Mitt Romney and Barack Obama met on Monday night for the final debate before the election. The showdown in Boca Raton, hosted by Bob Schieffer of CBS, was supposed to focus exclusively on foreign policy, though both candidates frequently took the opportunity to pivot to discussions of the U.S. economy.
In contrast to previous debates, Romney was relatively muted in his criticism of the president's record, declining to criticize his handling of the Benghazi consulate attack. Romney did repeat his claim that the president had gone on an "apology tour" of the Middle East following his election, argued that Iran is now "four years closer to a nuclear weapon," and described proposed cuts to the military budget as "devastating."
Obama accused Romney of changing his positions on intervention in Libya and withdrawal from Afghanistan, and joked that the Republican candidate wants to "import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s, and the economic policies of the 1920s."
CNN viewers gave a slight edge to the more aggressive Obama in post-debate polls.
The Powell doctrine
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed Obama in an interview with CBS Thursday. "I signed on for a long patrol with President Obama," said the former general, who had attracted attention by crossing party lines to endorse the president in 2008. Expressing concern with Romney's shifting positions on foreign policy, Powell said, "Sometimes I don't sense that he has thought through these issues as thoroughly as he should have."
Former New Hampshire governor Romney campaign surrogate John Sununu caused controversy on Thursday night by saying that Powell supports Obama because he is African-American. I think when you have somebody of your own race that you're proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him," Sununu told CNN's Piers Morgan. Sununu later issued a statement saying that he doesn't doubt Powell's endorsed was "based on anything but his support of the president's policies."
Rice on Benghazi
The Obama campaign got an assist from both of George W. Bush's secretaries of state this week, with Condoleezza Rice downplaying Republican attacks on the Obama administration's handling of diplomatic security prior to the Benghazi attack. "It is not very easy in circumstances like this to know precisely what's going on as it's unfolding," she said in an interview with Fox's Greta Van Susteren. "There are protocols in place, I have no reason to believe they weren't followed, but it is not very easy in circumstances like this to know precisely what's going on as it's unfolding."
Reuters reported this week that the White House had received emails hours after the Benghazi attack saying that an Islamist militant group had claimed credit, though it now appears those emails may have been inaccurate. The Senate Intelligence committee has scheduled hearings into the attacks for several days after the election.
The third-party factor
Libertarian party candidate Gary Johnson launched his first television ad this week, touting his dovish foreign policy. The ads, which will run in several states in the mountain west, feature a menacing-looking drone and the former New Mexico governor describing himself as the "only candidate who does not want to bomb Iran." The ads follow Johnson's performance at a third-party candidates' debate on Tuesday in which he pledged to reduce military spending by 43 percent. Johnson, along with fellow third-party candidate Virgil Goode of the Constitution party, could be a factor in the battleground state of Nevada, where they have combined support of around 7 percent according to recent polls.
Who would the world vote for?
A BBC poll of 21,797 people in 21 countries shows 50 percent supporting Obama, with only 9 percent for Romney. France was the most pro-Obama country, with 72 percent support. The only country where voters preferred Romney was Pakistan, likely due to opposition to the Obama administration's drone attacks. Romney also enjoyed significant levels of support in Poland and in Obama's father's homeland, Kenya.
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There's an old line that the foreign-policy debate in Washington is like a football game played between the 40-yard-lines. You might think that last night's third-party debate, hosted by the Free and Equal Elections Foundation in Chicago, would feature more disagreement, pitting left-wing candidates Jill Stein of the Green Party and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party against Virgil Goode of the right-wing Constitution party, and Libertarian Gary Johnson.
But the four candidates did find quite a bit of common ground in the Larry King-hosted debate, over limiting the ability of the president to authorize the use of force, cutting back on U.S. military commitments -- particularly an early end to the war in Afghanistan -- and expressing concern over the use of drones. Watching it after Monday night's debate between Obama and Romney was a bit like watching a parallel football game being played between the 10- and 30-yard lines.
Here's Stein on drones:
A foreign policy based on militarism and brute military force and wars for oil is making us less secure, not more secure. We need to cut the budget and bring the troops home, and we need to end the drone wars, not bring the drones home, because they're already coming home. We need to end the use of drones and not lead the development of a new arms race, but lead the development of a new treaty -- a convention to permanently ban the use of drones as a weapon of war and as a means of spying on the American public.
Here's Goode on use of force:
I would not be in Syria unless congress makes a declartion of war. We will not stay in Afghanistan if I am elected president unless Congress makes a declaration of war. Only by going through that constitutional process can we ensure that the will of the American people is addressed when we have issues like Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran.
Here's Johnson on military spending:
The biggest threat to our national security is the fact that we're bankrupt -- that we're borrowing and we're printing money to the tune of 43 cents out of every dollar that we spend. So I'm promising to submit a balanced budget to Congress in the year 2013, that would include a 43 percent reduction in military spending. How does that go down? Well a 43 percent reduction in military spending takes us back to 2003 spending levels. It's getting ourselves out of all the military engagements that we're currently involved in. Stop with the military interventions.
During the Bush and the Obama years, our Constitution has been shredded while the imperial presidency has expanded, with presidents who think they can unilaterally take us to war, often on a pack of lies, with presidents who think the federal government should have the authority to round anyone up, including U.S. citizens, and imprison them up to the rest of their lives without charges, without trial, without legal representation, and without the right of habeas corpus. And our elected officials are sound asleep while the Pentagon is warning the climate change is a greater long-term security risk to the United States than terrorism.
As Slate's Will Oremus notes, that last claim might not pass muster with fact-checkers. But it should still be noted that a number of important issues that were notable by the absence from the Obama-Romney debates -- including civil liberties, the war on drugs, and climate change -- were prominently featured.
Johnson, the former New Mexico governor who has been campaigning since the GOP primary, probably had the most polished performance and his closing pitch, asking the audience to "waste your vote on me," was probably the night's most memorable moment. Johnson also discussed his past marijuana use and suggested that Obama and Romney should have to wear “NASCAR-like jackets” showing their corporate sponsors.
There will be another third-party debate hosted by the Free and Equal Elections Foundation next week, featuring the two candidates who win an online poll. (Johnson and Stein, with the biggest national followings, are probably the favorites.)
Whether or not you agree their overall limited-government, small-footprint take on foreign policy, it's certainly a perspective that's missing in the general election. Just as Ron Paul was often the only one actually arguing with anyone during the foreign-policy sections of the GOP debates, dropping at least one of these candidates into a matchup with Obama and Romney might have made the discussion more interesting.
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Tonight's presidential debate will be conducted in Town Hall format. Every election, we're promised that this will make the event more "unpredictable," but in reality, it means we're likely to get pre-screened questions along the lines of, "So, what are you going to do about jobs?" If there are any "unpredictable" questions, they will probably be something like, "Sanchez or Tebow?" (This is Long Island, remember.)
