Mitt Romney's latest ad in Ohio, which alleges that the president "sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China" has been torn apart by fact-checkers. The claim appears to be based largely on a misreading of the lede a recent Bloomberg news story, which reported that Chrysler "plans to return Jeep output to China and may eventually make all of its models in that country". Yes, the wording is slightly confusing, but if you read the whole story by Craig Trudell, you will soon find out that this refers to building Jeeps locally for the Chinese market "rather than shifting output from North America to China."
Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has also denied that the company has any plans to move U.S. plants to China and has in fact added new jobs at the Jeep plant in Michigan.
Behind the politics, Jeep in China is actually an interesting business case -- a brand with high name-recognition and popularity but little availability. Another Bloomberg story from last May explored the topic:
Jeep gear is so popular in China that there are more than 1,500 licensed clothing outlets in the country, where only 120 auto dealers sell the brand. While Jeep has a strong image connected to an adventurous lifestyle, three decades of changing ownership have left it without local production and missing out on surging demand for SUVs in the world’s largest vehicle market.
“Our brand awareness and consideration is running way ahead of where our actual volumes are,” Mike Manley, head of the Jeep brand, said in an interview in Beijing last month. “That’s why I can’t say strongly or often enough just what an opportunity China offers for us.”
Thanks to steep import tarrifs and the lack of a local manufacturing plant, a Jeep Grand Cherokee costs about $91,064, compared to $26,995 in the U.S. -- the primary motivation behind Chrysler looking to ramp up production in China.
In last night's debate with President Obama, Gov. Mitt Romney ran into trouble when he suggested that "Syria is Iran's...route to the sea." The remark unleashed a torrent of geography sticklers (see here, here, here, and here) who pointed out that Syria and Iran don't share a border (Iraq is in between) and that Iran has 1,500 miles of its own coastline along the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.
The comment wasn't Romney's first geography flub. In the infamous video of a Florida fundraiser released by Mother Jones in September, Romney suggested that a Palestinian state in the West Bank would border either "Syria at one point or Jordan." This, as FP blogger Daniel Drezner pointed out, doesn't make a whole lot of sense because "Whatever contours a possible Palestinian state would have, it won't border Syria."
Of course, Romney isn't the only one with creative geography. In a campaign stop in Oregon in 2008, Obama famously said, "I've now been in 57 states? I think one left to go."
So Romney's in good company, and hey, at least he didn't try to diagnose the "situation on the Iraq-Pakistan border" like Sen. John McCain did in 2008.
Anyone who watched the Democratic convention knows that the Obama campaign is championing the killing of Osama bin Laden as one of the administration's signature achievements -- a strategy best summed up by Vice President Joe Biden's reminder that "Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive."
But it hasn't been easy for the president to mention the al Qaeda leader's death during the first two presidential debates, which have focused largely on domestic policy, and that's made for some odd moments. During Tuesday night's town hall, for example, an audience member complained about the rising cost of living:
QUESTION: Mr. President, I voted for you in 2008. What have you done or accomplished to earn my vote in 2012? I'm not that optimistic as I was in 2012. Most things I need for everyday living are very expensive.
OBAMA: Well, we've gone through a tough four years. There's no doubt about it. But four years ago, I told the American people and I told you I would cut taxes for middle class families. And I did. I told you I'd cut taxes for small businesses, and I have.
I said that I'd end the war in Iraq, and I did. I said we'd refocus attention on those who actually attacked us on 9/11, and we have gone after Al Qaeda's leadership like never before and Osama bin Laden is dead.
After listing several other successes on the domestic front, Obama conceded that people are still struggling despite his achievements and circled back to the original prompt about accomplishments by stating that "the commitments I've made, I've kept." But the mentions of Iraq, al Qaeda, and bin Laden still seemed out of place in response to a question about economic struggles.
Obama made an even more bizarre reference to bin Laden in the first debate, when he fielded a question about partisan gridlock. The president appeared to suggest that he'd pursued bin Laden because it would strengthen the middle class:
But look, my philosophy has been I will take ideas from anybody, Democrat or Republican, as long as they're advancing the cause of making middle-class families stronger and giving ladders of opportunity into the middle class. That's how we cut taxes for middle-class families and small businesses. That's how we cut a trillion dollars of spending that wasn't advancing that cause. That's how we signed three trade deals into law that are helping us to double our exports and sell more American products around the world. That's how we repealed "don't ask, don't tell." That's how we ended the war in Iraq, as I promised, and that's how we're going to wind down the war in Afghanistan. That's how we went after al-Qaida and bin Laden.
As my colleague Josh Rogin notes, this language about ending the war in Iraq, weakening al Qaeda, and killing bin Laden is part of Obama's stump speech. But the past two debates suggest that the president reflexively invokes the wording whenever there's an opening -- however far afield -- to discuss his accomplishments. Luckily for Obama, the third and final presidential debate will focus on foreign policy. That should provide more than enough opportunities to work in a bin Laden reference or two.
This evening's town hall-style debate, we're told, will be different. An intimate setting. Direct interaction with the common voter. The potential for curve-ball questions. While audiences might not relate to the presidential candidates or the media, moderator Candy Crowley told CNN, "they do relate to 80 people sitting on a stage that look like them, and maybe have stories similar to theirs.... And I think that's where a candidate has to make a connection."
I'm all for the civic engagement that town-hall style debates promote, of course. But since Tuesday night's forum will feature domestic and foreign policy questions, it's worth noting that Americans have some astonishing misconceptions about international affairs (for more on how Americans view foreign policy, check out this great Carnegie Endowment/Pew Research Center infographic).
As the Washington Post's Dylan Matthews explained last month, the baffling fact that 15 percent of Ohio Republicans believe Mitt Romney deserves more credit than Barack Obama for killing Osama bin Laden may have as much to do with polling psychology and sampling error as with self-delusion or ignorance. But here are some other statistics that may surprise you:
OK, so tonight's town hall participants probably won't bust out a world map to make a point or ask the candidates why they've never acknowledged Saddam's role in 9/11. But a reference to China's economic leadership or Iran's nuclear weapons stockpile certainly isn't out of the question.
Here's the latest testament to the time warp that is today's political news cycle: the Obama and Romney campaigns are reportedly complaining about Candy Crowley's aggressive moderating style -- a day before she moderates the second presidential debate. The criticism centers on comments the CNN anchor has made about asking follow-ups during the town hall-style debate. But there's another flashpoint to watch tomorrow night: What balance will Crowley and debate organizers strike between domestic and foreign policy?
The question is particularly relevant since Martha Raddatz, a senior foreign affairs correspondent for ABC News, has been catching a lot of flak from the right over the past few days for focusing too much on international affairs while moderating the vice presidential debate last week. The critiques come -- interestingly enough -- as a new Public Opinion Strategies/Hart Research Associates poll shows that 47 percent of voters think the candidates aren't talking enough about foreign policy, and particularly about issues such as the endgame in Afghanistan, the state of U.S.-Israeli relations, and the best approach to Iran's nuclear program.
On Friday, for example, New York Times columnist David Brooks, argued that the prominence of foreign policy at the vice presidential debate did not square with voters' priorities (in poll after poll, jobs and the economy are listed as the top issues in the campaign):
This debate was excessive in its attention to foreign policy -- an arena that is a voting issue for very few. [Paul] Ryan demonstrated amazing fluency, given how little time he has spent working in these areas.
At Forbes, John Tamny made a similar point:
The shame about the debate was that Martha Raddatz perhaps focused too much on foreign policy. Sorry, but a country full of the war weary, not to mention the economically scared, seemingly wanted a more substantive debate that covered the economic issues more in depth.
In an interview with CNN, Red State's Erick Erickson got more personal, arguing that Raddatz bungled the debate by falling back on her professional expertise:
Her wheelhouse is foreign policy and she devoted probably two-thirds of the debate to foreign policy. When you're debating foreign policy in a vice presidential debate, I guess that's all well and good. But we have this unemployment number, we've gotten the jobs decline, and I just think moderators shouldn't make the focus of the debate their wheelhouse.
Over at The Transom, Ben Domenech asserted that Raddatz had not only marginalized key issues such as the economy and entitlements but also zeroed in on the Arab world while ignoring other regions and international issues:
[H]er apparent ignorance of domestic policy (she's a foreign correspondent for ABC) led to a remarkable tilt toward international topics. The irony was that this ended up being a surprisingly parochial in focus, confined to the Middle East - she asked no questions about the EU, no questions about China, no questions about trade. For his part, Dan Drezner apologized on behalf of the five percent. http://vlt.tc/icp
By my tabulation, Raddatz asked more questions about foreign policy, national security, and the Defense budget than all other subjects combined. She asked one question about Medicare but mushed it together with Social Security, the upshot being that most of the answers were focused on Social Security reforms neither candidate has endorsed or even brought up on the trail. She asked, effectively, just one question about the economy - one! - while asking separate questions on Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Koran burning, DOD and the sequester.
