you'll find the same broad trends. The portrait of the independent voter that emerges -- focused primarily on the economy, wary of tinkering with defense spending, relatively hawkish on Iran and Syria, concerned about the rise of China, ambivalent on Afghanistan, skeptical of foreign aid, pessimistic about the direction of the country but bullish on America's global leadership -- is worth keeping in mind as you watch tonight's debate.
Andrew Burton/Getty Images
In conjunction with Mitt Romney's foreign-policy address address in Virginia this week, in which he vowed to prevent Iran from "acquiring nuclear weapons capability," the Romney campaign has updated the Iran section of its website to reflect that pledge:
Here's what the section looked like late last month, when I wrote about Romney's shifting "red line" for Iran's nuclear program. Notice the language below is virtually identical to the wording above, save for the references to capability:
It's not surprising that the campaign would update its site to reflect a revised or refined policy. But the change does challenge the explanation Romney's foreign-policy advisors gave in September when the Republican candidate told ABC's George Stephanopoulos (twice) that he had the same red line as Obama -- Iran "may not have a nuclear weapon" -- even though his surrogates had said the candidate wouldn't tolerate Iran obtaining the capability to develop a nuclear weapon, a lower bar for preemptive military action.
At the time, Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul told the New York Times that Romney had not meant to suggest in the ABC interview that his red line was the same as Obama's. She pointed to the candidate's remark that Iran shouldn't have the "capacity to terrorize the world" and argued that Stephanopoulos had mischaracterized Romney's position. "Gov. Romney's red line is Iran having a nuclear weapons capacity," Saul maintained.
Yes, the Iran debate involves extremely subtle linguistic distinctions. But it seems more likely that, amid Benjamin Netanyahu's calls for the United States to articulate red lines, Romney has decided in the election's final weeks to clearly distinguish his position from the president's, and to adopt the Israeli prime minister's more aggressive stance. As he told CNN on Tuesday, "My own test is that Iran should not have the capability of producing a nuclear weapon. I think that's the same test that Benjamin Netanyahu would also apply."
As my colleague Dan Drezner notes today, excerpts released ahead of Mitt Romney's big foreign-policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute this morning suggest that the Republican candidate isn't going to be rolling out much new policy content in his address. The problem, Drezner adds, is that Romney's rhetoric on international affairs has been pretty opaque so far:
If one pushes past the overheated rhetoric, then you discover that Romney wants a lot of the same ends as Barack Obama -- a stable, peaceful and free Middle East, for example. But that's not shocking -- any major party president will want the same ends. The differenes are in the means through which a president will achieve those ends. And -- in op-ed after op-ed, in speech after speech -- Romney either elides the means altogether, mentions means that the Obama administration is already using, or just says the word "resolve" a lot. That's insufficient.
But if Romney's foreign-policy views have been incoherent, the Obama campaign's criticisms of Romney's positions have been no less perplexing. Simply put, team Obama can't seem to decide whether the president's challenger is the second coming of Barack Obama or George W. Bush -- or a different beast entirely: a blundering buffoon or possibly an inveterate flip-flipper.
These contradictions are on full display in a memo that Obama foreign-policy advisors Michèle Flournoy and Colin Kahl sent out in advance of Romney's speech.
First, Flournoy and Kahl paint Romney as the second coming of George W. Bush (but worse and outside the "mainstream"):
Mitt Romney has, throughout this campaign, raised more questions than answers about what he'd actually do as President. He supported the Iraq war and said that removing all of our troops from Iraq was "tragic," he called Russia - not al-Qaeda - our "number one geopolitical foe," and he said that he wouldn't have set a timeline to end the war in Afghanistan. Those aren't policies, those are misguided talking points - and the American people deserve more from someone running to be commander-in-chief.
Today's latest effort to reboot and reset the Romney foreign policy doesn't change the fact that he's repeatedly taken positions outside of the mainstream and often to the right of even George W. Bush. This isn't surprising. After all, Romney is advised by the same people who were responsible for some of the worst foreign policy failures in American history, including the Iraq War. And now he wants to take us back to the same with-us-or-against-us approach that got us into wars without getting us out of them.
Then as the second coming of Barack Obama:
For example, Governor Romney still can't say what he'd do differently on Iran other than taking us to war. He continues to criticize the President's timeline in Afghanistan even while saying he'd pursue it as President. His position on Libya has no credibility since he's been both for and against our Libya policy. And he offers no way forward on Syria other than suggesting that the United States should get more deeply involved in the conflict without defining a strategy.
And then as an inveterate flip-flopper. (In a statement on Sunday, Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith noted that Romney has "erratically shifted positions on every major foreign policy issue, including intervening in Libya, which he was against before he was for.")
The bar is high for Governor Romney during his speech today. After six previous chances, it is up to him to finally clear it. Because while the American people can trust Barack Obama's strong record of winding down wars and decimating al-Qaeda, Mitt Romney has repeatedly shown that he has no idea what he'd actually do as commander-in-chief. In today's complicated world, that's just not good enough.
In a new ad today attacking Romney for his gaffe-filled overseas tour this summer and response to the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, the Obama campaign promotes the fourth persona: the blundering buffoon. "If this is how he handles the world now, just think what Mitt Romney would do as president," the narrator declares. (As Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Sunday, "This is the same guy who, when he went overseas on his trip, the only person who has offended Europe more is probably Chevy Chase.")
So on one side of this campaign, we have a president who has made America lead like America again. What is there on the other side? An extreme and expedient candidate, who lacks the judgment and vision so vital in the Oval Office. The most inexperienced foreign policy twosome to run for president and vice president in decades.
It isn't fair to say Mitt Romney doesn't have a position on Afghanistan. He has every position. He was against setting a date for withdrawal-then he said it was right-and then he left the impression that maybe it was wrong to leave this soon. He said it was "tragic" to leave Iraq, and then he said it was fine. He said we should've intervened in Libya sooner. Then he ran down a hallway to duck reporters' questions. Then he said the intervention was too aggressive. Then he said the world was a "better place" because the intervention succeeded. Talk about being for it before you were against it!
Mr. Romney-here's a little advice: Before you debate Barack Obama on foreign policy, you better finish the debate with yourself!
"President Mitt Romney"-three hypothetical words that mystified and alienated our allies this summer. For Mitt Romney, an overseas trip is what you call it when you trip all over yourself overseas. It wasn't a goodwill mission-it was a blooper reel.
But a Romney-Ryan foreign policy would be anything but funny. Every president of both parties for 60 years has worked for nuclear arms control-but not Mitt Romney. Republican secretaries of state from Kissinger to Baker, Powell to Rice, President Bush, and 71 United States senators all supported President Obama's New Start treaty. But not Mitt Romney. He's even blurted out the preposterous notion that Russia is our "number one geopolitical foe." Folks: Sarah Palin said she could see Russia from Alaska; Mitt Romney talks like he's only seen Russia by watching Rocky IV.
Mitt Romney is an inexperienced flip-flopper who is comically inept on the world stage. But in all seriousness, folks, he's dangerous.
Tale of the tape
Mitt Romney was forced to play defense again this week after Mother Jones released a secret recording of remarks he made at a private Boca Raton fundraiser in May. In addition to saying that his "job is not to worry about" the 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income taxes and would likely never vote for him anyway, Romney made a number of controversial statements on foreign policy.