If, by chance, some of Dan Drezner's foreign-policy voting 5 percenters do make it into the audience, they're likely to ask about issues that have already been discussed ad nauseum on the campaign trail: Iran, Israel, Afghanistan, Arab Spring. It's not that these aren't important countries. It's just that we pretty much know what the candidates are going to say about them.
In the spirit of making things more interesting, here are a few suggested questions for the audience if they really want to throw these guys off their game.
1. What is your stance on the Scottish independence referendum? (Follow-up question: If you could pick one U.S. state to leave the union, which would it be?)
2. Do you believe the prosecution of former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed is politically motivated?
3. Nagorno-Karabakh. Thoughts?
4. Who will be the first to put a human on Mars: the U.S., China, Russia, or Red Bull?
6. Falklands or Malvinas?
8. Is Joyce Banda a genuine reformer?
9. What are your thoughts on Ollanta Humala's political evolution? (No, gentlemen. We will not remind you what countries these are the leaders of.)
10. Given our military presence in Diego Garcia, does the U.S. have an obligation to help resolve the Chagos archipelago dispute?
11. Do you have any concerns about the global potash supply?
12. Is there any reason for Belgium to exist?
13. Japan is about to replace China as America's biggest creditor. Could you please offer us some meaningless bluster about "getting tough with Tokyo?"
14. Who is America's most embarrassing ally?
15. Who would you call if you wanted to call Europe?
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Thursday night's spirited vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan featured a lot of talk about the thresshold for U.S. military intervention in global conflicts. In one of the most telling exchanges, moderator Martha Raddatz asked the candidates what was worse: yet another war in the Middle East, or a nuclear-armed Iran?
Ryan replied that "we can't live" with a nuclear Iran that could spark a nuclear arms race in the region and be emboldened to sponsor terrorism and threaten Israel. Biden retorted that "war should always be the absolute last resort," adding that the administration's sanctions against Iran are working and that the president "doesn't bluff." The answers seemed to suggest that a Romney-Ryan administration would have fewer qualms about initiating a military conflict with Iran if Tehran appeared to be on the verge of weaponization.
The topic came up again when the conversation turned to the Syrian crisis, as Ryan declared that he would only send U.S. troops into the country if it was necessary to secure Syria's chemical weapons. It was at this point that Raddatz asked the Republican vice presidential candidate a broader question: "What's your criteria for intervention?" Ryan responded that U.S. national security interests had to be at stake:
RYAN: In Syria?
RYAN: What is in the national interests of the American people.
RADDATZ: How about humanitarian interests?
RYAN: What is in the national security of the American people. It's got to be in the strategic national interests of our country.
RADDATZ: No humanitarian?
RYAN: Each situation will -- will come up with its own set of circumstances, but putting American troops on the ground? That's got to be within the national security interests of the American people.
RADDATZ: I want to -- we're -- we're almost out of time here.
RYAN: That means like embargoes and sanctions and overflights, those are things that don't put American troops on the ground. But if you're talking about putting American troops on the ground, only in our national security interests.
The response raises the question: What was Paul Ryan's stance on the military intervention in Libya -- one of the most recent examples of these kinds of dilemmas? We know that Ryan has been critical of the Obama administration's response to the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi last month (a topic that came up again at the start of Thursday night's debate). But we know much less about Ryan's position on the Libyan conflict in 2011. It turns out that in June of that year, the congressman elected not to join many of his Republican colleagues in the House in voting for a bill that would have blocked funding for certain elements of the Libya operation. He also voted against a largely symbolic resolution to authorize the mission.
"Today's vote indicates that the President has failed to adequately explain our mission in Libya either to Congress or to the American people," Ryan said in a statement. "While I do not support cutting off funding for the operations that are already underway, today's vote of no-confidence should send a strong message to the President: He owes the American people and Congress a clear strategy."
Indeed, it was strategy and procedure -- not the national security rationale behind the operation -- that constituted Ryan's critique of the Obama administration after Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi was killed in October. Ryan called Qaddafi a "butcher of his people" and expressed hope that Libyans would "build a successful, civil society, where individual rights are recognized." And then he lashed out at the White House, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal:
"I don't have a problem with helping prevent genocide, but I do have a problem with they way in which they went about this operation," he said.
Asked what that problem was, he answered: "Didn't go to Congress, didn't ask for authority, the leading-from-behind strategy at NATO I think was very strange, and I don't think they had a mission well-defined. I think they jumped into this mission without having a real endgame in mind and it lasted a lot longer than anybody thought it would last."
On Thursday night, of course, Ryan made clear that he would apply his national-security-interest litmus test only when deciding whether to put U.S. troops on the ground, which never happened in Libya. But it's still worth pointing out that when President Obama decided to intervene in the country, Ryan criticized the manner in which the administration carried out the mission, not the premise of intervening militarily to prevent genocide.
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One towering American historical figure played a key role in Mitt Romney's foreign-policy address at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) on Monday: VMI graduate George Marshall. The Republican candidate noted that as Army chief of staff during World War II and later as secretary of state and secretary of defense, Marshall had helped "vanquish fascism and then planned Europe's rescue from despair." He wove Marshall's contributions into his narrative about the "struggle between liberty and tyranny" taking place in the Middle East and the need for American leadership in the region:
We have seen this struggle before. It would be familiar to George Marshall. In his time, in the ashes of world war, another critical part of the world was torn between democracy and despotism. Fortunately, we had leaders of courage and vision, both Republicans and Democrats, who knew that America had to support friends who shared our values, and prevent today's crises from becoming tomorrow's conflicts.
Statesmen like Marshall rallied our nation to rise to its responsibilities as the leader of the free world. We helped our friends to build and sustain free societies and free markets. We defended our friends, and ourselves, from our common enemies. We led. And though the path was long and uncertain, the thought of war in Europe is as inconceivable today as it seemed inevitable in the last century....
Sir Winston Churchill once said of George Marshall: "He ... always fought victoriously against defeatism, discouragement, and disillusion." That is the role our friends want America to play again. And it is the role we must play.
Most of us have heard about the general's Marshall Plan for war-torn Europe. But what's less known -- and perhaps of interest to Romney, who's employed aggressive rhetoric against China -- is that, during the same period, Marshall faced withering criticism from figures such as Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy and U.S. General Douglas MacArthur for the 1945-1947 Marshall Mission, a failed effort to mediate China's civil war between the Nationalists and Communists, which Mao Zedong's forces ultimately won. In the early 1950s, as Republicans blamed Democrats for "losing China" to communism, McCarthy and MacArthur pointed fingers at Marshall and the Truman administration.