The Heartland Institute's Jim Lakely, meanwhile, saw outright favoritism in Raddatz's mix of questions:
Perhaps Raddatz focused more on foreign policy than in a typical VP debate because recent events warranted that, but that's hardly what VPs need to deal with - and it's hard to not think she focused on that because it's supposedly Biden's strength. If Raddatz really wanted to challenge Ryan, she should have gone after him on his budget - which Mitt Romney has only partly embraced. Maybe Raddatz avoided drilling down on this subject because Ryan would have knocked such questions out of the park.
At least one conservative pundit had an entirely different reaction to the vice presidential debate, however. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol observed that while the campaign sparring over the economy increasingly looks like a "draw," foreign policy could prove to be the "election tie-breaker," particularly in light of the Obama administration's response to the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. (Indeed, Barack Obama's advantages on foreign policy and national security have taken major hits in recent weeks.)
And voters on the right may agree with Kristol. Forty-seven percent of respondents in that Public Opinion Strategies/Hart Research Associates survey may have said the candidates aren't talking enough about foreign policy, but the partisan split wasn't even. Fifty-three percent of Republicans (and 49 percent of independents) felt they weren't hearing enough about international affairs, compared with 40 percent of Democrats. More discussion of foreign policy on Tuesday night might not be so bad for the GOP after all.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
The Benghazi fallout continues
The Obama administration continued to face criticism this week over its handling of the Sept. 11 attack that killed U.S. Amb. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya. Contradicting the initial statements made by senior administration officials, the event is now being described as a terrorist attack unrelated to the protests over an anti-Islam video that erupted elsewhere in the Middle East on the same day. At a dramatic hearing convened by the House Oversight Committee this week, the former chief security officer for the U.S. Embassy in Libya testified that his request to extend the deployment of a U.S. military team had been turned down by the State Department.
In her testimony, Charlene Lamb, a deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, insisted, "We had the correct number of assets in Benghazi on the night of 9/11," to which committee chairman Darrell Issa replied, "That doesn't ring true to the American people."
Democrats, including ranking committee member Elijah Cummings, criticized the GOP for politicizing the investigation into the attack, but Barack Obama campaign spokesperson Stephanie Cutter took things a step further on Thursday by arguing during a CNN interview, "The entire reason that this has become the political topic it is because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. It's a big part of their stump speech and it's reckless and irresponsible."
Romney was quick to take advantage of the gaffe, saying at a rally that night, "No President Obama, it's an issue because this is the first time in 33 years that a U.S. ambassador has been assassinated. Mr. President, this is an issue because we were attacked successfully by terrorists on the anniversary of 9/11."
Meeting of the running mates
Benghazi also came up on Thursday night during the one and only debate between Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden. The vice president insisted that the White House had not been made aware of the request for more security from Tripoli. "We weren't told they wanted more security. We did not know they wanted more security there," he said. Ryan also picked up on Cutter's remark, saying, "This is becoming more troubling by the day. They first blamed the YouTube video. Now they're trying to blame the Romney-Ryan ticket for making this an issue."
Moderator Martha Raddatz, a veteran foreign-affairs correspondent for ABC news, pressed the candidates on a number of foreign-policy issues, including Iran's nuclear program, the escalating violence in Syria, and the war in Afghanistan. "Under a Romney administration, we will have credibility" on threats to use military force against Iran, Ryan promised, and said, "We wouldn't refer to Bashar Assad as a reformer when he's killing his own civilians with his Russian-provided weapons." But he offered few specifics on how a Romney administration's policies on these issues would differ going forward. "What would my friend do differently? If you notice, he never answers the question," Biden quipped.
Both candidates agreed on a 2014 withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, but Ryan criticized the Obama administration for announcing its withdrawal plan in advance. Biden said that U.S. goals in Afghanistan are "almost completed. Now, all we're doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security. It's their responsibility, not America's."
There were no questions about East Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe, or any country outside the Islamic world.
Romney speaks out
In a speech on Monday at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney referred back to the post-war policies of VMI graduate Gen. George Marshall -- not exactly a conservative hero in his day -- in arguing that Obama has weakened U.S. power through cuts to the military and has lost control of events in the Middle East. "I know the president hopes for a safer, freer, and a more prosperous Middle East allied with the United States," Romney said. "I share this hope. But hope is not a strategy. We cannot support our friends and defeat our enemies in the Middle East when our words are not backed up by deeds, when our defense spending is being arbitrarily and deeply cut, when we have no trade agenda to speak of, and the perception of our strategy is not one of partnership, but of passivity."
Attack of the RAND PAC
Outside of the presidential race, a political action committee associated with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has been buying ads targeting vulnerable Democratic senators over their support for foreign aid. In the first ad, targeting West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the narration states, "While they tear down and burn the American flag in Egypt and shout ‘death to America, Joe Manchin votes to provide U.S. taxpayer aid to Egypt." It concludes: "Joe Manchin works with Barack Obama to send billions of our taxpayer dollars to countries where radicals storm our embassies, burn our flag and kill our diplomats." RAND PAC is also planning to run similar ads against Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham defended Manchin from his Republican colleague's attacks, saying, "I'm sorry that my colleague Sen. Rand Paul felt that he needed to get involved and has gotten involved ... I very much would like to have a Republican president, and I'd very much like to have a Republican-controlled Senate, but when it comes to foreign policy and matters of war and national security, I really do try to be bipartisan and I respect Joe a lot."
The poll picture
Polls this week continued to show Romney making up ground. While the two candidates are in a dead heat nationally, a new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/Miami Herald poll shows Romney with a 7-point advantage in Florida, a state that appeared to be trending toward Obama a month ago.
The shift is even starker on foreign policy. A Fox News poll released on Wednesday gave Obama a 6-point edge over Romney on handling of foreign policy, down from a 15-point lead prior to the Benghazi attack. A new Zogby analytics poll gives Romney a 48 to 45 percent advantage on national security.
The latest from FP:
James Traub looks at Biden's role in shaping the Obama administration's foreign policy.
Jacob Heilbrun wonders when Republicans decided they had always loved Harry Truman.
Danielle Petka, Joshua Trevino, and Justin Logan debate who's winning the battle for Romney's national security soul.
Ty McCormick looks at Romney's history of declinism.
Uri Friedman runs down the best moments in vice-presidential debate history.
Mitt Romney often gets dinged for putting very little meat on the bones of his foreign policy, and Monday was no exception -- one of the dominant themes of his critics is that his big Virginia Military Institute address offered very few spefic clues as to what he'd do differently than Barack Obama.
But so what? Putting aside the moral question of whether American voters have a right to know what they're buying, why should Romney offer any specifics that the Obama campaign will just attack anyway? It makes sense for him to be vague now so that he can maximize his flexibility while in office -- and avoid damaging intraparty smackdowns on foreign policy while's he's trying to win an election. I doubt in any case that voters would punish him for not offering the sorts of wonkish, nuanced positions on Laotian trade tariffs and the frozen Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that Washington foreign-policy hands tend to demand.
That said, Romney has offered more specifics than many of his critics will let on. He's promising to see that the Syrian rebels get their hands on weapons they can use to take out Bashar al-Assad's planes and helicopters. He's vowing to stop Iran from having the capability to develop nuclear weapons, vice Obama's promise to stop Iran from weaponizing. He's not going to re-invade Iraq. And he's more or less conceded that Obama's 2014 withdrawal date in Afghanistan is appropriate.
These are actually fairly significant matters of war and peace we're talking about here, and Romney has been just about as forthcoming as any nominee would be in his position.
The debates begin
The two candidates met for their first head-to-head debate on Tuesday night -- an encounter almost universally agreed to have been won by Mitt Romney. The debate was focused on domestic policy, but the rest of the world did come up a few times. Romney noted that, "Spain spends 42 percent of their total economy on government. We're now spending 42 percent of our economy on government. I don't want to go down the path to Spain." The statement provoked some backlash from Spanish reporters and politicians, and is slightly misleading, as well: Spain actually spends 46 percent and the American figure includes state and local expenditures as well.
Romney also promised to "open up more trade, particularly in Latin America" and "crack down on China if and when they cheat." Employing a popular applause line from the campaign trail, Romney also vowed to "eliminate all programs by this test -- if they don't pass it: Is the program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?"