Addressing the stalled Mideast peace process, Romney told the audience, "I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there's just no way." He suggested that the best course of action for the United States was to "kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it."
The remarks prompted an angry response from Palestinian officials.
Romney also addressed Iran's nuclear program, saying, "if I were Iran -- a crazed fanatic, I'd say let's get a little fissile material to Hezbollah, have them carry it to Chicago or some other place, and then if anything goes wrong, or America starts acting up, we'll just say, ‘Guess what? Unless you stand down, why, we're going to let off a dirty bomb.'" Nuclear analysts, however, noted that Romney's understanding of this kind of weaponry was a bit off -- fissile material would not be necessary to produce a dirty bomb.
The leaked video, in which Romney also joked that if his father had been Mexican, "I'd have a better shot of winning this," overshadowed speeches Romney delivered on Monday at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles and on Thursday at a rally in Miami, aimed at making up ground among Latino voters -- 68 percent of whom favor Barack Obama according to a recent poll. "This party is the natural home for Hispanic Americans because this is the party of opportunity and hope," Romney in the Miami speech.
Romney also participated in a forum hosted by Spanish-language television network Univision, in which he addressed the hot-button issue of immigration. "We are not going to round up people around the country and deport them," he said. "Our system is not to deport people." Romney also seemed to soften his stance on the issue, saying that he supported granting permanent residence to illegal immigrants who serve in the military or "kids that get higher education." The education-for-residency deal is a central component of the proposed DREAM act, which Romney said he opposed during the GOP primary.
Obama appeared on the Univision program a day after Romney and was pressed by host Jorge Ramos on why he had failed to honor a pledge made in 2008 to "have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support." Obama blamed the fact that "the economy was on the verge of collapse" and called the inability to pass immigration reform his "biggest failure." Obama was also pressed on why his administration had deported more people -- 1.5 million since 2009 -- than any of his predecessors.
Overall, this week brought good news for Obama on the polling front. His approval rating is back above 50 percent for the first time since May, an increasing number of voters expect the economy to improve, and he's above 50 percent in the crucial swing states of Wisconsin, Virginia, and Colorado.
Interestingly, the most worrying number for the president this week may be in an area that's been one of his main strengths so far in the campaign: foreign policy. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken in the days following the attacks on U.S. embassies in Libya and Egypt found that Obama's approval rating on foreign policy dropped to 49 percent from 54 percent in August -- his lowest rating since the killing of Osama bin Laden. However, Obama still enjoys an advantage over his opponent: 45 percent still believe he would make a better commander-in-chief compared to 38 percent for Romney.
Swinging on Syria
The deteriorating situation in Syria hasn't been much of an issue on the campaign so far, as Romney has avoided the tough talk among some of his Republican colleagues in calling for military action to oust Bashar al-Assad. But Romney's top foreign-policy advisor Dan Senor blasted the president's handling of the crisis in an appearance on CBS on Friday morning. "It's been over a year since the president said Bashar Assad must go," Senor said. "Bashar Assad is still in power. America looks impotent in the region."
Senor suggested that a Romney administration would do more to work with regional allies to supply the rebel forces fighting Assad.
The Bibi factor
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took his call for the United States to impose a more specific "red line" on Iran's nuclear program to the Sunday talk shows last weekend. "It's like Timothy McVeigh walking into a shop in Oklahoma City and saying, ‘I'd like to tend my garden. I'd like to buy some fertilizer.... Come on. We know that they're working on a weapon,'" Netanyahu said on NBC's Meet the Press, referring to Tehran's claims that its nuclear program is solely for scientific and energy purposes. Employing an American football metaphor, Netanyahu continued, "You know, they're in the last 20 yards, and you can't let them cross that goal line,"
The Obama administration has rebuffed calls to impose a red line that would trigger a military response, arguing that it needs to maintain flexibility in negotiations. Romney had previously suggested that he and the president had the same line when it came to Iran's nuclear program -- building an actual weapon -- but on a conference call with a group of American rabbis this week, Romney seemed to change his position, saying "for me, it is unacceptable or Iran to have the capability of building a nuclear weapon" -- a position much closer to what Netanyahu has suggested.
Netanyahu will travel to New York later this month for the U.N. General Assembly, but will not meet with Obama. According to the White House, the two will simply not be in the city at the same time and Obama's tight schedule does not allow a meeting, but Romney has called the decision "confusing and troubling."
The latest from FP:
Former candidate Newt Gingrich accuses the president of apologizing for American values following the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Louis Klarevas worries that Obama is caving to pressure from the right in declaring the killing of Christopher Stevens a "terrorist attack."
The Palestine Liberation Organization's U.S. ambassador, Maen Rashid Areikat, responds to Romney's comments on the peace process.
Joe Cirincione on what Romney got wrong about dirty bombs.
Gordon Adams says forget the 47 percent -- the defense industry is the real moocher class.
Arif Rafiq says it's time to admit that Obama's Afghanistan strategy has been a complete disaster.
Romney's right: Russia is our No. 1 geopolitical foe, argues John Arquilla.
Aaron David Miller wonders if Romney can be trusted with the Middle East.
Michael Cohen says we shouldn't expect the president to be able to fix the Middle East.
Samuel Berger says Romney has adopted Netanyahu's dangerous Iran timetable.
Netanyahu has proved that the "Israel lobby" was always overblown, says David Rothkopf.
Not so fast, says Stephen Walt.
Peter Feaver is troubled by Obama's handling of the embassy attacks.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
As tensions mount between Israel and the United States over setting "red lines" for Iran's nuclear program, Mitt Romney made a notable admission to ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Thursday: His red line is the same as Obama's. "My red line is Iran may not have a nuclear weapon," Romney explained. "It is inappropriate for them to have the capacity to terrorize the world." When Stephanopoulos asked twice whether Romney's red line squares with Obama's (the president's stated policy is to "prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon"), the Republican candidate replied in the affirmative each time.
What's odd is that while Romney did vaguely mention Iran's "capacity to terrorize the world," he didn't suggest that he would draw a line at Iran obtaining the capability to develop a nuclear weapon -- a lower bar for a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities (one Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu favors and the Obama administration has not yet committed to). Romney alluded to that lower threshold during a visit to Jerusalem over the summer, telling Netanyahu that "as we face the challenges of an Iran seeking nuclear capability, we must draw upon our interests and our values to take them on a different course."
But, crucially, Romney hasn't gone as far as his surrogates have in drawing a red line at nuclear capability. Romney advisor Dan Senor, for example, previewed the candidate's Jerusalem remarks by saying "it is not enough just to stop Iran from developing a nuclear program" since "the capability, even if that capability is short of weaponization, is a pathway to weaponization." In an interview with the New York Times this week, advisor Eliot Cohen said Romney "would not be content with an Iran one screwdriver's turn away from a nuclear weapon" but did not specify the point at which the development of Iran's nuclear capability -- a highly technical process that may already be quite far along depending on how you define the slippery term -- would be unacceptable.
The ABC interview didn't offer many other insights into how Romney's Iran policy would differ from Obama's. Romney advocated for "crippling sanctions" -- a track the Obama administration has pursued aggressively. He said "Iran as a nuclear nation is unacceptable to the United States of America" -- echoing Obama's assertion that "when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say." He explained that the United States must make clear that it will "take any action necessary to prevent ... Iran becoming nuclear"; Obama has said that "when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table."