"It was one of the greatest blunders in American diplomatic history for which the free world is now paying in blood and disaster and will in all probability continue to do so indefinitely," MacArthur wrote in 1951, in reference to the Marshall Mission. He accused Marshall, who, as secretary of state, had opposed U.S. military intervention in the Chinese Civil War, of weakening the Nationalists by using "the potential of American assistance as a weapon" in trying to force the two sides to form a coalition government.
McCarthy was even harsher during a Senate speech several days later. Warning of "a conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man," he turned to Marshall:
It was Marshall, with [Dean] Acheson and [John Carter] Vincent eagerly assisting, who created the China policy which, destroying China, robbed us of a great and friendly ally, a buffer against the Soviet imperialism with which we are now at war.
It was Marshall who, after long conferences with Acheson and Vincent, went to China to execute the criminal folly of the disastrous Marshall mission....
It was Marshall who, disregarding [General Albert Coady] Wedemeyer's advices on the urgent need for military supplies, the likelihood of China's defeat without ammunition and equipment, and our "moral obligation" to furnish them, proposed instead a relief bill bare of military support.
McCarthyism, of course, was later discredited, but not before McCarthy's positions forced Dwight Eisenhower to remove a tribute to Marshall, his mentor, during a 1952 campaign speech in Wisconsin.
All this isn't to say that Romney shouldn't have made Marshall's work an organizing theme in his address. But it does speak to the ironies of the GOP candidate invoking the statesman's legacy. Romney, for instance, demanded that the United States confront China's "assertiveness" (Republicans accused Marshall of appeasing Beijing), pledged to arm the Syrian rebels (the GOP slammed Marshall for not assisting the Chinese Nationalists militarily), promised to "reaffirm our historic ties to Israel" (Marshall urged Truman not to support a Jewish state), and called for conditioning U.S. aid to Egypt on the country's government embracing democracy and maintaining its peace treaty with Israel (in announcing the Marshall Plan, which did call for economic reforms in exchange for U.S. aid, Marshall declared that "our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos").
As former Clinton administration speechwriter Heather Hurlburt put it today, Marshall's career was characterized by a "nuanced blend of diplomacy and strength." Some might argue that those nuances didn't make it into Romney's speech.
Three weeks after the deadly assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi the Republicans appear to be pivoting -- however gingerly -- back to foreign policy, amid a steady drumbeat of reporting and commentary on the Obama administration's delay in characterizing the violence in Libya as a terrorist attack and failure to appreciate the security threat to American personnel in the country ahead of the incident.
Politico reports that while Mitt Romney's advisors are divided about aggressively to attack President Obama's handling of foreign policy (and how much to deviate from the campaign's message on the economy -- the most important issue in the election), Romney himself is planning a major address on international affairs in the coming days. The GOP candidate, who's in search of a turnaround moment as his poll numbers flag, underlined the renewed focus on foreign affairs in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Sunday:
Disturbing developments are sweeping across the greater Middle East. In Syria, tens of thousands of innocent people have been slaughtered. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has come to power, and the country's peace treaty with Israel hangs in the balance. In Libya, our ambassador was murdered in a terrorist attack. U.S. embassies throughout the region have been stormed in violent protests. And in Iran, the ayatollahs continue to move full tilt toward nuclear-weapons capability, all the while promising to annihilate Israel.
These developments are not, as President Obama says, mere "bumps in the road." They are major issues that put our security at risk.
Yet amid 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.
And that's dangerous. If the Middle East descends into chaos, if Iran moves toward nuclear breakout, or if Israel's security is compromised, America could be pulled into the maelstrom.
We still have time to address these threats, but it will require a new strategy toward the Middle East.
The column is short on specifics about what this "new strategy" would look like, and it recycles several of Romney's stump speech lines about the Obama administration not controlling events and Mideast developments signifying more than "bumps in the road" (a reference to comments the president made on 60 Minutes). But it sheds light on the GOP's evolving strategy as the debates loom and the presidential race enters its final weeks.
The op-ed comes amid the first batch of campaign ads from conservative groups attacking Obama over Libya. American Crossroads is out with a spot criticizing Obama for campaigning in Las Vegas after the consulate attack and appearing on The View instead of meeting with foreign leaders in town for the U.N. General Assembly:
The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, has released two similar ads condemning the Obama administration's shifting account of the attack and lamenting the "crisis of leadership" in the country:
In a Washington Post column on Friday, David Ignatius criticized Obama for putting foreign policy on the backburner during the election, at one point steering his argument to Libya:
To be blunt: The administration has a lot invested in the public impression that al-Qaeda was vanquished when Osama bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011. Obama would lose some of that luster if the public examined whether al-Qaeda is adopting a new, Zawahiri-led strategy of interweaving its operations with the unrest sweeping the Arab world. But this discussion is needed, and a responsible president should lead it, even during a presidential campaign.
Instead, the GOP appears to be positioning itself to lead that discussion.
Readers of Iran's official FARS News Agency encountered a surprising headline today -- "Gallup Poll: Rural Whites Prefer Ahmadinejad to Obama":
TEHRAN (FNA)- According to the results of a Gallup poll released Monday, the overwhelming majority of rural white Americans said they would rather vote for Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than US President Barack Obama.
"I like him better," said West Virginia resident Dale Swiderski, who, along with 77 percent of rural Caucasian voters, confirmed he would much rather go to a baseball game or have a drink with Ahmadinejad than spend time with Obama.
"He takes national defense seriously, and he'd never let some gay protesters tell him how to run his country like Obama does."
According to the same Gallup poll, 60 percent of rural whites said they at least respected that Ahmadinejad doesn't try to hide the fact that he's Muslim.
The uncredited source for the item was, not shockingly, the Onion. To make things worse, FARS's item is copied word-for-word from the Onion's story, so it's both inaccurate and plagiarized. The Tehran dateline is a nice touch, though.
There's an entire (excellent) blog dedicated to internet users who take Onion stories seriously, but sometimes foreign news services get caught as well. In 2004, the Beijing Evening News credulously reported on an Onion item about the U.S. congress threatening to move out of Washington. At least they went through the trouble of rewriting it.
During his speech at the U.N. General Assembly this afternoon, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu busted out a diagram of a cartoonish bomb and a red marker to indicate where he would draw a red line for taking preemptive military action against Iran's nuclear facilities. He argued that his red line would come before the third stage in acquiring a nuclear weapon: Iran enriching enough high-enriched uranium to build a bomb (according to Netanyahu, Iran is currently "well into" the second stage, and will complete this phase -- and, by extension, trigger Netanyahu's red line -- by next spring or summer "at most"):
Where should a red line be drawn? A red line should be drawn right here -- before Iran completes the second stage of nuclear enrichment necessary to make a bomb. Before Iran gets to a point where it's a few months away or a few weeks away from amassing enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon.