Barack Obama, who appeared somewhat listless throughout the debate and unable to effectively defend his record, returned to national security when summing up his accomplishments as president. Describing his willingness to "take ideas from anybody, Democrat or Republican," the president said, "That's how we signed three trade deals into law that are helping us to double our exports and sell more American products around the world. That's how we repealed ‘don't ask, don't tell.' That's how we ended the war in Iraq, as I promised, and that's how we're going to wind down the war in Afghanistan. That's how we went after al Qaeda and bin Laden."
The two also clashed on defense spending, with Romney arguing, "We have a responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of our people, and that means the military, second to none. I do not believe in cutting our military." Obama countered that Romney's pledge to provide "$2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn't asked for" is economically unsustainable.
The two candidates will meet again on Oct. 16 for a town hall debate that will feature foreign and domestic policy and a final debate on Oct. 22 focused entirely on international issues.
Romney on the attack
Romney is likely hoping to capitalize on the momentum from his debate performance, and part of that will be renewed attacks on the president's handling of national security. Romney is scheduled to give a speech on foreign policy at the Virginia Military Institute on Monday. He still trails Obama in polls asking voters which candidate they trust more as commander in chief, though Obama's foreign-policy numbers have been slipping in the wake of the recent turmoil in the Middle East.
Romney's speech may continue themes raised in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Monday which criticized the president's handling of the crises in Libya, Syria, and over Iran's nuclear program. "[A]mid this upheaval, our country seems to be at the mercy of events rather than shaping them. We're not moving them in a direction that protects our people or our allies," Romney wrote.
On domestic policy, Romney seemed in the debate to have moved away from the Tea Party-influenced rhetoric on spending cuts and tax breaks that he has employed since the GOP primary toward more centrist positions, prompting Obama to quip, "When I got on the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney." The VMI speech will be an indication of whether a similar shift is underway on Romney's approach to foreign policy.
The Obama administration continues to face criticism for its handling of the attack in Benghazi, Libya, three weeks ago, that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Asked on 60 Minutes on Sunday if recent events in the Middle East had caused him to reconsider U.S. support for the Arab Spring, Obama replied, "I think it was absolutely the right thing for us to do to align ourselves with democracy [and] universal rights, a notion that people have to be able to participate in their own governance," Obama said. "But I was pretty certain and continue to be pretty certain that there are going to be bumps in the road because, you know, in a lot of these places, the one organizing principle has been Islam. The one part of society that hasn't been controlled completely by the government. There are strains of extremism, and anti-Americanism, and anti-Western sentiment."
Republicans have seized on the "bumps in the road" remark, with Romney campaign spokesperson Andrea Saul, saying "After nearly four years in office, President Obama is eager to make excuses for his failed policies at home and abroad by declaring ‘bumps in the road.'" Former candidate Newt Gingrich was more blunt, tweeting, "It is disgusting to have Obama describe the killing of an ambassador and three other Americans as 'a bump in the road' on 60 minutes." White house spokesperson Jay Carney countered that suggestions that the president was referring to the killing of Stevens in his remarks were "desperate and offensive."
The State Department began a review this week into the circumstances of the Benghazi attack and what security lapses may have occurred. Critics have asked why the ambassador was in such a lightly defended compound in a city where militant violence had recently occurred on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. FBI investigators finally arrived in Benghazi on Thursday, three weeks after the attack and after the site had already been picked over by looters and reporters. Some officials have suggested that the State Department dragged its feet in securing a security escort for the agents, though the administration blames the Libyan government for the delay.
When will Syria be an issue?
The crisis in Syria showed worrying signs of inflaming the wider region this week when Turkey shelled targets within Syria in retaliation for a Syrian Army mortar attack that killed a woman and three children in Akcakale, Turkey. The Turkish parliament has authorized further military action, though it does not appear likely that there will be a larger military response for the time being. NATO called an emergency meeting to discuss the issue, though there has been no discussion yet of invoking Article 5, which would obligate the alliance to come to the aid of member state Turkey. The U.S. State Department called Turkey's actions "appropriate" and "proportional" and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed outrage at the Syrian mortar attack.
The possible internationalization of the conflict raises the question of whether the Syria crisis will become more of an issue in the campaign. The Romney campaign has accused the president of having "dragged his feet" in response to the crisis and a "lack of leadership" but Romney has provided few specifics on how he would handle Syria differently other than being "more assertive." In his Wall Street Journal article, Romney noted that, "In Syria, tens of thousands of innocent people have been slaughtered" but didn't address the crisis further.
Looking ahead to the VP debate
The major political event of next week will be Thursday's vice presidential debate at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Democrats are hoping for a strong performance from Joe Biden to stop the GOP's momentum. In the debate, which will include both foreign and domestic policy, Paul Ryan may be looking to establish his national security bona fides in a debate with the more experienced Biden. Ryan has lately been taking up the attacks on the administration's handling of Benghazi, telling radio host Laura Ingraham, "We've seen a confused, slow, inconsistent response to what is now very clearly known as a terrorist act."
The latest from FP:
Uri Friedman looks at the 10 best foreign-policy moments from debates past.
John Norris lists 6 campaign gaffes that really mattered.
David Rothkopf says it's time to start thinking about 2013.
Aaron David Miller slams Romney's Wall Street Journal op-ed.
Michael Cohen says the Pentagon doesn't actually care about the national debt.
Issac Stone Fish imagines what would happen if U.S. political hacks covered China's horse race.
Mitt Romney's gaffe-filled overseas tour this summer served up lots of comedic fodder for Democrats. Senator John Kerry noted that for Romney, "an overseas trip is what you call it when you trip all over yourself overseas." Referencing the Republican candidate's criticism of London Olympics organizers during his visit to the United Kingdom, President Obama observed that "you might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally." Now, it seems, Ed Miliband, Britain's Labour Party leader, is getting in on the action. In an address to a party conference this week, Miliband reflected on his meeting with Romney in London:
You may have noticed that doing this job you get called some names, some of the nice, some of them not so nice. Let me tell you my favorite; it was when Mitt Romney came to Britain and called me ‘Mr Leader.' I don't know about you but I think it has a certain ring to it myself, it's sort of half-way to North Korea. Mitt, thanks a lot for that.
Here's a clip of Romney calling Miliband 'Mr. Leader' back in July (Miliband stays straight-faced):
The joke fell pretty flat, apparently. The Independent reports that it "did not work, partly because he rushed the timing" (the Guardian actually timed the length of applause -- a paltry three seconds). I imagine Romney wouldn't appreciate it either.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
There's a lot of coverage today of Barack Obama's tough words for Iran at the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA), but the president has expressed the main points in the speech -- America's commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, the limited timetable for a diplomatic solution -- before, notably in an interview with the Atlantic and a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee this year.
Still, as the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg notes today, the U.N. General Assembly is "not exactly a Hadassah convention." And Obama's comments on Iran's nuclear program before world leaders on Tuesday were far more aggressive than the language he's employed in past UNGA addresses.
Here's what Obama said about the Iranian nuclear program today:
Time and again, [Iran] has failed to take the opportunity to demonstrate that its nuclear program is peaceful, and to meet its obligations to the United Nations.
Let me be clear: America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe that there is still time and space to do so. But that time is not unlimited. We respect the right of nations to access peaceful nuclear power, but one of the purposes of the United Nations is to see that we harness that power for peace. Make no mistake: a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy. It risks triggering a nuclear-arms race in the region, and the unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty. That is why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable. And that is why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Rewind to 2011:
The Iranian government cannot demonstrate that its program is peaceful, it has not met its obligations, and it rejects offers that would provide it with peaceful nuclear power. North Korea has yet to take concrete steps towards abandoning its weapons and continues belligerent action against the south. There is a future of greater opportunity for the people of these nations if their governments meet their international obligations. But if they continue down a path that is outside international law, they must be met with greater pressure and isolation. That is what our commitment to peace and security demands.
As part of our effort on non-proliferation, I offered the Islamic Republic of Iran an extended hand last year, and underscored that it has both rights and responsibilities as a member of the international community. I also said -- in this hall -- that Iran must be held accountable if it failed to meet those responsibilities. And that is what we have done.
Iran is the only party to the NPT that cannot demonstrate the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program, and those actions have consequences. Through U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, we made it clear that international law is not an empty promise.
Now let me be clear once more: The United States and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it. But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program.