Indeed, Romney's sharpest criticisms of Obama's Iran policy in the ABC interview and in a recent NBC sit-down have centered upon the president's outreach to Iran's leaders and silence during pro-democracy protests in Iran in 2009 -- critiques that relate to the first half of Obama's term, before the administration adopted a more aggressive posture toward Tehran as engagement floundered.
What's particularly striking about Romney's failure so far to clearly differentiate his Iran policy from Obama's is that the Republican candidate recently argued that the president's greatest foreign-policy mistake is not doing enough to halt Iran's nuclear program. "Iran is closer to having a weapon, closer to having nuclear capability than when he took office," Romney told NBC's David Gregory last week.
Romney, in other words, appears to be suggesting that Obama cost the United States precious time in initially pursuing engagement with Iran, and that a President Romney will largely stick to Obama's recalibrated approach (tough sanctions mixed with diplomacy) -- but with a threat of force that Tehran will, for reasons that have yet to be specified, take more seriously. It's a subtle distinction for an issue that Romney has characterized as Obama's biggest blunder.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Democrats flex foreign-policy muscle
At their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week, the Democrats weren't shy about touting their rare advantage on national security in this year's election. Speakers mentioned Osama bin Laden 21 times during the three-day event, and Barack Obama ridiculed Republican challenger Mitt Romney's foreign policy in his acceptance speech on Thursday evening.
"My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy," the president asserted. "After all, you don't call Russia our number one enemy -- not al Qaeda, Russia -- unless you're still stuck in a Cold War mind warp. You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally."
At a campaign stop in Iowa on Friday, Romney defended the critical comments he made while visiting London during this summer's Olympic Games, calling it the kind of "straight talk" Obama avoids. "I think it would be appropriate if the president would talk to China in a straight talk manner," he said. "They have manipulated their currency for well over a decade, taken American jobs, and I think it's totally appropriate to show backbone and strength as we deal with other nations around the world, there is nothing wrong with telling people the truth."
On Friday morning, shortly after the Democratic convention wrapped up, a much-anticipated jobs report revealed that that while the unemployment rate had fallen from 8.3 percent to 8.1 percent, the economy had added only 96,000 jobs in August, far below the 125,000 that economists had forecasted and the revised figure of 141,000 that the economy had added in July. The Romney campaign pounced. "If last night was the party, this morning is the hangover," Romney noted, adding that the president had "yet to keep his number one promise to fix the economy."
Saluting the troops
Democrats seized on the controversy surrounding Romney's failure to mention the war in Afghanistan during his acceptance speech last week -- an effort that was no doubt aided by the optics of Obama addressing the troops at Fort Bliss, Texas, the very next day. "No nominee for president should ever fail in the midst of a war to pay tribute to our troops overseas in his acceptance speech," Senator John Kerry (D-MA) declared on Thursday evening in the most substantive foreign policy speech of the convention. (Romney, for his part, points out that he mentioned Afghanistan during a visit to the American Legion a day after the convention.) A Gallup poll in August showed Romney leading Obama 55 percent to 38 percent among veterans.
Platform politics: Jerusalem
Of all the controversies surrounding this year's Democratic platform, none was more consequential than the debate surrounding the decision to not include language affirming that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel in the document's section on Israel. The wording had appeared in the party's 2008 platform, but drafters reportedly removed it to indicate that Jerusalem will remain a so-called final-status issue in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Party leaders ultimately reinstated the language during a chaotic and contentious voice vote after facing heavy criticism from the Romney campaign and others.
Talk of immigration reform figured prominently in the Democratic convention. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, the first Latino to deliver the keynote address at a convention, praised Obama's executive order this summer to halt the deportation of young illegal immigrants. "The president took action to lift the shadow of deportation from a generation of young, law-abiding immigrants called ‘Dreamers,'" Castro noted. Benita Veliz, an undocumented immigrant and a leader of the Dreamers movement, also addressed the convention. The GOP convention also featured several Latino speakers, including Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and New Mexican Governor Susana Martinez.
Global warming wasn't a major topic of conversation at the Republican and Democratic conventions -- beyond a debate about whether caring about the rise of the oceans is a good thing -- but Romney did make headlines this week by adjusting his stance on climate change, albeit in a rather confusing fashion. "I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences," he argued. "However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue."
The latest from FP:
Over the last couple weeks, there's been an extended debate on ForeignPolicy.com between Peter Feaver, Charles Kupchan, and Bruce Jentleson over the merits of Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's foreign policies. Check it out here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Alex Massie explains why he's sick and tired of U.S. political conventions.
Uri Friedman explores the surprising Republican reset with Pakistan.
Aaron David Miller makes the case for why Barack Obama will win reelection.
John Kerry outlines why the Republicans can't be trusted with national security.
Joshua Keating tells us what a Polkian presidency might look like.
Foreign Policy releases its list of the 50 most powerful Democrats on foreign policy.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
It's rather surprising that it was mystery-guest actor Clint Eastwood -- not Mitt Romney -- who made the only reference to the war in Afghanistan during the final night of the GOP convention. Commentators on both the right and the left have taken the Republican presidential nominee to task for not addressing a nearly 11-year-old conflict in which roughly 90,000 U.S. troops are currently engaged and more than 2,000 have died.
In fact, the so-called "forgotten war" was only mentioned four times during the three-day Republican convention (the word "jobs," by contrast, was uttered 220 times). The Associated Press reports that Romney is the first Republican since 1952 to accept the party nomination without discussing war.
The omission is particularly notable considering that just last week, in New Hampshire, Romney criticized President Obama, who has not delivered a major address on the war since May, for not speaking more about Afghanistan. "When our men and women are in harm's way, I expect the president of the United States to address the nation on a regular basis and explain what's happening and why they're there and what the mission is, what its progress is, how we'll know when it's completed,'' he explained.
Romney himself, however, has not mentioned Afghanistan much this election season. According to an archive of 46 formal campaign speeches that Romney has delivered in 2011 and 2012, which the University of California, Santa Barbara's American Presidency Project compiles based on transcripts released to the press by the campaign, Romney has mentioned the word "Afghanistan" 10 times on the campaign trail.
Obama, by contrast, has used the word 36 times -- more than three times as often as Romney -- in 41 speeches (over a shorter timeframe), according to the same American Presidency Project archive. There are caveats to these figures, of course: the UCSB database doesn't include every remark the two candidates have made on the campaign trail, and Obama almost always references Afghanistan in the same way -- a line or two about the administration's commitment to winding down the war, bringing the troops home, and investing the savings domestically. Obama is also the commander-in-chief, while Romney is a candidate.
Still, directionally, the numbers suggest that the Democrats are currently more comfortable talking about the war than the Republicans are. A case in point: An Obama campaign official recently told Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin that Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) will speak about the president's "plan to bring our troops home from Afghanistan just like he did from Iraq" during national security night at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte next week.
The war in Afghanistan is a politically fraught issue for Romney. In calling the conflict a "war of necessity" rather than a "war of choice" (as in Iraq), Obama has taken ownership of the protracted military engagement he inherited. And his plan to end the combat mission by 2014 is popular. In May, for example, support for the Afghan war hit a new low, with a mere 27 percent of respondents in an Associated Press-Gfk poll backing the military effort. Only 37 percent of Republican respondents said they supported the war, down from 58 percent in 2011.