Whatever analysts may think about the wisdom of using such rudimentary props for such a grave topic, Netanyahu's words are still significant because the Israeli prime minister has avoided defining his red line with such specificity in the past. When NBC's David Gregory asked Netanyahu about his red line during a recent appearance on Meet the Press, for example, Netanyahu mentioned acting "before they get nuclear weapons" but then resorted to football-inspired platitudes. "They are in the red zone," he explained. "You know, they are in the last 20 yards. And you can't let them cross that goal line. You can't let them score a touchdown."
Unless you interpret Barack Obama's pledge to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon rather liberally, the position Netanyahu staked out today appears to be at odds with the president's. Netanyahu is saying that Iran's capacity to develop a nuclear weapon in short order is unacceptable -- a stance Mitt Romney recently embraced as well (after claiming that his red line was the same as Obama's, only for the campaign to walk the statement back). But Romney hasn't offered details about where along Iran's spectrum of nuclear development he would draw his red line (an advisor told the New York Times that the candidate "would not be content with an Iran one screwdriver's turn away from a nuclear weapon"). Netanyahu, it seems, wants to intervene well before Iran's nuclear scientists reach for the screwdriver.
In the days and weeks ahead, the indelible image of Netanyahu drawing a thick red line on his crude diagram could compel Romney to offer more specifics about his red line, and Obama to explain how and why his stance differs from the Israeli prime minister's, if at all.
Here's the key clip from Netanyahu's speech, via BuzzFeed:
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mitt Romney has called President Obama's decision to not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the U.N. General Assembly a "mistake." The Republican National Committee has criticized the president going on "daytime TV instead of meeting with foreign leaders at the U.N." Conservative news outlets have eagerly picked up the story. This morning the Drudge Report offered its take: photos of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meeting with heads of state in New York alongside a story on Obama campaigning in Virginia -- all below the headline, "President Clinton?"
The criticism isn't entirely original (see the New York Times) or accurate (Obama did meet, albeit briefly, with Yemen's president and the U.N. secretary-general on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly), but it has been a recurring campaign theme this week. The president's U.N. schedule hasn't made its way into campaign ads yet, but the conservative group Let Freedom Ring did release a spot on Tuesday highlighting the fact that a U.S. delegation did not walk out of a U.N. meeting on Monday in which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad criticized Israel. "Why did your administration sit with Iran rather than stand with Israel?" the narrator asks.
The U.S. delegation did boycot Ahmadinejad's General Assembly speech on Wednesday, but I imagine we won't see a Let Freedom Ring ad praising the action.
Over the weekend, without much fanfare, the Romney campaign opened up a new front in its foreign-policy attacks on Barack Obama: space exploration. During a stop at the University of Central Florida, roughly an hour away from the Kennedy Space Center, Paul Ryan blasted the president for scrapping NASA's moon and space shuttle programs (the Obama administration has suggested sending NASA astronauts to an asteroid and Mars, and encouraged private companies to assume some of the agency's past responsibilities).
"[W]e are conceding our global position as the unequivocal leader in space," Ryan declared. "Today, if we want to send an astronaut to the space station, we have to pay the Russians to take him there. China may someday be looking down on us from the moon. That's unacceptable." The vice presidential candidate's comments came on the same day that the Romney campaign published a white paper on space policy -- one that invited some finger-wagging from Newt Gingrich, who, during the primary, pledged to establish an American colony on the moon by the end of his second term. "Romney is better than [President] Obama on space but could be bolder and more visionary," the former House speaker noted in response to the plan.
What's remarkable about the white paper is how closely it hews to the Romney team's larger critique of Obama's foreign policy. There's the charge that the president has diminished U.S. power by alienating allies and emboldening rivals:
Unfortunately, President Obama has failed to deliver a coherent policy for human space exploration and space security. As a result, he has created uncertainty and confusion within U.S. industry and the international community. The President's disjointed collection of scientific project slack guiding principles, plausible objectives, or a roadmap for long-run success. They also have left American astronauts to hitch rides into space on Russian spacecraft. America's capabilities are eroding, and with each passing year will become more difficult to rebuild.
The accusation that Obama is weak on national security:
In addition to the troubles at NASA, there are less publicized problems surrounding our national security and commercial space communities. Many of our national security space programs are significantly over budget and behind schedule, and many are designed to meet yesterday's threats.
And the argument that the president doesn't believe in American exceptionalism and apologizes for America, while refusing to lead (the politics aren't straightforward here; as Space Politics noted last year, polling suggests that the public wants the United States to be a leader in space exploration but doesn't want to pay for it):
Today we have a space program befitting a President who rejects American exceptionalism, apologizes for America, and believes we should be just another nation with a flag. We have been put on a path that cedes our global position as the unequivocal leader in space.
What's odd about the earnest (if still vague) plan is that Romney ridiculed Gingrich's moon colony plan during the primary ("If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I'd say, 'You're fired'"), while Ryan voted against the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. Neither has discussed space exploration much on the campaign trail until now. Perhaps Romney and Ryan have had a change of heart. Or they've decided that if they're going to portray Obama as weak and declinist, they better go all out.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Polling this week suggests that Barack Obama is pulling ahead of Mitt Romney in key swing states and erasing the Republican candidate's advantage on the economy. But the results include one piece of bad news: According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey conducted in the days after the attacks on U.S. missions in Egypt, Libya, and other Middle Eastern countries, the president's approval rating on foreign policy dropped to 49 percent from 54 percent in August. That's the first time since before the Osama bin Laden raid that support for Obama's handling of international affairs has dropped below 50 percent in the survey.
The worst news for the White House is that, in an election that no longer revolves solely around the economy, all-important independent voters are souring on the president's performance on foreign affairs -- a key strength for the Democrats this election cycle. Forty-one percent of independents approved of Obama's handling of foreign policy in September, compared with 53 percent in August.
But there's more to the picture. Not only could the decline in approval prove temporary (depending on how events play out in the Middle East) but, as NBC's First Read suggests, the drop may have more to do with increasing political polarization as the election heats up than with Obama's handling of the protests per se. According to the NBC/WSJ survey, Republican approval of Obama's foreign policy fell from 19 percent in August to 10 percent in September.
What's more, if Obama emerged from the crisis looking bad, Romney may have looked even worse. A Pew Research Center poll released this week found that 45 percent of respondents who followed news about the U.S. mission attacks approved of Obama's handling of the crisis, while only 26 percent supported Romney's criticisms of the president's response. Among independents, 44 percent approved of the president's actions and 23 percent approved of Romney's critiques.
Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that the NBC/WSJ survey did not see any change between August and September in the percentage of respondents who felt Obama (45 percent) would be a better commander-in-chief than Romney (38 percent). Another Pew poll released on Wednesday indicates that 53 percent of registed voters believe Obama would do the best job of making wise decisions on foreign policy, while 38 percent think Romney would. More to the point, the survey finds that Obama enjoys a 50-39 advantage over Romney on dealing with problems in the Middle East (and these big leads hold among swing voters). "The recent turmoil in the Middle East appears to have had little impact [on] opinions about Obama's approach to foreign policy and national security issues," Pew notes.
While we can't conclude with certainty that the Mideast unrest is the proximate cause of Obama's sagging approval on foreign policy among swing voters in the NBC/WSJ poll (after all, last week also featured tensions between Israel and the United States over Iran), it's a likely culprit. The damage that the U.S. mission attacks inflicted on both candidates helps explain why the Obama and Romney campaigns quickly pivoted to other issues after a day of intense sparring over the events.
The lingering question is whether Obama's approval ratings on foreign policy would be even worse had Romney decided not to say anything at all about attacks -- and let the violence in the Middle East speak for itself.
Molly Riley-Pool/Getty Images
The political news cycle on Wednesday was dominated by fiery exchanges between the Romney and Obama campaigns over the attacks on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya, with Mitt Romney denouncing Obama's Middle East policy, the president calling his challenger trigger-happy, and the candidates' surrogates duking it out on cable television.
But both sides toned down the rhetoric substantially today. Obama vowed to bring those responsible for the attacks to justice but then reverted to his stump speech, while Romney noted the deaths of Americans before issuing a broad critique of the president's foreign policy (admittedly with an oblique reference to it seeming as if "we're at the mercy of events, instead of shaping events"). The Romney campaign didn't even pounce when the Obama administration walked back the president's statement last night that Egypt was not a U.S. ally.
Instead, the partisan bickering today took the form of media scorekeeping -- with debate coalescing around whether Romney's controversial critique marked a turning point in his campaign and whether the press treated the Republican candidate unfairly.
Why the change? Perhaps both sides felt they'd had their say, or realized they wouldn't stand to benefit from saying more. Either way, I wonder if the silence will last with new protests in the Middle East planned for Friday.
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Last week, I pointed out that Republicans and Democrats were both invoking Benjamin Netanyahu's statements to argue that the Israeli prime minister was on their side, even though Netanyahu himself has not explicitly expressed support for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney in this year's election. That may still be true, but Netanyahu nevertheless issued a stinging criticism today of the Obama administration's refusal to set so-called "red lines" for Iran's nuclear program -- one that has major implications for the presidential race.
"Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel," the Israeli leader declared, in a clear reference to the United States. Here's the New York Times account of the comments:
Addressing reporters here in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Mr. Netanyahu unequivocally rejected those comments and slapped back at the United States. Speaking in English, he said, "The world tells Israel: ‘Wait, there's still time.' And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?' Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel."
In his remarks, made at a joint news conference with the visiting prime minister of Bulgaria, Boyko Borisov, Mr. Netanyahu also said: "Now if Iran knows that there is no red line, if Iran knows that there is no deadline, what will it do? Exactly what it's doing. It's continuing, without any interference, toward obtaining nuclear weapons capability and from there, nuclear bombs."
He criticized the litany of economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and the European Union as ineffective in stopping the enrichment program. "The fact is that every day that passes, Iran gets closer and closer to nuclear bombs," Mr. Netanyahu said.
Some in Israel are interpreting Netanyahu's rhetoric as an implicit endorsement of Romney, who argued on Sunday that Obama's biggest foreign-policy mistake was failing to halt Iran's nuclear program. "It's not every day that the prime minister of an isolated Israel issues what amounts to an ultimatum to his most dependable, most indispensible ally," Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston wrote today. "It's not every day that an Israeli prime minister who by geopolitical necessity must be scrupulously neutral in an American presidential race, tailors his moves to the campaign of one party at the expense of the other." Burston continues:
In recent days, however, there's been a certain air of desperation in the ways Netanyahu has continued to pursue this policy. The desperation has grown in the face of the opposition of growing and already large numbers of respected current and former Israeli security, nuclear, diplomatic and intelligence experts to any attack on Iran at this time, and more pointedly, against a unilateral Israeli offensive.
And, in particular, when Barack Obama's campaign appears to be surging.
If immediate red lines are in order, Benjamin Netanyahu would be well advised to set them for himself, and the malice and abuse and disrespect he has heaped on the president....
If for no other reason than Netanyahu's preference for public pronouncements rather than back-channel cooperation with Washington, plays directly into the hands of Iran, and increases the potential dangers to Israel.
Or, if for no other reason, than the fact that Israeli officials are beginning to discuss the specifics of a threat that the prime minister's office has only discussed in vague whispers until now: Payback.
Simply put, what price will Netanyahu be made to pay, should Barack Obama win on November 6?
At a conference in Israel on Tuesday, Shaul Mofaz, the leader of Israel's Kadima Party, argued that Netanyahu wouldn't let U.S.-Israeli relations deteriorate to that point.
"We won't see military action against Iran in 2012; there's still time," he asserted. "There is no need for us to sacrifice the most important strategic partnership we have over the Iranian issue. It's up to Netanyahu to defeat [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, not Obama." Haaretz is already reporting, however, that the White House has declined Netanyahu's request to meet with Obama at a U.N. conference in New York at the end of September (Netanyahu will meet with other U.S. officials). That's not a good sign for the bilateral relationship.
I've noted before that an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities could swiftly swing an election that, barring a major world event, should revolve around the economy. Watch this space.
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The Obama campaign is still making hay over Mitt Romney's characterization of Russia as America's "number one geopolitical foe," most recently with the movie poster above promoting Senator John Kerry's dig at the Republican nominee during the Democratic convention. Yet while Romney's foreign-policy advisors have defended the candidate's assesment of Russia in the past, Romney and running mate Paul Ryan appeared to back away from the assertion during appearances on the Sunday talk shows over the weekend, instead characterizing Iran as the gravest threat facing the United States.
Take Romney, for example. In 2010, he penned a Washington Post op-ed calling Obama's New START nuclear arms reduction deal with Russia the president's "worst foreign-policy mistake." But in an interview with Meet the Press host David Gregory that aired on Sunday, Romney used the same language to describe Obama's Iran policy. And he didn't mention the president's "reset" with Russia even though Gregory referenced the Democratic critique that Romney is trapped in a Cold War mentality:
GREGORY: But [Obama] used some pretty tough words in talking about you, saying you and Paul Ryan are, quote, "New to foreign policy." Want to "take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly." Said you were stuck in a Cold War time warp. Pretty -- pretty tough stuff and suggesting you're not ready on day one to be the commander-in-chief.