I have said before and I will repeat: I am committed to diplomacy that opens a path to greater prosperity and more secure peace for [Iran and North Korea] if they live up to their obligations. But if the governments of Iran and North Korea choose to ignore international standards, if they put the pursuit of nuclear weapons ahead of regional stability and the security and opportunity of their own people, if they are oblivious to the dangers of escalating nuclear arms races in both East Asia and the Middle East, then they must be held accountable.
Obama, in other words, broke new ground today at UNGA by warning that the administration's patience on diplomacy and sanctions is wearing thin, outlining the dire global implications of a nuclear Iran, and stating that the United States will not permit Tehran to obtain a nuclear weapon.
Where Obama stopped short, however, is in repeating his assertion that all options -- including military force -- are on the table when it comes to preventing Iran from getting the bomb -- a key issue in the U.S. election (he opted for the vaguer formulation that "the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon"). Perhaps Obama wanted to avoid comparisons to George W. Bush, who made the case for invading Iraq at UNGA in 2002, just months before launching the operation.
John Moore/Getty Images
Yesterday I noted that the Chinese press had yet to respond to Mitt Romney's accusation on the campaign trail and in a new ad that Beijing is cheating by manipulating its currency. Today Xinhua, China's state-run news agency, picked up the gauntlet in a stinging English-language editorial:
[I]t is rather ironic that a considerable portion of this China-battering politician's wealth was actually obtained by doing business with Chinese companies before he entered politics.
Such blaming-China-on-everything remarks are as false as they are foolish, for it has never been a myth that pushing up the value of China's currency would be of little use to boost the chronically slack job market of the world's sole superpower, not to mention to magically turn the poor US economic performance around....
If these mud-slinging tactics were to become US government policies, a trade war would be very likely to break out between the world's top two economies, which would be catastrophic enough to both sides and the already groaning global economy.
For generations, China-bashing has been a cancer in US electoral politics, seriously plaguing the relations between the two countries.
Chinese news outlets have issued searing rebukes of Romney's rhetoric several times before in this election. What's more interesting is the sparring that ensued between Obama and Romney campaign staffers once Xinhua published the editorial.
In tweeting a Reuters article on the op-ed this morning, Stephanie Cutter, Obama's deputy campaign manager, wrote, "Must read: China's Xinhua slams Romney for making his money off Chinese companies before running for pres." That prompted a swift response on Twitter from Romney spokesman Ryan Williams. "Team Obama promoting 'news' from Chinese propaganda agency," he wrote.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has since joined the debate, tweeting that it's "offensive that the Obama campaign would use the Chinese propaganda paper Xinhua to promote their campaign" and that the "Obama campaign's actions show they won't stand up to cheaters/protect US jobs."
"What's offensive," Cutter shot back, "is that Mitt thinks voters will believe he'll be tough on China -he's personally profiting of China as we speak."
How long before we see a new ad attacking Obama for outsourcing his PR to China?
If you've been watching the Democratic convention, you're surely aware by now that Osama bin Laden is very much dead -- and Barack Obama gave the order to kill him.
On Wednesday, I started keeping track of how many times Democrats mentioned the former al Qaeda leader in their speeches. There were seven references on the first night, no references on the second night, and 14 references on the third and final night, bringing the grand total to 21, or 20 more than at the Republican convention.
The most memorable lines goes to John Kerry. "Ask Osama bin Laden if he is better off now than he was four years ago," the Massachusetts senator crowed.
"Was there this much bragging about killing Hitler at the 1948 convention?" Slate's Dave Weigel asked on Twitter. It turns out neither Harry Truman nor Thomas Dewey mentioned it. Of course, Hitler had committed suicide only days after Truman took office in April 1945.
Thomas Friedman has an interesting column in today's New York Times that raises the question of whether Mitt Romney is actually as hawkish on foreign policy as he makes himself out to be. Friedman writes:
I know Romney doesn't believe a word he's saying on foreign policy and that it's all aimed at ginning up votes: there's some China-bashing to help in the Midwest, some Arab-bashing to win over the Jews, some Russia-bashing (our "No. 1 geopolitical foe") to bring in the Polish vote, plus a dash of testosterone to keep the neocons off his back.
Some neocons are, indeed, worried that Mitt is only pretending to be a hawk to keep the party onside. Jennifer Rubin, the court scribe of the Romney campaign, channels some of that anxiety in a recent blog post. "[A]mong Republicans," she writes, riffing off of some of the candidate's recent speeches, "it is a segment of foreign policy hawks who are most aggrieved and feel overlooked by the campaign."
From the perspective of some hawks, Mitt Romney needs to state controversial, bold foreign policy positions as sort of a test of his seriousness. If he doesn't say now he'll finish the job in Afghanistan and he'll, if need be, set up a no-fly zone in Syria, he'll shrink from tough positions when in office. They don't think it is enough to have surrogates like former senator Jim Talent, a Missouri Republican, and senior adviser Richard Williamson give assurances, speak about Romney's devotion to American exceptionalism and remind conservatives of Romney's early support for the Syrian rebels.
I've heard similar whispers to this effect, and Bill Kristol likely spoke for many on the right when he dinged Romney for failing to even mention the war in Afghanistan during his convention speech, a bizarre unforced error when a perfunctory shoutout to the troops would have been fine.
Doubtless, the various foreign-policy wings of the GOP would battle it out for influence in a Romney administration, and the candidate has done a reasonably good job of staying vague enough that he won't limit his options once in office. But, like Jacob Heilbrunn, I think the realists would win most battles, and here's why.
Josh Barro, a Bloomberg writer and former Manhattan Institute fellow, has been promoting his theory that Romney has a "Secret Economic Plan." In a nutshell, the idea is that Romney can't possibly believe his own rhetoric about immediately imposing severe budget cuts. "To increase his chances of getting elected, he will have to implement policies that are likely to grow the economy," says Barro, and that in part means running up Keynesian deficits. Romney has already indicated that he wants to grow the defense budget, and has railed against defense cuts that he says would kill jobs (Keynesian!). He's also favorably cited a recent Congressional Budget Office report warning that the so-called fiscal cliff would provoke a sharp recession (Keynesian!). It seems pretty clear he doesn't believe in European-style austerity, even though he talks a lot about Obama's deficits and so forth. And the likely Republican-controlled Congress, newly de-radicalized by Obama's departure, would probably go along with heavy deficit spending, just as it did under George W. Bush.
What about foreign policy? Here's where the overseas component of the Secret Economic Plan comes in. Romney isn't going to be interested in getting involved in any foreign entanglements that threaten the Plan. His China comments are nonsense that he obviously has no intention of implementing. He's already said he's fine with Obama's timeline for winding down the war in Afghanistan -- and that means cooperating with No. 1 Geopolitical Foe Russia on the logistically complicated exit. He walked back an aide's comments suggesting he'd green-light an Israeli attack on Iran. He hasn't said much if anything about Pakistan, or about ramping up what remains of the war on terror generally. Even his hawkish advisor John Bolton, in a recent Washington Times op-ed, openly worried that Romney might not pull the trigger himself and bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. His foreign-policy team has bent over backwards to stress that the former governor is not planning to intervene directly in Syria. And his appointment of Robert Zoellick as the head of his national security transition team suggests at a minimum that top realists will play a prominent role in his administration.
It's not a slam-dunk case, I admit. As the New York Times' Peter Baker noted in a smart take on Romney's foreign policy last week, "The challenge is figuring out when the speeches are just words intended to highlight or even invent differences for political purposes and when they genuinely signal a change in America's relationship with the world." But if Romney is serious about earning himself a second term, logic suggests he'll tone it down if and when he gets behind the Resolute Desk.
Correction: Josh Barro informs me he's a *former* Manhattan Institute fellow. Apologies for the mistake.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
During their convention in Tampa, the Republicans mentioned Osama bin Laden a grand total of one time. "Every American was relieved the day President Obama gave the order, and Seal Team Six took out Osama bin Laden," Mitt Romney conceded.
How times have changed. Welcome to the Democratic convention in Charlotte, where the former al Qaeda leader is a favorite topic of conversation. We got a taste for what the rhetoric would be like on Monday, when Vice President Joe Biden responded to GOP questions about whether Americans were better off than they were four years ago.
"You want to know whether we're better off?" Biden asked a crowd in Detroit. "I've got a little bumper sticker for you: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive."
As the Democratic convention continues, we'll be keeping track of how many times the Democrats manage to work the successful raid into their speeches. The tally so far? Eight references on Tuesday, usually in the context of Obama keeping his promises to take out terrorist leaders, end the war in Iraq, and wind down the war in Afghanistan.