If Romney softens his stance on the war -- as he briefly did last year when he declared that "it's time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, as soon as our generals think it's OK" -- he may anger hawks within the GOP. And if he assumes too aggressive of a posture, he may alienate a war-weary public. Plus, every minute spent talking about Afghanistan is a minute not talking about the economy.
When Romney has discussed Afghanistan, he hasn't offered many specifics. His most consistent argument is that he would shape his withdrawal strategy based on military advice rather than politics or economics. Here's how he addressed the war in his biggest foreign-policy speech so far, at The Citadel in South Carolina in October 2011:
In Afghanistan, after the United States and NATO have withdrawn all forces, will the Taliban find a path back to power? After over a decade of American sacrifice in treasure and blood, will the country sink back into the medieval terrors of fundamentalist rule and the mullahs again open a sanctuary for terrorists?....
I will order a full review of our transition to the Afghan military to secure that nation's sovereignty from the tyranny of the Taliban. I will speak with our generals in the field, and receive the best recommendation of our military commanders. The force level necessary to secure our gains and complete our mission successfully is a decision I will make free from politics.
And yet, it may be politics that's keeping Romney from staking out a clearer position on Afghanistan.
Richard Ellis/Getty Images
On Wednesday, I highlighted a curious passage in the Republican platform warning that America's "dependence on foreign imports of fertilizer could threaten our food supply" and supporting the development of domestic fertilizer production. In explaining the logic behind the line, I quoted congressional testimony by Fertilizer Institute President Ford West, who reported in 2009 that rising natural gas prices were taking a heavy toll on the domestic production of nitrogen fertilizer, forcing U.S. farmers to import more and more fertilizer.
Today, the Fertilizer Institute -- a Washington, D.C.-based association that represents producers, manufacturers, retailers, and transporters of fertilizer -- responded to the GOP plank. In a statement sent to Foreign Policy, Kathy Mathers, the organization's vice president for public affairs, noted that the outlook has actually brightened for the U.S. fertilizer industry since 2009 -- all thanks to shale-gas production:
U.S. natural gas prices in 2008 were at or near the highest in the world, placing the domestic nitrogen industry at a significant disadvantage, given natural gas's importance in the production of anhydrous ammonia and the nitrogen materials derived therefrom.
Due to the recent shale gas boom, the landscape for domestic nitrogen fertilizer production has changed significantly since the 2009 hearing. Because domestically produced natural gas is currently very competitive with gas produced elsewhere around the World, the dismantling of nitrogen fertilizer production facilities here has ceased. In fact, both the domestic nitrogen industry as well as companies from around the world are contemplating building new nitrogen production facilities in the United States in order to take advantage of the competitively priced natural gas.
Mathers added, however, that the fertilizer imports that worry Republicans are still vital for the United States:
That said, fertilizer is a global industry and imports have been and continue to be an important part of the fertilizer supplies which are necessary to meet the demands of America's farmers.
It's a sentiment that countries like Canada and Trinidad and Tobago, which shipped nearly $8 billion worth of fertilizer to the United States in 2011, would likely second.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
After a few weeks of relative silence on Foreign Policy from the campaign trail, there was a brief and largely unexpected skirmish between the Obama and Romney camps today over just how dangerous Hugo Chavez is. The president started things with remarks to a Miami TV Station about ties between Venezuela and Iran:
“We’re always concerned about Iran engaging in destabilizing activity around the globe,” Obama told the station, WJAN America TeVe Miami. “But overall my sense is that what Mr. Chavez has done over the past several years has not had a serious national security impact on us.”
Romney immediately saw an opening:
“The idea that this nation, this president, doesn’t pose a national security threat is simply naive and an extraordinary admission on the part of this president to be completely out of touch with what is happening in Latin America,” Romney said of Chavez in an interview Wednesday with Fox News.
The Obama campaign then fired back with a press release:
“Because of President Obama’s leadership, our position in the Americas is much stronger today than before he took office. At the same time, Hugo Chavez has become increasingly marginalized and his influence has waned. It’s baffling that Mitt Romney is so scared of a leader like Chavez whose power is fading, while Romney continues to remain silent about how to confront al-Qaeda or how to bring our troops home from Afghanistan. People like Hugo Chavez want attention – and that’s exactly what Mitt Romney and his supporters gave him today. Governor Romney is only playing into the hands of Chavez by acting like he’s ten feet tall. President Obama has refused to be distracted by the outdated rhetoric of people like Hugo Chavez and instead has focused on restoring our nation’s standing in Latin America, strengthening our partnerships in the region, and standing up for democratic values in Venezuela. It’s disturbing that Mitt Romney is trying to score cheap political points by blustering and misrepresenting the President’s record while failing to outline any coherent foreign policy strategy.”
The Associated Press suggests that this could be a major issue for Florida voters, but I have a feeling that most voters with strong feelings on Latin America policy have probably already made up their minds about who they're voting for.
It's starting to seem like this dynamic is going to play out until November on national security questions. Obama will say something that sounds insufficiently hawkish, Romney will charge him with being weak and naive, the Obama campaign will counter by invoking its counterterrorism record. Insert Iran, Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba, Mexican cartels, or Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.
This time, at least, we get the anticipation of Chavez's own response. It will be interesting how the Yanqui hostility/indifference plays out in his own reelection effort. Nothing on Twitter yet.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
"I sent a letter to the Swiss Consulate requesting withdrawal of my dual Swiss citizenship, which was conferred upon me by operation of Swiss law when I married my husband in 1978," she said. "I took this action because I want to make it perfectly clear: I was born in America and I am a proud American citizen. I am, and always have been, 100 percent committed to our United States Constitution and the United States of America. As the daughter of an Air Force veteran, stepdaughter of an Army veteran and sister of a Navy veteran, I am proud of my allegiance to the greatest nation the world has ever known."
The statement seems slightly misleading. According to the original Politico story, which included confirmation from Bachmann's office, she became Swiss not in 1978 but in March after her husband applied for citizenship. Marcus Bachmann had been eligible for citizenship since birth because of his parents' nationality, but hadn't claimed it until this year.
During a 10-minute renunciation ceremony in a booth with bullet-proof glass windows, embassy staff ask exiting Americans whether they are acting voluntarily and understand the implications of giving up their passports. They pay a fee of $450 to renounce and may incur an “exit tax” on unrealized capital gains if their assets exceed $2 million or their average annual U.S. tax bill is more than $151,000 during the past five years. They receive a certificate within three months, telling them they are no longer American citizens and entitled to the services and protection of the U.S. government.
It should be noted that for immigrants to Switzerland, and even children of immigrants born in Switzerland, getting Swiss citizenship is not nearly as easy as it apparently was for the Bachmanns.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Santorum drops out
Rick Santorum, the last credible rival for the GOP nomination, dropped out of the race on Wednesday leaving a clear path for front-runner and presumptive nominee Mitt Romney. "This game is a long, long, long way from over," Santorum told supporters. "We are going to continue to go out there and fight to make sure that we defeat President Barack Obama." Notably, Santorum did not mention Romney in his concession.
With 651 delegates, Romney may have the contest all wrapped up, but nobody appears to have told Newt Gingrich, who still vows to stay in the race until Romney collects the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination. "I want to do what I do best, which is talk about big solutions and big approaches," Gingrich told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "I want to keep campaigning." But $4.5 million in debt, Gingrich's campaign suffered a further indignity this week when its $500 check for the filing fee to appear on the Utah primary ballot bounced.