ROMNEY: Well, I can certainly look at his record and I think one can say that he's had some successes and he's had some failures. And perhaps the biggest failure is as it relates to the greatest threat that America faces and the world faces, which is the nuclear Iran. The president has not drawn us further away from a nuclear Iran and in fact Iran is closer to having a weapon, closer to having nuclear capability than when he took office. This is the greatest failure, in my opinion, of his foreign policy.
Meanwhile, during an interview with Norah O'Donnell for Face the Nation, Paul Ryan characterized Iran as America's number one geopolitical foe and said Romney hadn't intended to suggest that Russia deserved that label:
O'DONNELL: Who do you America's number one enemy is?
RYAN: Well, I think a nuclear Iran is our biggest foreign policy threat today.
O'DONNELL: The reason I ask you that is Mitt Romney was criticized during the Democratic National Convention for saying Russia is without question our number one geopolitical foe. So do you disagree with Mitt Romney?
RYAN: No, I think what he was saying was among the other powers -- China and Russia -- that Russia stands a great threat.
Look, I think sending our foreign policy decisions to be cleared through the U.N. security council where we're giving Iran and China -- excuse me, Russia and China, veto clout over us, that's not good policy. So what we have done through our foreign policy for the Obama administration is we've increase[d] the clout in the card of Russia and China. I think that was a mistake.
Ryan's answer is a bit confusing (when he said "card," did he mean "council?"), but the interviews on Sunday suggest that the Romney campaign has decided to emphasize Obama's failure to curb the Iranian nuclear program through diplomacy, sanctions, and the threat of force, even though the policy differences between the two candidates on Russia are starker than those on Iran.
Ultimately, that's good politics. A CNN/ORC poll in April found that 48 percent of Americans view Iran as a very serious threat to the United States, while 43 percent believe North Korea poses a very serious threat. Only 11 percent of respondents felt Russia represented a very serious threat, down from 65 percent in 1983 (when the survey asked about the Soviet Union).
Whether or not the public's perception of the Iranian threat to the United States is accurate, Romney will likely get more mileage talking about spinning centrifuges in Iran than about Vladimir Putin rebuilding the Soviet empire in Russia.
Throughout this year's presidential election, as talk of a possible Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities has grown louder, there has been rampant speculation about whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu favors Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, and how that preference could influence the timing of a strike. Reports of a longstanding friendship between Netanyahu and Romney only fueled the debate, especially since Netanyahu and Obama reportedly have a chilly personal relationship.
In a national security address on Thursday evening -- a day after Democratic leaders added language on Jerusalem to their platform in the face of intense criticism -- Senator John Kerry (D-MA) suggested that, in fact, Netanyahu is on Obama's side:
Barack Obama promised always to stand with Israel to tighten sanctions on Iran -- and take nothing off the table.
Again and again, the other side has lied about where this president stands and what this president has done. But Prime Minister Netanyahu set the record straight -- he said, our two countries have "exactly the same policy," "our security cooperation is unprecedented." When it comes to Israel, I'll take the word of Israel's prime minister over Mitt Romney any day.
Kerry, who was referring to comments Netanyahu made in speeches to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in 2011 and 2012, wasn't the only speaker at the Democratic convention to quote Netanyahu as an unwitting surrogate. Here's what former Florida Congressman Robert Wexler had to say on Tuesday evening:
Last week, Mitt Romney claimed that the president has thrown Israel "under the bus."
Perhaps Mr. Romney should listen to those who know best -- Israel's leaders.
Listen to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has thanked president Obama for "unprecedented" security cooperation and for wearing his support for the Jewish state as a "badge of honor."
Republicans have used Netanyahu's words to their advantage too. When Romney visited Israel as part of a foreign tour over the summer, the Israeli prime minister told the candidate that he agreed with his assessment of the Iranian threat. The "sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota," Netanyahu observed. The Romney campaign quickly emailed out news coverage of the meeting.
Netanyahu, for his part, has avoided jumping into the fray -- at least explicitly. In July, ahead of Romney's trip to Israel, he told CBS's Bob Schieffer that he would treat the Republican candidate like he treated candidate Obama when he visited Israel in 2008. When Schieffer asked whether he would be as comfortable with a President Romney as he was with a President Obama, Netanyahu teased him for asking the question. "You're far too experienced a reporter," he said. In another interview with Fox News, he chided Chris Wallace for asking the same question, saying "you're far too wise a journalist to think that I'm going to get into your field of American politics."
I would call the prime minister's office and ask if Kerry's speech tonight has, at long last, inspired Netanyahu to issue an endorsement. But I'm far too wise a journalist.
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Former President Bill Clinton barely mentioned foreign policy in his spirited defense of President Obama's record on Wednesday night, though he did praise his wife for helping "build a world with more partners and fewer enemies."
But one line in particular caught my eye. In a section on the contributions Republican presidents have made to the country, here's what he had to say about former President George W. Bush:
I have to be grateful, and you should be too, that President George W. Bush supported PEPFAR. It saved the lives of millions of people in poor countries.
Clinton was alluding to the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which Bush established in 2003 and which now supports antiretroviral treatment for 4.5 million people around the world. But what's particularly notable about the reference is that, during a convention season designed to draw sharp distinctions between Republicans and Democrats, the two parties have found common ground on at least one point: the success of Bush's efforts to fight AIDS.
The Democratic platform, which condemns Bush's war on terror, focus on Iraq, and attitude toward the United Nations, praises the former president's global health record. "Building on the strong foundation created during the previous administration," the document notes, "the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has expanded its prevention, care, and treatment programming." OK, so the Democrats don't mention Bush by name. But still.
The Republican platform only mentions Bush twice -- in the context of tax cuts and AIDS relief:
PEPFAR, President George W. Bush's Plan for AIDS Relief, is one of the most successful global health programs in history. It has saved literally millions of lives. Along with the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, another initiative of President Bush, it represents America's humanitarian commitment to the peoples of Africa, though these are only one aspect of our assistance to the nations of that continent.
Bush himself certainly recognized the importance of PEPFAR. In his memoir Decision Points, he cites preventing another terrorist attack on U.S. soil after 9/11 as his greatest achievement. But he also writes about his AIDS initiatives at length, explaining that he hoped PEPFAR "would serve as a medical version of the Marshall Plan."
PEPFAR, of course, has attracted its share of criticism over the years for focusing on abstinence and consuming a disproportionate amount of U.S. global health funding, among other issues. But for now at least, it's just about the only Bush initiative that Republicans aren't evading and Democrats aren't denouncing.
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As Lenny Bruce would say, "Dig: Obama's Jewish" -- or at least his friends say he is.
Obama's longtime friend and supporter Alan Solow, former chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, has a suggestion on how to sell the president to nervous Jewish voters, as Benjy Sarlin reports:
“At the risk of stereotyping us, he thinks like a Jew,” he said, likening Obama’s decision-making process to a Talmudic scholar. “I knew it before he was the president, and I’ve seen it every day since he’s been the president.”