The most colorful mention goes to actor and former Obama administration official Kal Penn, who informed the crowd that while he's worked on many movies, "my favorite job was having a boss who gave the order to take out bin Laden -- and who's cool with all of us getting gay-married."
And you can be sure there's more bin Laden boasting to come -- we haven't even hit national security night yet.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Last week, the GOP made the first ever reference to "American exceptionalism" in a party platform, using the buzzy term as the title for the document's foreign-policy section and defining the concept as the "conviction that our country holds a unique place and role in human history." Speakers at the Republican convention hammered home the theme to contrast their vision of American greatness with President Obama's alleged declinism.
The Democratic platform released on Monday evening appears to fire back, but without using "American exceptionalism" or some variation of the phrase once. Instead, the platform declares:
We also understand the indispensable role that the United States must continue to play in promoting international peace and prosperity.
"Indispensable" isn't just a throwaway adjective here. In 2008, the Democratic platform used the word to describe Social Security, Europe, and the United Nations, but not America. This year, the phrasing invokes the Clinton administration's description of the United States as an "indispensable nation" well before American exceptionalism became a staple of political discourse. Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal and historian James Chace coined the term in 1996 to encapsulate the idea of "liberal internationalism" in the post-Cold War world. Here's how Blumenthal described the moment of inspiration:
We were able to describe the concept of the United States as the guarantor of stability as the sole superpower within the framework of multinational institutions, but I was intent on boiling it down to a phrase. Finally, together, we hit on it: "indispensable nation." Eureka! I passed it on first to Madeleine Albright, at the time the United Nations ambassador, and then to the president.
And here's how Bill Clinton used the phrase in 1996, in a speech explaining the rationale behind NATO's intervention in Bosnia:
The fact is America remains the indispensable nation. There are times when America, and only America, can make a difference between war and peace, between freedom and repression, between hope and fear. Of course, we can't take on all the world's burden. We cannot become its policemen. But where our interests and values demand it and where we can make a difference, America must act and lead.
Obama has made sure to emphasize his support for American exceptionalism ever since he landed in hot water for saying he believed "in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism." But in major speeches -- such as his State of the Union address in January and his graduation address at the U.S. Air Force Academy in May -- he's used the "indispensable nation" formulation instead.
As this week's convention progresses, it's worth keeping an eye on how the Democrats describe America's role in the world in light of GOP attacks. Will they employ different language than the Republicans? And, if so, will they make the case that the words amount to anything more than another way to say that America is a very special place?
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Mitt Romney only devoted a little more than 200 words to foreign policy in his convention speech on Thursday evening, and most of the section consisted of familiar refrains from the campaign trail. He promised North American energy independence by 2020, while accusing President Obama of throwing Israel "under the bus," embarking on an "apology tour" around the world after his election, and failing to demonstrate strength in his dealings with Iran and Russia.
"Under my administration," he declared, "our friends will see more loyalty, and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will see a little less flexibility and more backbone."
Notably, Romney acknowledged Obama's role in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and didn't mention the ongoing war in Afghanistan once -- both topics that have hardly been discussed during the convention.
But the most controversial foreign-policy line in Romney's speech may very well have been when he briefly alluded to climate change. "President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans," he noted, pausing skeptically as the crowd jeered. "And to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family." The remark elicited an extended standing ovation.
Critics swiftly derided the comment. "That climate change laugh line is going to be in every documentary from the latter half of the 21st century," Matt Novak wrote on Twitter. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof tweeted that Romney's "dismissiveness was appalling."
It's not entirely clear, however, whether Romney was mocking global warming, Obama's lofty rhetoric and misguided priorities, or both. Earlier in the speech, Romney had argued that "Hope and Change had a powerful" -- but ultimately empty -- appeal. "You know there's something wrong with the kind of job he's done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him," he observed.
Romney has shifted his position on global warming. In June 2011, he told a town hall that he believed "the world is getting warmer," that "humans contribute to that," and that it was important to "reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases." Several months later at a campaign stop, he argued that "we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet" and the "idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us."
The Republican platform opposes Environmental Protection Agency climate change regulations and criticizes the number of times the word "climate" appears in the Obama administration's National Security Strategy.
Beyond the debate over climate change, however, Romney's line speaks to a larger point -- one that should be evident to anyone who's watched the convention these last few days: As the campaign progresses, Romney will do his best to continuously steer the conversation back to his strengths: jobs and the economy.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Condoleezza Rice received a standing ovation when she took the stage at the Republican convention in Tampa on Wednesday night, and the crowd remained every bit as enthusiastic throughout the address -- especially when Rice marveled at how an African-American girl from the segregated South could aspire to the presidency and become secretary of state.
The speech by Rice -- and another earlier in the evening by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) -- marked the first extended discussion of foreign policy during the convention. Here are some of the takeaways from Condi's big speech:
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
The Life of Ryan
Last Saturday, Mitt Romney ended weeks of speculation by naming Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate. With Ryan, Romney gets a potential VP who is popular with the GOP base and is seen as a leader on fiscal issues. He does not, however, get an awful lot of foreign-policy experience, which could be an indication that this isn't going to be a major focus of the campaign going forward.
Ryan is known staunch free-trader, having worked on the Middle East Free Trade Agreement, and has even bucked GOP orthodoxy by suggesting that the embargo on Cuba by eased. Most of what we know about Ryan's foreign-policy views comes from a June 2, 2011 speech at the Alexander Hamilton Society in which he strongly supported promoting democracy in the Middle East and argued that the United States "should seek to increase China's investment in the international system."
Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" budget plan would boost military spending while cutting the budget of the State Department and USAID.
Prominent Romney campaign advisor and Middle East specialist Dan Senor has been named as Ryan's senior advisor.
Going to the mat over China
Ryan wasted no time attacking Obama on trade policy, accusing President Barack Obama of weakness on Chinese trade practices in a speech in Ohio on Aug. 16. "Free trade is a powerful tool for peace and prosperity, but our trading partners need to play by the rules," Ryan said, according to Buzzfeed's Zeke Miller. "This challenge focuses on China. They steal our intellectual property rights, they block access to their markets, they manipulate their currency. President Obama said he would stop these practices. He said he'd go to the mat with China, instead they are treating him like a doormat."
Many of the shortlisted names passed over for the VP slot will get a chance at the national spotlight at the Republican National Convention in Tampa Bay at the end of August, including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who will give the keynote, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio -- an emerging GOP leader on foreign policy -- who will introduce Romney. Other rising stars including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell are also slated to speak, along with party veterans such as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Sen. John McCain.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former President George W. Bush are not scheduled to speak.
Spec Ops or swift boat?
A group of U.S. Special Operations veterans calling themselves the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund has released an ad this week criticizing Obama for taking undue credit for the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and leaking compromising information to the press. Wired reports that the ad was viewed 226,000 times on YouTube on its first day and will air on television in key battleground states. The donors that are funding the effort have not been revealed.
The Obama campaign hit back, comparing the group to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the notorious organization that attacked John Kerry's Vietnam War record in 2004. "The Republicans are resorting to 'Swift Boat' tactics because when it comes to foreign policy and national security, Mitt Romney has offered nothing but reckless rhetoric," campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt told Reuters.
Immigration reform comes into effect
The immigration reform measure announced by Obama in June, under which the federal government will stop deporting illegal immigrants who arrived in the country as childrenand are enrolled in school or the military, came into effect this week. Long lines formed outside immigration offices throughout the country as immigrants sought to enroll in the program. The reform is similar to the DREAM Act, a more formal and controversial program that is supported by the Obama administration but has little prospect of passing through congress. Immigration opponents have accused the president of pushing through the reform in order to pander to Hispanic votes.
Immigration is emerging as a major issue in statewide races as well, particularly in a closely contested Republican Senate primary in Arizona, where businessman and Tea Party activist Wil Cardon has been hammering Rep. Jeff Flake over his past support for immigration reform.
More scrutiny for Adelson
Real estate mogul Sheldon Adelson, who almost single-handedly bankrolled Newt Gingrich's presidential run and is now one of Romney's major backers, has continued to generate controversy over his business dealings in Macau. The New York Times reported this week that one of Adelson's Chinese representatives, Yang Saixin, is the subject of a federal investigation into the bribery of Chinese officials. Adelson is also currently suing the National Jewish Democratic Council for defamation over an online petition that quoted news accounts alleging that he had approved of prostitution at his Macau casinos. The petition has been removed, but the group has not apologized for its contents.
The Romney campaign doesn't seem to be making any effort to distance itself from the controversial Adelson, who has pledged $100 million to defeat Obama. On Tuesday, Ryan met with Adelson at fundraising event in Las Vegas.