On Thursday night (EDT), North Korea attempted -- but failed -- in an attempt to launch a satellite into orbit. Though the botched launch of the long-range missile, which broke apart before entering orbit, was a humiliation for North Korea's young leader Kim Jong Un, it also essentially scuttled a year of diplomatic outreach by the Obama administration, which culminated in a now-nullified deal on Feb. 29 under which Pyongyang agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment program in exchange for food aid.
The Romney campaign was quick to respond with a statement saying that the launch demonstrated the "incompetence" and weakness of the Obama administration's foreign policy. "Instead of approaching Pyongyang from a position of strength, President Obama sought to appease the regime with a food-aid deal that proved to be as naive as it was short-lived," he said.
A cold shoulder to Brazil
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was in Washington on Monday for a White House meeting with Barack Obama. But in contrast to her fellow BRICS leaders Hu Jintao and Manmohan Singh, arguably the second most powerful leader in the Western hemisphere got only a 2-hour meeting with the president on a day dominated by the White House lawn Easter Egg roll. The Brazilian government has repeatedly criticized Washington for monetary and interest rate policies that they say unfairly advantage U.S. exports and for visa requirements for Brazilian travelers that take up to 35 days to process.
The two leaders will meet again this weekend at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia.
Public support for the war in Afghanistan has fallen to an all-time low according to a new Washington Post-ABC poll, with only 30 percent of respondents saying it has been worth the effort and expenditure. For the first time, a majority of Republicans do not approve of the war. As to the president's leadership, 48 percent of those polled approve of Obama's handling of the war, while 43 percent disapprove. In a sign of an accelerated effort to transfer responsibility to Afghan forces, the United States agreed this week to hand over control of the controversial nighttime raids that were once seen as critical to winning the war.
Romney may have a steep hill to climb if he aims to win the foreign-policy fight in the campaign. New polling shows that voters trust Obama over the GOP frontrunner by a 15 percent margin. Writing for Foreign Policy, Washington Post polling analyst Scott Clement notes that "Romney's weakness on foreign policy doesn't appear to result from Obama's strengths. Americans give Obama middling ratings on international affairs overall: 47 percent approve while 44 percent disapprove."
After the bruising primary, Romney appears to have sketched out a decidedly hawkish platform on foreign policy. Moving into the general election, with Americans increasingly skeptical of military action abroad, it remains to be seen whether the candidate will moderate his views to appear to undecided voters.
What to watch for:
Latin American summits are typically a good showcase for some outlandish behavior. Obama's opponents will likely be on the lookout to see how the president interacts with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. He was criticized for embracing the leftist leader in 2009.
The latest from Foreign Policy:
Aaron David Miller says the notion that presidents have more "flexibility" to act in their second terms is a myth.
Will Imboden gives six reasons we should hope Obama's not more flexible.
Daniel Drezner questions Romney's seriousness on foreign policy.
Michael A. Cohen looks at who's leading on the big international issues that will define the contest between Romney and Obama.Joshua E. Keating looks back at the highlights of the Santorum campaign.
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
This week, the campaign was unexpectedly dominated by a debate over Russia policy. The back-and-forth was sparked by an embarrassing "hot mic" incident on Monday at a summit on Seoul, when President Barack Obama told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more "space" to tackle controversial issues such as missile defense after the election. "This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility," he told the outgoing Russian leader, who promised to "transmit this information to Vladimir."
Mitt Romney was quick to seize on the incident to bolster his argument that Obama has ignored the security threat posed by Russia. He went a bit over the top with the rhetoric, however, telling CNN's Wolf Blitzer that "this is without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe, they fight every cause for the world's worst actors, the idea that he has more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed."
Democrats -- and a few Republicans -- disputed the notion that Russia is the nation's primary foe. "You don't have to be a foreign policy expert to know that the Cold War ended 20 years ago and that the greatest threat that the president has been fighting on behalf of the American people is the threat posed by al Qaeda," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
Romney doubled down on his charge against the president with an op-ed in Foreign Policy, writing that "In his dealings with the Kremlin, as in his dealings with the rest of the world, President Obama has demonstrated breathtaking weakness -- and given the word ‘flexibility' a new and ominous meaning."
A group of Romney's senior advisors also published an open-letter on the website of the National Review detailing a list of the president's main foreign policy failings. The Obama campaign's senior foreign policy advisors pushed pushed back with a letter to Romney published in FP demanding that Romney "clarify exactly how and why you would depart from many of President Obama's policies."
Romney even got into it with Medvedev himself this week. The Russian president said the candidate's rhetoric "smacks of Hollywood" and advised him to "check his watch" to see that it's no longer the 1970s. The Romney campaign struck back with a press release calling him "President Medvedev (D-Russia)" and accusing him of "campaigning for Obama."
Santorum's Jelly Belly foreign policy
Rick Santorum chose an unusual venue on Thursday for a national security-focused address meant to reinvigorate his struggling campaign: The Jelly Belly headquarters in Fairfield, California. Attempting to associate himself with the foreign-policy acumen of GOP icon and famous jellybean fiend Ronald Reagan, Santorum made the case that "Of all of the failings of this administration, of all of the failings, perhaps the greatest is on national security."
Santorum also seized on the hot mic gaffe: "Ronald Reagan didn't whisper to Gorbachev, ‘Give me some flexibility.... He walked out of Iceland and said, ‘You either do this, or we have no deal.'"
H.W. goes all in
While Santorum while trying to channel the Gipper, his vice-president and successor George H.W. Bush officially endorsed Romney -- no surprise as he had publicly praised the candidate earlier in the race and his son Jeb endorsed last week. The 87-year-old (mis)quoted Kenny Rogers when asked about Romney's rivals, saying, ‘It's time when to hold ‘em and time when to fold ‘em."
The meeting raised questions as to when George W. Bush will make an endorsement in the race. "I haven't met with President George W. Bush. We speak from time to time," Romney said.
Newt loses his sugar daddy
The struggling campaign of Newt Gingrich, who has won only South Carolina and his home state of Georgia so far, has been kept afloat by the largesse of Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The staunch Israel hawk has donated over $20 million to Gingrich's Super PAC. It appears, however, that Adelson's generosity has its limits. Speaking at the Jewish Federations of North America's annual TribeFest conference in Las Vegas this week, the billionaire said this week that Gingrich may be "at the end of the line" since mathematically, "he can't get anywhere near the number" of delegates needed. Adelson has reportedly been reaching out to supporters of the Romney campaign.
Gingrich, the onetime frontrunner, laid off one-third of his staff this week.
Is Paul coming around to Romney?
Ron Paul, currently running in fourth place with a total of 50 delegates in the bag, has previously suggested that foreign policy might be an obstacle to him throwing his support behind Romney. This week, however, Paul paid the frontrunner the mildest of compliments in an interview with Bloomberg television: "I think Mitt Romney is more likely to be more willing to listen to his advisers.... If he decides he wants to go and bomb Iran, maybe he might listen to somebody else. I'm afraid the other [candidates] would just go do it anyway."
What to watch for:
Maryland, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia hold primaries on Tuesday. Romney is favored to win all three contests. (Santorum isn't on the ballot in D.C.)