He added: “Barack Obama has a Jewish soul. He has neshama.”
Solow is following up on a theme pushed by several Jewish journalists including the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg:
[H]e is the most Jewish president we've ever had (except for Rutherford B. Hayes). No president, not even Bill Clinton, has traveled so widely in Jewish circles, been taught by so many Jewish law professors, and had so many Jewish mentors, colleagues, and friends, and advisers as Barack Obama (though it is true that every so often he appoints a gentile to serve as White House chief of staff).
... and the Daily Beast's Peter Beinart:
What Obama understands, via Heschel and Alinsky and his many progressive Jewish friends, is Tikkun Olam, a form of Jewish identity that, like it or not, is more pervasive in the United States than either observant Judaism or active Zionism. If it weren’t, Obama would never have won 78 percent of the Jewish vote.
Longtime Obama advisor and former White House Counsel Abner Mikva has joked, "When this all is over, people are going to say that Barack Obama is the first Jewish president.” Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes has said “he came into office with a deeper understanding of Jewish culture and Jewish thought than, I would argue, any president in recent memory.”
Obama himself has picked up on the theme in discussions with Jewish leaders, as reported by Haaretz in May:
There were some questions directed at the presidents concerning his thoughts on the role of religious leaders in a more civil political dialogue, which then lead to the inevitable question - how does he feels about Israel? Obama joked that Lew always warns him it will get to "the kishkes question."
"Rather than describe how deeply I care about Israel, I want to be blunt about how we got here," Obama said, reminding his guests that he had so many Jewish friends in Chicago at the beginning of his political career that he was accused of being a puppet of the Israel lobby.[...]
Obama also stressed he probably knows about Judaism more than any other president, because he read about it - and wondered how come no one asks Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner or Senate minority leader Mitch McConnel about their support to Israel.
I understand the need to counter the GOP line that Obama has thrown Israel "under the bus" and what Goldberg calls "the cosmic joke that he is somehow anti-Semitic," but these meme is getting a little out of hand. Surely those charges are easy enough to rebut without arguing that Obama is more Jewish than his opponents, or has more Jewish friends than them, or has a Jewish soul, or "thinks like a Jew" -- whatever that means. It feels just a bit overdefensive: it's not like McConnel and Boehner feel any compulsion to demonstrate their M.O.T. status either.
I think it should be okay to accept that there are no Jews in this race. Just a Protestant, a Mormon, and two Catholic VP nominees, who may differ on Mideast policy but aren't anti-Semitic and aren't threatening to throw Israel under anything. Goyim can have kishkes too.
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A 50-page party platform is bound to contain a few head-scratchers, and the Republican policy manifesto released on Tuesday doesn't disappoint. There's the vague reference to "Russian activism" in a list of the "gravest threats to our national security this country has faced," and the claim that the Venezuelan government is issuing "Venezuelan passports or visas to thousands of Middle Eastern terrorists."
Our dependence on foreign imports of fertilizer could threaten our food supply, and we support the development of domestic production of fertilizer.
It's not entirely clear how fertilizer wiggled its way into the party platform, but the topic does fit into larger discussions on both sides of the aisle about how the United States can realize the elusive goal of energy independence (in fact, U.S. officials have been warning about fertilizer dependence since at least 1978). Nitrogen fertilizer production requires natural gas, and we're producing less and less of the crop nutrient at home. As Ford West, the president of the Fertilizer Institute, informed Congess in 2009:
[S]ince 2000, the U.S. nitrogen industry has closed 26 nitrogen fertilizer production facilities, due primarily to the high cost of natural gas. Currently, only 29 nitrogen plants are still operating in the U.S. and presently 55 percent of the U.S. farmer's nitrogen fertilizer is imported.
U.S. farmers are becoming increasingly dependent on foreign sources of fertilizers from places that offer cheap natural gas like the Middle East, China, Russia and Venezuela.
The Romney campaign, in fact, mentions the ways in which more robust domestic fertilizer manufacturing can spur job growth several time in the energy policy white paper that it released last week (earlier this month, the Ohio-based plant fertilizer producer Scotts Miracle-Gro donated $200,000 to the Restore Our Future Super PAC that supports Romney).
Still, don't expect the platform shout-out to presage a new campaign talking point. Something tells me setting the goal of achieving fertilizer independence by 2020 might be difficult to work into a stump speech.
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House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) may not think highly of party platforms, but a new Pew Research Center poll released Monday suggests that the American public is, in fact, more interested in the GOP platform than in presumptive nominee Mitt Romney's convention speech. When the document, which will contain many familiar talking points on foreign policy, is released this afternoon, what might garner the most attention?
As I noted last week, the platform is likely to champion a guest-worker program and "Internet freedom" for the first time. But a draft accidently posted to the Republican National Committee's website on Friday suggests another milestone as well: the first reference in either a Democratic or Republican platform to the term "American exceptionalism."
At the beginning of its foreign-policy section, entitled, "American Exceptionalism," the platform declares that the party believes not only in Ronald Reagan's vision of "peace through strength" but also in "American exceptionalism -- the conviction that our country holds a unique place and role in human history."
Party platforms, of course, have long extolled America's special character and mission in global affairs. But, according to a search of past party manifestos, this appears to be the first time that "American exceptionalism" has been used to describe that sentiment. The term has gradually insinuated itself into political discourse over the past decade; in 2009, Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to use the phrase. "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism," he said, in a line that Republicans have repeatedly criticized (Obama has since emphasized his belief in the concept).
Mitt Romney in particular has embraced this theme. He's the author of No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, and he argues on the campaign trail that Obama doesn't agree with the thesis of his book. "Our president doesn't have the same feelings about American exceptionalism that we do," he declared in March. The big question, of course, is what exactly the phrase signifies in the context of the campaign. Is it simply a slogan? Or is it a worldview that speaks to how Romney would exercise U.S. leadership?
Here are some other surprising lines in the draft platform that you'll want to look out for as you pore over the final version of the text today:
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Talking Points Memo is asking if this is Romney's " first big foreign stumble" and the Obama campaign is sending it out to journalists, but it's not exactly clear who exactly made a gaffe or about what.
Here are some comments made by Romney at a San Francisco fundraiser yesterday, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald:
"I met today with the Foreign Minister of Australia. He said something, and I said 'Can I quote you?' and he said yes. He said, 'America is just one budget deal away from ending all talk of America being in decline,''' Governor Romney told attendees at a fundraiser today.
''And this idea of America in decline, it was interesting [Carr] said that, he led the talk of America being in decline. See that's not talk we hear about here as much as they're hearing there. And if they're thinking about investing in America, entrepreneurs putting their future in America, if they think America's in decline they're not gonna do it."