The latest from FP:
On the Shadow Government blog, Peter Feaver says it takes some chutzpah for Obama supporters to question Romney's foreign-policy qualifications (given how green Obama himself was in 2008) and looks at the foreign-policy implications of Ryan's fiscal views. Paul Bonicelli assesses what we've learned so far about how the two view national security.
Michael Cohen asks what ever happened to the long legacy of Republican foreign-policy expertise.
Obama campaign advisor Colin Kahl defends the president's record on the Middle East.
Ty McCormick is not impressed with Ryan's vision for Middle East trade.
And Joshua E. Keating takes a look at some of the world's most controversial VPs.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
The 14-year-old boy in me is extremely excited about the tantalizing possibility that CIA director David Petraeus, the most talented general of his generation and one of the few broadly respected figures in American political life, is being mooted as a potential veep pick for Mitt Romney. Picking Petraeus would inject some real excitement into a race that has turned into the second coming of Clinton-Dole: a real snoozefest. It would instantly transform the 2012 election from a race over taxes, jobs, and health care (boring!) into one about the good stuff: foreign policy and national security.
But the grownup in me realizes that this a pundit's fantasy, not to mention a diversion of dubious provenance (I mean, come on -- are we supposed to believe Obama bundlers go around whispering sweet nothings in Matt Drudge's ear?). So here are five reasons why -- sorry, Bill Kristol -- it ain't gonna happen. (See also Chris Cillizza's convincing debunker.)
1. Petraeus doesn't want the job
How many times has David Petraeus disavowed holding any political ambitions? Here he is in March 2010: "I thought I'd said 'no' about as many ways as I could. I really do mean no ... I will not ever run for political office, I can assure you." Here he is in August 2012 in an exchange on Meet the Press:
PETRAEUS: Well, I am not a politician, and I will never be, and I say that with absolute conviction.
GREGORY: Well, that's what he said. But does that mean that you're totally clear? That you'd never run for President?
PETRAEUS: Yeah, I really am. You know, and I've said that I'll adopt what Sherman said and go back and look at what has come to be known as a Shermanesque answer on that particular question.
GREGORY: No way, no how?
PETRAEUS: No way, no how.
Of course, political figures go back on their word all the time. But as Petraeus himself has pointed out, it wouldn't be very auspicious for his first political act to be a flip-flop.
Not yet convinced? NBC's Andrea Mitchell tweeted earlier today: "sources close to Gen David Petraeus laugh off Drudge report he is a Romney veep possible - #notgonnahappen."
2. He's head of the CIA, for Pete's sake
Why would Petraeus want to leave his post as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, still one of the top jobs in Washington even after the post-9/11 "reforms," to be Mitt Romney's pilot fish? The vice presidency is still, even in the wake of powerful veeps like Dick Cheney and Joe Biden, a dog's breakfast. Or, as America's first No. 2, John Adams, once put it, "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." (Or, if you prefer, "not worth a pitcher of warm piss," in the immortal words of FDR's otherwise unmemorable veep John Nance Garner.) Even if you see Petraeus as an ambitious climber always looking for the next branch, the vice presidency would be a step down, not a step up. In any case, he'd probably rather run the Pentagon.
3. Petraeus doesn't do domestic policy
Like Condi Rice, Petraeus doesn't do domestic issues. And if anything, he's got even less of a paper trail on things like education, where at least Rice showed some private interest. Can you imagine Petraeus weighing in on heated debates about abortion or tax policy? Me neither. Domestic issues may bore people like you and me, dear FP reader, but they are full of pitfalls for amateurs who aren't fully schooled in constituent politics. In any case, if Romney is clear about anything, it's that this election will be about jobs and the economy. And I don't think Petraeus's strong record of creating jobs for drone manufacturers is going to cut it.
4. Romney doesn't think outside the box
Even if you ignore the fact that Petraeus wouldn't take the job, would Romney even offer it to him? That's highly doubtful. The Romney campaign is all about avoiding John McCain's mistakes -- and one of those mistakes was thinking outside the box to choose Sarah Palin, then the little-known governor of Alaska. And we know how that worked out. No wonder Team Romney is thought to be in the hunt for an "incredibly boring white guy." The former Massachusetts governor is not known for flights of fancy -- one associate told New York magazine that Romney "never took big risks" as a business executive. As a politician, he's been even more cautious.
5. The White House categorically denied it
In his item, Drudge attributed the speculation that Romney might tap Petraeus to none other than POTUS himself. "President Obama whispered to a top fundraiser this week that he believes GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney wants to name Gen. David Petraeus to the VP slot!" he wrote.
But in Tuesday's press briefing, White House spokesman Jay Carney left no room for interpretation as to whether Obama had said such a thing. "I can say with absolute confidence that such an assertion [has] never been uttered by the president," Carney said, adding a swipe at Drudge for good measure. "And again, be mindful of your sources."
One usually has to parse White House statements for ye olde non-denial denial, but that's pretty categorical.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Arthur Honegger, a reporter for public broadcaster Schweizer Fernsehen, told POLITICO the Swiss consulate in Chicago has confirmed that the former Republican presidential candidate became a citizen March 19. The Swiss consulate in Chicago covers the state of Minnesota, which Bachmann represents.
Marcus Bachmann, the congresswoman’s husband since 1978, reportedly was eligible for Swiss citizenship due to his parents’ nationality — but only registered it with the Swiss government Feb. 15. Once the process was finalized on March 19, Michele automatically became a citizen as well, according to Honegger.[...]
Bachmann's office confirmed that the congresswoman had received Swiss citizenship, and attributed the decision to her children.
"Congresswoman Bachmann's husband is of Swiss descent, so she has been eligible for dual-citizenship since they got married in 1978. However, recently some of their children wanted to exercise their eligibility for dual-citizenship so they went through the process as a family," said Bachmann spokesperson Becky Rogness.
The timing of this is pretty funny given all the fuss over Mitt Romney's Swiss bank account. Super PACs could presumably have had a pretty good time with the all-American congresswoman's dual citizenship. Marcus Bachmann seems to have waited until after his wife dropped out of the race to make his application.
There's nothing in the U.S. Constitution that prevents members of Congress -- or presidents for that matter -- from holding dual citizenship, so long as they don't renounce their U.S. nationality, though it's obviously pretty unusual. (In the video above, Bachmann rules out the possibility of running for office in Switzerland, where she would now be eligible.) When Rahm Emanuel -- who had served as a civilian volunteer for the Israel Defense Forces and whose father was Israeli -- ran for Congress in 2002 he faced untrue attacks alleging that he held dual citizenship.
Google searches for current dual citizens in Congress just turns up a lot of anti-Semitic garbage. Anyone know of any actual examples before Bachmann?
When Mitt Romney's campaign announced on Thursday that the Republican presidential candidate had hired Richard Grenell, a former Bush administration spokesman at the United Nations, as his foreign policy and national security spokesman, early reports focused on the fact that Grenell is openly gay.
But this afternoon, Politico highlighted another side of Grenell: The man is a prolific tweeter -- one who dishes out zingers to those who get on his bad side, whether they be Newt Gingrich ("what's higher? The number of jobs newt's created or the number of wives he's had?"), Callista Gingrich ("do you think callista's hair snaps on?"), or Rick Santorum ("im rick santorum and gay people should be deported").
As tends to happen in today's compressed news cycle, Grenell has already apologized for "any hurt" his tweets caused, telling Politico that they were meant to be "tongue-in-cheek and humorous" and that he'll remove them from Twitter.
But Grenell hasn't deleted all his scathing comments, many of them related to foreign policy. Here are some of the issues that provoke his anger again and again (as you'll see, there's a lot of overlap). Now that Grenell is Romney's spokesman, we'll probably be hearing these critiques of the Obama administration's foreign policy more and more in the months ahead.
But come on, people. Today's episode is about more than what Grenell thinks of Callista's hair or Newt's marriage life (or, for that matter, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt's eyebrows -- another deleted tweet not mentioned by Politico).
No, the real question is: Why haven't politicos learned by now that you scrub your Twitter feed of all controversial content before you enter the political limelight?
Mitt Romney apparently described Russia as "without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe" on CNN today, while discussing the president's unfortunate hot mic incident. Romney was challenged on the statement by host Wolf Blitzer and a number of commentators are already discussing it as a "gaffe."
Romney stuck by the claim when Blitzer asked if he was really saying that Russia is a greater foe than Iran, China or North Korea:
Well, I'm saying in terms of a geopolitical opponent, the nation that lines up with the world's worst actors. Of course, the greatest threat that the world faces is a nuclear Iran. A nuclear North Korea is already troubling enough.