After that, it's a long wait until a set of five northeastern primaries on April 23. Santorum's Gotterdämmerung may very well come in his home state of Pennsylvania, where the latest polls show him in a statistical dead heat with Romney.
The latest from FP:
Romney's Russia op-ed.
The Obama campaign's response.
Scott Clement says that Americans really don't think of Russia as an enemy anymore.
Daniel Drezner on the dirty, little secret of second-term presidents.
Michael Cohen argues the president's real constitutional overreach wasn't healthcare, it was Libya.
In honor of Santorum's Jelly Belly address, Uri Friedman recaps the year in political food fights.
Super Tuesday shakeout
Mitt Romney solidified his front-runner status in the all-important Super Tuesday contests this week, narrowly eking out a crucial win in Ohio, as well as Alaska, Idaho, Vermont, his home state of Massachusetts, and Virginia -- where Ron Paul was the only other candidate on the ballot. Rick Santorum took North Dakota, Idaho, and Tennessee, while Newt Gingrich won his home state of Georgia. Despite a near-tie in Ohio, Romney will take nearly all of the state's delegates because of the Santorum campaign's failure to meet the state's eligibility requirements months ago. Despite the lack of a clear referendum backing Romney, there now appears to be little chance of any other candidate closing the delegate gap.
The GOP candidates took the opportunity at this week's meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to again attack President Barack Obama's stance on Israel. "The current administration has distanced itself from Israel and visibly warmed to the Palestinian cause. It has emboldened the Palestinians.... As president, I will treat our allies and friends like friends and allies," Romney said.
"As I've sat and watched this play out on the world stage, I have seen a president who has been reticent," said Santorum. "He says he has Israel's back; from everything I've seen from the conduct of this administration, he has turned his back on the people of Israel,"
Santorum was referring to Obama's earlier speech to AIPAC on Sunday, during which he said, "There should not be a shred of doubt by now: when the chips are down, I have Israel's back." Speaking shortly before a White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama said, "When it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say."
Gingrich, for his part, seemed a bit unprepared for his speech. Video released by ABC News showed him nodding off slightly before he was due to deliver his remarks by satellite. He also seemed to be under the impression he was participating in a panel discussion rather than giving a speech.
As usual, Iran was the major foreign-policy topic of discussion on the campaign trail this week. In a Washington Post op-ed published on Monday, Romney compared Obama's handling of the Islamic Republic's nuclear program to Jimmy Carter's failure to secure the release of U.S. hostages in 1979. Romney pledged to "take every measure necessary to check the evil regime of the ayatollahs. Until Iran ceases its nuclear-bomb program, I will press for ever-tightening sanctions, acting with other countries if we can but alone if we must. I will speak out on behalf of the cause of democracy in Iran and support Iranian dissidents who are fighting for their freedom."
At a White House press conference the following day, Obama rebuked his critics in the GOP field and in Congress for their hawkish rhetoric on Iran. "This is not a game," he added. "And there's nothing casual about it.... If some of these folks think that it's time to launch a war, they should say so, and they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be."
A Sarkozy endorsement?
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, currently locked in his own tough election battle, seemed to endorse Obama's reelection effort during a speech on Mideast policy this week. "President Obama, who is a very great president, won't take the initiative [on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations] before he's re-elected -- and I hope he will be -- but there's a place for France and a place for Europe," Sarkozy said.
World leaders generally refrain from publicly taking sides in other countries' elections, though the practice has recently become more common in Europe.
What to watch for:
The week ahead could be a tough one for the Romney campaign with contests in Kansas on Saturday, and Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday, all of which are friendly territory for Santorum. While victories for the former Pennsylvania senator wouldn't change the delegate math much, they would add to concerns about Romney's ability to rally southern and socially conservative voters.
Leaving nothing to chance, Romney has even dispatched his son Matt to visit the Pacific territories of Guam and Northern Mariana, which also hold primaries this weekend.
The latest from FP:
Ruy Teixeira says the real winner of Super Tuesday was Obama.
Uri Friedman finds six international newspaper columnists who actually like Romney.
Michael Cohen argues that the GOP candidates are mischaracterizing Ronald Reagan's foreign policy.
Tom Ricks thinks Romney has effectively endorsed Obama's Iran policy.
Josh Rogin reports on Sen. John Kerry's response to Romney's Iran op-ed.
Joshua Keating looks at presidential "first trip" etiquette.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Nail-biter in Michigan
Mitt Romney easily won the Arizona primary on Tuesday and eked out a victory against a surging Rick Santorum in Michigan, where Romney was born and his father was a popular governor. While Santorum cast the close contest as a victory of sorts ("a month ago, they didn't know who we are," he told supporters), the results solidified Romney's status as the frontrunner in the topsy-turvy Republican race. The former Massachusetts governor, who now has roughly double the number of delegates as Santorum, is leading the pack of remaining GOP candidates comfortably in most national polls.
Iran and gas prices
Last month, Newt Gingrich shifted the focus of his campaign to energy in a bet that owning the issue of rising gas prices could help him claw back into the race. Gingrich has pledged to lower gas prices to $2.50 per gallon by increasing domestic energy production through initiatives such as the Keystone XL pipeline. Now, as tensions mount with Iran over its nuclear program and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to visit Washington, the other candidates are following suit. Romney accused President Barack Obama of stifling fracking -- a controversial technique to unlock oil and gas in underground rock formations -- through excessive regulations, Santorum went so far as to brandish a piece of oil-rich shale rock during his Michigan concession speech to demonstrate his support for the energy industry. (In another nod to stage props this week, Ron Paul waved a silver coin at Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to argue for returning to the gold and silver standard.)
Obama has been talking energy too, calling for an end to $4 billion in annual tax breaks and subsidies for oil and gas companies. A Pew survey released on Thursday found that voters are spreading the blame for rising gas prices among the administration, oil companies, and Iran -- though Republicans are much more likely to blame Obama.
Obama: "I don't bluff"
In an interview with the Atlantic's Jeffrey
Goldberg on Iran ahead of a meeting with Netanyahu, Obama declared that the
United States would consider taking military action to destroy Iran's nuclear
program if economic sanctions fail to compel it to comply with international
inspections, but added that now is not the right time for a preemptive Israeli
strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. "I think that the Israeli government
recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff," he noted.
"I also don't, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly
what our intentions are." On Twitter, former Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann shot back:
"Obama doesn't ‘go around advertising exactly what our [foreign policy]
intentions are?' What about
As he launches his reelection campaign, Obama has been trumpeting foreign policy successes such as ending the war in Iraq and killing Osama bin Laden. While "the other side traditionally seems to feel that the Democrats are somehow weak on defense," he recently told supporters, "they're having a little trouble making that argument this year" (a poll last month found that voters trust Obama more than Romney to handle international affairs). Yet Bloomberg's Terry Atlas points out that, in an election dominated by economic concerns, "foreign policy barely registers as an issue in public opinion polls," though an "arc of crises from Libya to Afghanistan" may yet change all that.
Read what George W. Bush advisors Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie have to say on the matter in the latest issue of Foreign Policy -- and a spirited rebuttal by Democratic pollsters Stanley Greenberg and Jeremy Rosner.
Apologizing in Afghanistan
The Republican candidates have long accused Obama of apologizing for America's actions abroad, and this week the refrain came in the context of the president apologizing to Afghans for the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan even as U.S. soldiers were killed in retaliation. Gingrich called the apology "astonishing" and suggested that the United States tell Afghans, "You're going to have to figure out how to live your own miserable life." Santorum accused Obama of "weakness" while Romney also criticized the decision.
In a larger piece about the Republicans and Afghanistan, Dominic Tierney at the Atlantic argues that the Republican Party is deeply divided about Afghanistan. The fundamental question facing the GOP, he writes, is whether the "end of defeating radical Islam [is] worth the means of big government nation-building."
Santorum's ‘snob' snafu
Santorum stirred controversy this week by suggesting that Obama was a "snob" for wanting "everybody in America to go to college." Obama "wants to remake you in his image," the former Pennsylvania senator argued. "I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his." Santorum appeared to subsequently backtrack from the comments, noting in his Michigan concession speech that his mother was an "unusual person for her time" by getting a college education in the 1930s, but the comment nevertheless touched off a debate about U.S. education. News outlets pointed out that Obama also supports the type of vocational training that Santorum champions, and that the former Pennsylvania senator backed increasing grants for college students during his reelection campaign in 2006.
What to watch for
All eyes now turn to Super Tuesday on March 6, when ten states will vote and more than 400 delegates will be up for grabs. The biggest battleground is the delegate-rich swing state of Ohio, where Romney has steadily been cutting into Santorum's lead. "For Romney," the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza notes, "it's uniquely possible that winning the Buckeye State on Tuesday would effectively clinch the presidential nomination for him."
The latest from FP
Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie offer a primer to the GOP candidates on how to beat Barack Obama on foreign policy.
Jeremy Rosner and Stanley Greenberg respond by pointing out that Americans have confidence in Obama as commander in chief.
Michael Cohen adds that Rove and Gillespie are "stuck in a 9/12 mindset."
Reza Aslan presents readers with a quiz: Who said it, Rick Santorum or Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei?
Gal Luft wonders whether Obama will remake himself into a war president when faced with a choice between high gas prices and a nuclear Iran.
Michael Levi argues that Obama's record on energy is stronger than his Republican rivals claim.
Vaclav Smil explains why Mitt Romney is right to focus on the importance of Canadian energy.
Scott Clement points out that while Americans may not like North Korea, few want to go to war over its nuclear weapons.
Jack Chow makes the case for why a President Santorum would be great news for the AIDS fight in Africa.
Susan Glasser connects the dots on the nasty rhetoric in the U.S. and Russian elections.
Daniel Drezner maintains that Santorum's views on manufacturing are antiquated.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Mr. Xi comes to Washington
This week's Washington foreign-policy agenda was dominated by the visit of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, the country's presumptive next leader. Xi's meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama was fairly cordial, but it fell to his direct counterpart -- Vice President Joe Biden -- to register a few complaints about China's trade practices and human rights record. "As Americans, we welcome competition," Biden said. "But cooperation, as you and I have spoken about, can only be mutually beneficial if the game is fair."
Mitt Romney took aim at the administration's China policy in a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week, saying that the president had come into office as a "near supplicant to Beijing" and had since "demurred from raising issues of human rights for fear it would compromise agreement on the global economic crisis or even ‘the global climate-change crisis.' Such weakness has only encouraged Chinese assertiveness and made our allies question our staying power in East Asia." Romney promised to label China a currency manipulator on "day one of my presidency."
Onetime candidate Jon Huntsman, a former ambassador to China who now has endorsed Romney, addressed the anti-China rhetoric that has appeared in both the presidential race and congressional races throughout the country. "It's much easier to talk about China in terms of the fear factor than the opportunity factor," Huntsman told MSNBC." When it comes to China, I think it's wrongheaded when you talk about slapping a tariff on Day One. That pushes aside the reality, the complexity of the relationship."
Motor City Mayhem
The next primaries will take place on Feb. 28 in Arizona and Michigan. The Wolverine State is considered home turf for Romney -- he was born in Detroit, his father was a popular governor, and Mitt won big over John McCain there in 2008 -- but the Michigan native trails Rick Santorum by 9 points in the current RealClearPolitics poll average.
Romney has defended his opposition to the Obama administration's auto industry bailouts -- a somewhat controversial position during a week when General Motors reported record profits. Romney has emphasized his deep roots in the state and nostalgia for the days of U.S. auto dominance, telling a crowd, "I love cars. I grew up totally in love with cars. It used to be, in the '50s and '60s, if you showed me 1 square foot of almost any part of the car, I could tell you what brand it was -- the model and so forth.... Now, with all the Japanese cars, I'm not quite so good at it. But I still know American cars pretty well." (Never mind that the candidate drives a Canadian-made Chrysler in a new ad.)
Santorum, meanwhile, has promised to revitalize the U.S. manufacturing sector by giving tax incentives to companies that move production back from overseas and cutting away at Obama-era regulations.
Meanwhile, Romney still leads Santorum in Arizona, but the gap is narrowing, despite the fact that the former Pennsylvania senator has virtually no ground organization in the state. The Arizona contest may push the candidates back to the right on immigration, after some more conciliatory rhetoric in Florida. Romney has been touting the support of Kris Kobach, the attorney and Kansas secretary of state who played a critical role in drafting Arizona's controversial SB 1070 immigration law.
Arizona has gone Republican in every presidential election but one since 1952, but Democrats may be hoping that the state will be in play in the fall, thanks to a backlash from the state's growing Hispanic population. Senior Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod has visited the state in recent months and the Democratic National Committee has begun running ads targeting Latino voters.
An Iranian attack on North Dakota?
Santorum's longtime fixation on the threat posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions has been well-documented. But the rhetoric reached a new level this week when the candidate warned an audience in North Dakota that they might be a potential target for Iranian-sponsored terrorism. "Folks, you've got energy here. They're going to bother you. They'll bother you, because you are a very key and strategic resource for this country," he said. "No one is safe. No one is safe from asymmetric threats of terrorism.... That's what Iran will be all about unless we stop them from getting that nuclear weapon."
As the National Review pointed out, Santorum's security concerns have dampened his enthusiasm for building a massive new oil pipeline through the state.
Adelson re-ups on Gingrich
Onetime frontrunner Newt Gingrich is sitting out the current contests in Michigan and Arizona, focusing on the ten March 6 "Super Tuesday" primaries, which include his home state of Georgia. Gingrich spent the majority of this week fundraising in California.
Gingrich's slumping campaign may get a significant shot in the arm with news that billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson -- his principal financier -- will give an additional $10 million to the Super PAC backing Gingrich. Adelson, known for his hawkish views on Israel and opposition to a Palestinian state, has given $11 million so far to the "Winning the Future" Super PAC.
What to watch for
Last week's Maine caucus may not actually be over yet. Romney was declared the winner -- by less than 200 votes over Ron Paul -- on Saturday, Feb. 11. despite the fact that one county had delayed its caucus due to weather and numerous irregularities were reported at other stations. The state GOP has announced that it will release a new vote total in March -- after Super Tuesday. Maine is a small state and its caucus is what's known as a "beauty contest" (it doesn't actually award any delegates), but it won't do wonders for the credibility of the early caucus system, if yet another victory -- remember Iowa? -- is posthumously taken away from Romney.
Evidently, the candidates seem to have tired of debates. A planned CNN debate scheduled for March 1 in Georgia has been canceled after Romney and Paul declined to participate.