But when these -- these terrible actors pursue their course in the world and we go to the United Nations looking for ways to stop them, when -- when Assad, for instance, is murdering his own people, we go -- we go to the United Nations, and who is it that always stands up for the world's worst actors?
It is always Russia, typically with China alongside.
While one can certainly argue with the statement, it's not at all inconsistent with Romney's previously stated positions on Russia. This is the same candidate who described the New START treaty as Obama's "worst foreign policy mistake":
New-START gives Russia a massive nuclear weapon advantage over the United States. The treaty ignores tactical nuclear weapons, where Russia outnumbers us by as much as 10 to 1. Obama heralds a reduction in strategic weapons from approximately 2,200 to 1,550 but fails to mention that Russia will retain more than 10,000 nuclear warheads that are categorized as tactical because they are mounted on missiles that cannot reach the United States. But surely they can reach our allies, nations that depend on us for a nuclear umbrella. And who can know how those tactical nuclear warheads might be reconfigured? Astonishingly, while excusing tactical nukes from the treaty, the Obama administration bows to Russia's insistence that conventional weapons mounted on ICBMs are counted under the treaty's warhead and launcher limits.
By all indications, the Obama administration has been badly out-negotiated. Perhaps the president's eagerness for global disarmament led his team to accede to Russia's demands, or perhaps it led to a document that was less than carefully drafted.
Here's his take on the "reset" from an interview with Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin:
He’s under no illusions about Vladimir Putin. He is convinced that Putin dreams of “rebuilding the Russian empire.” He says, “That includes annexing populations as they did in Georgia and using gas and oil resources” to throw their weight around in Europe. He maintains that the START treaty was tilted toward Russia. “It has to end,” he says emphatically about “reset.” “We have to show strength.” I ask him about WTO, which has been much in the news as Putin blusters and demands entry into the trade organization. Romney is again definitive. “Letting people into WTO who intend to cheat is obviously a mistake.”
Is the most recent comment an escalation of rhetoric? Absolutely. But it's not really a change in position. (Yes, Romney did once call Iran "the greatest threat the world faces," but that's not quite the same thing as a "geopolitical foe".) Expect more of this line of attack as we move into the general election.
If proven true, this seems pretty damaging:
As one of the wealthiest candidates to run for president in recent times, Romney has used a variety of techniques to help minimize the taxes on his estimated $250 million fortune. In addition to paying the lower tax rate on his investment income, Romney has as much as $8 million invested in at least 12 funds listed on a Cayman Islands registry. Another investment, which Romney reports as being worth between $5 million and $25 million, shows up on securities records as having been domiciled in the Caymans.
Official documents reviewed by ABC News show that Bain Capital, the private equity partnership Romney once ran, has set up some 138 secretive offshore funds in the Caymans.
Campaign officials tell ABC that Romney's accounts are still subject to U.S. taxes and the purpose of locating the funds in the islands is to attract foreign investors, but experts say theCayman address provides advantages "such as higher management fees and greater foreign interest, all at the expense of the U.S. Treasury."
In any case, these probably aren't legal distinctions the Romney campaign wants to spend the next few days explaining to voters.
Update: It appears this was previously reported by the L.A. Times back in 2007.
Romney rolls through New Hampshire, Gingrich unloads the kitchen sink
Mitt Romney enjoyed a decisive victory in the New Hampshire primary, taking 39.2 percent of the vote to second-place finisher Ron Paul's 22.8 percent. Romney took aim at President Barack Obama's foreign policy in his victory speech: "Internationally, President Obama has adopted an appeasement strategy. He believes America's role as leader in the world is a thing of the past. I believe a strong America must -- and will -- lead the future. He doesn't see the need for overwhelming American military superiority. I will insist on a military so powerful no one would think of challenging it. He chastises friends like Israel; I'll stand with our friends. He apologizes for America; I will never apologize for the greatest nation in the history of the Earth."
Romney might already be gearing up for a showdown with the president, but none of his opponents dropped out. After the drubbing in New Hampshire, the anti-Romney rhetoric from the other GOP candidates in South Carolina is getting harsh. Leading the attacks is Newt Gingrich, who essentially tied for fourth place in New Hampshire, and continues to make the case that only a "bold Reagan conservative," as opposed to a "timid Massachusetts moderate" can defeat the president.
A super-PAC supporting Gingrich unleashed a 28-minute video attacking Romney for causing layoffs during his time with private equity firm Bain Capital. Rick Perry piled on, calling Romney a "vulture capitalist." Some conservatives have complained about the anti-capitalist undertones of the attack -- with Rush Limbaugh even comparing Gingrich to liberal Massachusetts senate candidate Elizabeth Warren.
The Gingrich campaign also released a new attack ad which compares Romney to fellow Massachusetts pols John Kerry and Michael Dukakis ("a liberal governor who wanted us to believe he was strong on defense"). For good measure, the ad even threw in a clip of Romney speaking French.
Is Huntsman done?
Despite the hype, Jon Huntsman did not enjoy a Rick Santorum-like surge in New Hampshire and finished a disappointing third place. (He's been widely mocked for claiming this result was a "ticket to ride" in a confetti-strewn post-primary speech.) The former ambassador says his goal for South Carolina, where a recent poll showed him trailing comedian Stephen Colbert, is to "stay relevant." As opposed to New Hampshire, where Huntsman campaigned tirelessly for nearly a year, often touting his foreign-policy expertise and even his fluency in Mandarin, Huntsman is working to remind South Carolinians of his conservative credentials on issues like gun control, abortion, and taxes. Huntsman's chief strategist told the Wall Street Journal "I don't care if Gary Johnson or [Twilight Zone creator] Rod Serling wins it.... As long as it's not Mitt Romney."
Santorum on Iran
Santorum weighed in on this week's mysterious killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran, which Iranian authorities have blamed on the United States and Israel. The Obama administration has denied any role in the assassination, raising Santorum's ire: "Well, I would have -- I've already made a public statement that any nuclear scientist, particularly any foreign nuclear scientist, who's cooperating with the Iranians in developing a nuclear weapon program would be considered an enemy combatant," he told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren. "And I wouldn't -- I would be doing what Israel was -- would be doing tonight, which is saying nothing."
The immigration debate returns
Immigration is again emerging as a major topic in South Carolina. The Romney campaign announced this week that it had received the endorsement of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the co-author of Arizona's restrictive immigration policy. Kobach called Romney, "the candidate who will finally secure the borders and put a stop to the magnets, like in-state tuition, that encourage illegal aliens to remain in our country unlawfully."
On this issue, Gingrich is playing the part of moderate, looking ahead to the looming Florida primary: "I can't wait for them to campaign in Florida," Gingrich said. "Try to go into Miami with the battle cry, 'everybody must go.'... That is clearly going to come across in the immigrant community as a sign you have no sense of humanity for people," Gingrich said this week. As it happens, the Romney campaign has already begun running Spanish-language ads in Florida.
Is anyone paying attention to foreign policy?
A newly released Gallup poll asks Americans, "What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?" "Foreign aid" and "international issues" received 2 percent each, compared with 31 percent for the economy in general and 26 percent for unemployment. The relative indifference to foreign policy could be bad news for Obama, who receives much higher ratings for his handling of international affairs than domestic matters.
What to watch for
The candidates meet for a debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Monday. CNN may have slightly bent its rules to allow the struggling Perry to participate. (Given Perry's difficulties in previous debates, that may not have been much of a favor.) The South Carolina Tea Party will hold a convention prior to the debate, featuring appearances by Gingrich and Santorum.
The current RealClearPolitics poll average shows Romney with a nearly nine-point lead over Gingrich in South Carolina.
The latest from FP
Larry Kaplow looks at Romney's Mexican roots and asks if he could be the "first Latino president." (Yes, someone's already started a "Mexican Mitt" fake Twitter feed.)
Scott Clement asks whether using China as a political punching bag is really effective.
Joshua Keating looks at five ways Romney will attack Obama.
Romney supporter Sen. Jim Talent tells FP's Josh Rogin that the White House is making dangerous, "budget-driven" decisions.
Michael A. Cohen says a Romney foreign policy probably wouldn't be all that different from Obama's.
David Rothkopf hopes this election will start a public debate about the virtues of American capitalism.