On the Election Channel
Uri Friedman looks at a new poll that shows a majority of Americans support the use of force to prevent a nuclear Iran.
Scott Clement says despite the recent dust-up over contraceptive-covering insurance, religion may not actually matter that much to voters.
Daniel Drezner says Romney's China policy "reads like it was composed by the Hulk."
Stephen Walt says hawks should vote for Obama.
Michael A. Cohen looks at why, with Obama in office, liberals came to support the secret war on terror.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Perry and Huntsman bow out
The Republican field continued to narrow this week with two once-promising candidates dropping out before this Saturday's pivotal South Carolina primary. Jon Huntsman, the former U.S. ambassador to China whose campaign touted his foreign policy credentials but never connected with primary voters, ended his run on Monday. He immediately endorsed Mitt Romney, while attacking the state of the rhetoric in the GOP primary. "At its core, the Republican Party is a party of ideas, but the current toxic form of our political discourse does not help our cause," he said.
On Thursday, Rick Perry also bowed out and endorsed Newt Gingrich on a surreal news day on the campaign trail that also saw the final debate in South Carolina. The morning started with news that Rick Santorum may actually have won the Iowa primary by 34 votes, and later that day ABC aired an interview with Gingrich's ex-wife in which she claimed the former House Speaker had asked for an "open marriage."
Perry's departure followed another lackluster debate performance on Tuesday during which he claimed that Turkey's government was run by "what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists" -- prompting an angry response from Ankara -- and seemed to defend the U.S. Marines caught on video urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters.
The Gingrich surge
Allegations about his personal life notwithstanding, Gingrich continues to rise -- with recent polls showing him in a virtual tie with Romney in South Carolina. A Pew Poll taken last week showed Gingrich as the candidate Republican voters trust most to handle foreign policy at 33 percent, compared to Romney's 25 percent. Unfortunately for the Gingrich insurgency, an overwhelming majority of the same voters (58 percent) think Romney has the best chance of beating President Barack Obama. On the campaign trail this week, Gingrich described himself as "the only candidate in this race who understands the scale of change necessary to get this country working again."
Romney's offshore accounts
Already fending off questions about his vast personal wealth, Romney is facing additional scrutiny this week thanks to reports that he has as much as $8 million invested in funds listed in the Cayman Islands. Though Romney does still pay U.S. taxes on his income from these funds, the Cayman address offers some benefits over domestically registration, such as higher management fees and greater foreign interest -- benefits that cost the U.S. federal government billions of dollars per year.
At the CNN debate on Thursday night, Romney was booed after saying he would probably wait to release his full tax returns in April if he's the presumptive nominee since "Every time we release things drip by drip, the Democrats go out with another array of attacks."
Romney refused to say if he would release his tax returns for previous years, as his father did when running for president in 1968. "I'm not going to apologize for being successful," he said.
Paul draws jeers for "golden rule"
Ron Paul's foreign policy views continue to polarize. In Tuesday's debate, Paul was asked about his opposition to the killing of Osama bin Laden, and drew boos from the crowd by saying, "maybe we ought to consider a golden rule in foreign policy. Don't do to other nations what we don't want to have them do to us."
The Pew Poll showed only 10 percent of Republican voters thought Paul was the most trustworthy candidate on foreign policy -- though he still edged out Perry and Santorum.
President Obama sat down this week with Time's Fareed Zakaria for a wide-ranging interview on foreign policy, covering Iran, Afghanistan, the planned "pivot" to Asia, and the economy. The president defended his foreign-policy record, saying, "I made a commitment to change the trajectory of American foreign policy in a way that would end the war in Iraq, refocus on defeating our primary enemy, al-Qaeda, strengthen our alliances and our leadership in multilateral fora and restore American leadership in the world. And I think we have accomplished those principal goals."
What to watch for
South Carolina heads to the polls on Saturday with the latest RealClearPolitics poll average showing Gingrich at 32.5 percent and Romney at 31.5 percent. If he endures another weak finish in South Carolina, pressure may mount on Santorum to drop out of the race. (RCP has him in fourth place behind Paul.) Gingrich suggested on Tuesday that from the stand point of the conservative movement, consolidating into a Gingrich candidacy would in fact virtually guarantee a victory on Saturday."
The unexpected wild card in the race is comedian Stephen Colbert, who held a real-world rally with former candidate Herman Cain on Friday. Colbert's super-pac is encouraging South Carolina voters to cast a vote for Cain, though the pizza magnate was careful to assure voters, "I will not be assuming Stephen Colbert's identity. We are very different when it comes to the color of our - hair."
From South Carolina, the candidates will move on to Florida, a key battleground state, where Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog is predicting a 93 percent chance of a Romney win when voters head to the polls on Jan. 31.
The latest from FP:
Joshua Keating looks back at the foreign-policy lowlights of the Perry campaign.
Scott Clement suggests Iran could be a major liability for the president.
Uri Friedman looks at Paul's inadvertent tribute to Millard Fillmore.
David Rothkopf asks whether foreign-policy subtlety is even possible in today's media environment.
Peter Feaver thinks Zakaria missed an opportunity to probe more deeply into Obama foreign policy.
Josh Rogin looks at Obama's chummiest world leaders -- as suggested by the Time interview -- and what they say about him.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
It was an unexpected late-night nail-biter in Iowa last night, as Mitt Romney barely edged out Rick Santorum. Santorum kept things pretty domestic in what was essentially an introduction speech to a national audience that hasn't heard much from him yet. (No shout-outs to Porfirio Lobo sadly.) Mitt Romney, on the other hand, came out swinging against Barack Obama and began an occasionally rambling speech not with jobs or the economy but with Iran:
“We face an extraordinary challenge in America and you know that, and that is internationally, Iran is about to have nuclear weaponry, just down the road here, and this president, what's he done in that regard? He said he'd have a policy of engagement. How's that worked out?”
Romney may want to give a read to Scott Clement's recent column, which makes a convincing case the Republican voters are a lot less concerned about Iran than their candidates.
Before laying into the "Massachusetts moderate," Newt Gingrich also took the oppurtunity to lay into third-place finisher Ron Paul:
“His views on foreign policy, I think, are stunningly dangerous for survival of the United States and I think it’s a very simple question which I would be glad to ask Congressman Paul: if you have a terrorist who’s prepared to put on a bomb and wear it as a vest and walk into a grocery store or a mall or bus and blow themselves up as long as they can kill you, why would you think that if they can get access to a nuclear weapon they wouldn’t use it?” Gingrich said.
Gingrich also said Romney might be "pretty good at managing the decay," echoing a common line of criticism of President Obama which argues that he has embraced the inevitability of American decline.
And also, along those lines, what we have introduced with so much enthusiasm I hear so often from so many volunteers -- The other day someone came up to me and he was refreshing my memory because he knew I - knew the statement because I've said it.
Back in the old days in the early 70s, Nixon said we're all Keynesians now, which meant that even the Republicans accepted liberal economics. He says I'm waiting for the day when we can say we're all Austrians now.
Paul is referring to the Austrian school of economics, which included free-market luminaries Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, but I'm guessing that the reference confused an awful lot of voters who aren't hard-core Paul supporters and brought to mind John McCain's "Today, we're all Georgians" speech. I'm just not sure most Americans particularly want to be Austrians.
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