Expat journalist Eric Pape says Mitt can say what he likes about Paris, but he's enjoying European socialism just fine, thanks.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Paul gets his turn
Just days from the Iowa caucuses, polls show Congressmen Ron Paul surging into the lead. The libertarian has long been an annoyance for the Republican establishment, but Paul's success in the polls has brought with it the kind of negative press the congressman avoided when he was viewed as merely a fringe candidate. Much of the attention this week has focused on newsletters that were published in Paul's name during the 1990s, while he was out of office. (The newsletters were also an issue in the 2008 election after the New Republic ran a lengthy expose on their contents.)
In addition to disparaging comments about African Americans and gays, the newsletters contain incendiary language about Israel, describing it as "an aggressive, national socialist state." Another passage suggests that the 1993 World Trade Center bombings may have been the handiwork of the Israeli spy agency, the Mossad. Paul's views were already suspect among many Jewish Republicans, who declined to invite him to a major candidate forum in Washington earlier this month because of his support for cutting U.S. aid to Israel. In several interviews this week, Paul denied writing the newsletters or even being aware of their contents at the time.
Newt Gingrich, who has seen his fortunes in the polls fade as Paul has surged, took a shot at the new kid on the block this week, describing Paul's foreign-policy views as naïve. "This is a guy who basically says, if the United States were only nice, it wouldn't have had 9/11. He doesn't want to blame the bad guys," Gingrich said in a radio interview. "He dismisses the danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon and seems to be indifferent to the idea that Israel could be wiped out. And as I said, I think the key to his volunteer base is people who want to legalize drugs."
Michael Cohen took on Paul's foreign policy in a piece for FP this week, arguing that "his entire philosophy is largely a renunciation of much of what Republicans believe about America's role in the world."
Romney comes out swinging on security
As the media frenzy focuses on Paul and Gingrich, Mitt Romney has been working to build his commander-in-chief credentials with a series of statements on foreign policy. Speaking to reporters on his campaign bus, he said he believes Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin "endangers the stability and peacefulness of the globe." Speaking just hours before terrorist bombings ripped through Baghdad, he described President Barack Obama's inability to secure an agreement to keep U.S. troops in Iraq as one of his "signature failures."
In an interview with Fox's Chris Wallace last weekend, Romney gave the president credit for giving the order for the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, but then said that "any president would have done that." Critics immediately jumped on what appears to be yet another flip-flop from the candidate, who criticized candidate Obama in 2008 for saying he'd be willing to unilaterally order a raid within Pakistani territory. The Democratic National Committee began running ads this week featuring comments from prominent Republicans including former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, praising the president's handling of the bin Laden raid.
North Korea reactions
Several of the candidates issued statements this week in reaction to the death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. Romney called on China to "exert its influence" over its neighbor and take control of the North Korean nuclear weapons program. He also said that he hoped Kim's death would hasten the end of the North Korean regime. Former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman said Kim's death gives North Koreans "the best opportunity to get on a path towards a more free and open society and political reform." Rick Perry said the United States should "engage with China, and encourage Beijing to work towards a peaceful transition from a grim dictatorship to a free Korea," though the strength of his message was somewhat undermined by a press release referring to "Kim Jong II." To be fair, an "I" and an "l" look pretty similar ... and he's not the first candidate to think the late tyrant's name indicated that he was the second Kim Jong.
Obama's foreign-policy advantage?
Something of a consensus seems to be developing that -- considering the state of the U.S. economy -- that foreign policy could be the president's strong suit going into this election. CNN's Fareed Zakaria, writes that Republicans, facing two unpopular wars and unable to make traditional attacks of appeasement stick, are "effectively ceding the vast swathe of foreign policy to Obama." Conservative commentator Juan Williams notes that following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, Obama "has fulfilled a major campaign promise" and that we're facing an unusual 2012 political scenario, in which Republicans will find a Democratic presidential incumbent vulnerable on the economy but strong on national security.
Indeed, the president gets strong marks from voters on his handling of national security and terrorism. But as poll-watcher Scott Clement noted last week in Foreign Policy's Election 2012 Channel, Obama's numbers aren't quite as strong on international affairs generally, or the war on Afghanistan in particular.
Return of Iraq
The war in Iraq was a defining issue of the last election, and Obama got high marks from voters from wanting to end the campaign there, one he never supported. But if the current violence and political dysfunction in the country continue following the recent troop withdrawal, it could quickly reemerge as a major national security headache for the Obama administration. In addition to Romney, Gingrich blasted the withdrawal this week, saying, "I think we're going to find to our great sadness that we've lost several thousand young Americans and had many thousands more wounded undertaking a project that we couldn't do." Obama's 2008 opponent, Sen. John McCain, also weighed in, telling the American Enterprise Institute's Danielle Petka, "All the gains we have achieved in Iraq are now at risk, and the enormous expenditure of blood and treasure that those gains entailed are now in jeopardy of being viewed by history as sacrifices made in vain."
What to watch for
For the next two weeks, it's all eyes on Iowa. Paul (27.5 percent) retains a slight lead in a recent University of Iowa poll, with Gingrich (25.3 percent) a close second, Romney (17.5 percent) in third, and Perry (11.2 percent) a distant fourth.
Huntsman, who has a laser-like focus on New Hampshire, has opted out of Iowa entirely, but for the socially conservative (and bottom-dwelling) candidates Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann a strong showing in the caucuses might be their last chance to save their campaigns. Some recent polls show Santorum climbing into fourth place in Iowa, and his campaign has blanketed the state with major advertising buys. Bachmann is still drawing enthusiastic crowds, but appears unlikely to climb out of the single-digits.
The latest from FP:
Michael Cohen speculates on just what a Ron Paul foreign policy would look like.
Scott Clement says Republican voters aren't as worried about Iran as their candidates' rhetoric might suggest.
Joshua Keating discusses Huntsman's dubious claim to have done "more than anybody" to fight China's one-child policy.
David Rothkopf looks at the 14 biggest lies of 2011.Most of the 2012 candidates -- including the president -- are guilty of several of them.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
On the campaign trail, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain consistently distills his foreign policy philosophy to "peace through strength and clarity," a twist on Ronald Reagan's "peace through strength" mantra. But he raised doubts about his grasp of international affairs last week when he expanded on that stump speech line off the cuff.
First, in an exchange that went viral online, Cain bungled his response to a question about President Obama's Libya intervention (Cain called it a "thoughtful pause"). Then he was quoted as saying, "I'm not supposed to know anything about foreign policy" (Cain claimed he said "everything," not "anything"). And then he suggested that the Taliban might be part of Libya's new government - an assertion critics condemned as unfounded (a Cain spokesman pointed out that one of Libya's new military leaders fought with the Afghan Taliban).
Now, it seems, the campaign is turning to the more dependable written word to try and break this sound bite-media tempest-campaign clarification cycle. In a column published late yesterday on Cain's site, the candidate summarizes his approach to foreign policy. "Peace through strength and clarity means there is no doubt about where we stand, for what we stand and with whom we stand," he explains. As an example, he cites President Obama's decision to sign the New START treaty with Russia:
Not only did that treaty commit America to arms reductions that the Russians would not necessarily have to match, but it permitted them to maintain a sizable advantage in tactical nuclear weapons, while ignoring programs and ambitions of other nations like Iran, North Korea, China and Pakistan. But more to the point, we simply don't need to be signing treaties like this with unfriendly countries.
Cain suggests that Obama has spurned allies such as Israel and Great Britain while naively extending an olive branch to American opponents such as Iran and Venezuela. He compares his foreign policy views to those of Obama's predecessor:
I agree with former President George W. Bush that the United States should promote free democratic movements throughout the world, and that it is in our strategic interests to do so. That does not mean we try to "impose democracy at the barrel of a gun," as some of Bush's rather disingenuous critics claimed he was doing. It means we support these movements where the opportunity presents itself (as President Obama should have in Iran and Syria) or when strategic necessity compels us (as I believe President Bush correctly did in Iraq in 2003). And you don't always have to use force.
Cain also rejects claims that his stumbles last week render him unfit to be America's commander-in-chief and that he flaunts his lack of foreign policy experience:
I think it's clear by now that I am not going to score the best of all the candidates on media pop quizzes about the details of current international events. Some have claimed that I take some sort of perverse satisfaction in not knowing all these details. That is not true. I want to know as much as I can. But a leader leads by gathering all the information available in a given situation, and making the best decision at the time based on that information, and in accordance with sound principles. As president, I would not be required to make decisions on the spur of the moment based on a question from a reporter. I would make them the way I made them as a CEO -- based on careful consideration of all the facts and the best advice of the best people.
Might there be a "it's 3 am and Herman Cain is still deciding" attack ad in the offing?
Scott Olson/Getty Images
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