In the AP's telling of the story, the speech claimed that Carr "privately warned Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that foreign leaders see "America in decline." Carr's office has come out to deny that there was any "warning" implied:
But despite headlines today such as ''Mitt Romney Gets Grim Warning From Australian Leader'', a spokesman for Senator Carr says Australia's Foreign Minister was talking up the US economy, not talking it down. That is, any fears that Australia's foreign minister has been overseas criticising a key alliance parnter, would be misplaced.
''That interpretation is not correct,'' the spokesman told The National Times.
Indeed, Senator Carr has used a similar phrase about the US budget before - on people such as former World Bank chief Robert Zoellick - to indicate his belief in the US economy's strengths and potential.
TPM's Josh Marshall interprets this as Carr coming "forward to shoot down Romney’s characterization of the discussion." But it seems like he may be mischaracterizing the statement, which was aimed at the media for mischaracterizing his statement. Or something like that. It's all a bit confusing and a sign of how out-of-hand the campaign gaffe-spotting is getting.
In the end, it seems like a pretty inoccuous statement from both Carr and Romney: Foreign investors would be a lot more enthusiastic about the United States if phrases like "fiscal cliff" weren't such a regular part of its political discourse. Which party is more to blame for this state of affairs is another question.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/GettyImages
Former New Hampshire governor and White House Chief of Staff-turned-campaign surrogate John Sununu was doing okay on a conference call with reporters, responding to the Obama campaign's suggestions that Mitt Romney may be guilty of a felony on his tax returns by quipping that Obama "comes out of that murky political world in Chicago where politician and felony has become synonymous." Then things went a bit off the rails:
The call was organized by the Romney aides to attack Obama's handling of the economy, which they argue has stifled job creation and hurt small business. But Sununu seemed to take it a step further, telling reporters at one point, "I wish this president would learn how to be an American."
Asked to clarify his statement, Sununu walked it back, explaining he only meant that he wished Obama would adopt the "American formula" for creating businesses and introducing an environment where "entrepreneurs can thrive."
In other words, Washington now gets to remember who John Sununu is again.
Everyone seems to be having some fun at the expense of Romney campaign advisor Pierre Prosper, who referred to "Czechoslovakia" when discussing missile defense in a conference call with reporters. Lord knows we've done our share of foreign-policy gaffe-spotting around here and it's fair to expect candidates and their surrogates to understand the global issues they discuss, but this is kind of a cheap shot. I think it's important to emphasize the difference between slips of the tongue and actual displays of ignorance about the world.
Is it really likely that Prosper, a former U.N. war crimes prosecutor, State Department staffer, and ambassador-at-large doesn't know Czechoslovakia broke up in 1992? Or is it more reasonable to assume that he simply slipped and said the name that had been in use for the first 40 years of his life? (John McCain also got in trouble with "Czechoslovakia" in 2008.) Similarly, is it more likely that President Obama doesn't know that "Maldives" and "Malvinas" are different places or that he just slipped and mentioned the wrong island chain that starts with Mal-? These errors would get a contestant kicked off "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" but they don't actually tell us much about a candidates' knowledge of the world.
The problem with Herman Cain's Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan moment was not that he can't immediately recall the name of every head of state, it's that he mocked the idea that such knowledge would ever be necessary. Sarah Palin would have deserved a lot more slack for the infamous Katie Couric interview if she had merely mixed up whether Putin was president or prime minister or some such slip. The problem was that she was clearly feigning having any sort of knowledge about the vitally important country right next door.
It's good that we want to test candidates' knowledge of world affairs, but a geography bee isn't the best way to do it. In this election cycle, there will be more than enough actual ignorance to go around.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney may be riding high after his convincing win in the Illinois primary, but he's still getting the cold shoulder from one demographic group: Swedes.
On Tuesday, Sweden's The Local highlighted a new survey by the Swedish arm of the online polling firm YouGov, which found that 74 percent of Swedes would vote for President Obama over either Romney or Rick Santorum. Eighty percent of Danish respondents and 73 percent of Norwegian respondents said they'd choose Obama over Romney, while British respondents endorsed Obama at a less enthusiastic 58 percent. (A separate study by a YouGov affiliate found that 60 percent of British "influentials" believe Obama is better than his Republican challengers for British interests.)
Swedes aren't just more receptive to Obama -- they're actively concerned about what a Republican return to the White House could mean for the world. Fifty-two percent said an Obama loss could negatively affect global security, compared with 49 percent in Denmark, 47 percent in Norway, and 33 percent in the United Kingdom. Roughly a third of respondents in each country are worried that a GOP victory could negatively affect Europe's economy and foreign policy.
YouGov also found that Norwegians, Danes, and Swedes are intensely following news about the U.S. presidential election -- so much so that, according to one estimate by a media monitoring service, 498 articles about the American contest have appeared in the Swedish press this year, compared with a mere 107 on the already completed elections in neighboring Finland.
That generally liberal Northern Europe is enamored with Obama may not be all that surprising. And Romney hasn't exactly endeared himself to the region by accusing the president of wanting to turn America into a "European-style entitlement society."
But while Swedes may not have a vote in the election, overseas perceptions of U.S. presidential contests can matter. Obama's campaign speech before an adoring crowd in Berlin was a major storyline during the 2008 race. In a Foreign Policy article last week, Oliver Kamm argued that David Cameron's recent visit to Washington suggests that the British prime minister is already betting on Obama winning reelection. Today on the site, Tom Ricks wonders whether Saudi efforts to stabilize the oil market amount to a "vote" for Obama.
The YouGov survey isn't the only polling indicating that Obama is wildy popular in Northern and Western Europe -- significantly more popular, in fact, than he is at home. But how about elsewhere in the world? Pew's 2010 Global Attitudes Project report offers the most comprehensive data here. Majorities or pluralities in 16 of the 22 countries surveyed expressed at least some confidence in Obama to "do the right thing regarding world affairs," but only in Kenya and Nigeria -- the two African countries surveyed -- did Obama enjoy Western Europe-level adoration. U.S. allies such as Japan (76 percent), South Korea (75 percent), and India (73 percent) also expressed high levels of support.
But powerful U.S. frenemies such as China (52 percent) and Russia (41 percent) gave Obama an icier response, as did predominantly Muslim countries such as Egypt (33 percent), Jordan (26 percent), and Turkey (23 percent) -- a reality that Obama's handling of the Arab Spring did not alter.
Obama's poorest showing in 2010? Pakistan, where only 8 percent of respondents expressed at least some confidence in him. The good news for the president? We imagine Mitt Romney wouldn't fare any better.
Marc Femenia/AFP/Getty Images
The AP reports on today's Caucus in American Samoa:
What do you get when 50 or so Republicans gather in a restaurant-bar? In American Samoa, you get a presidential caucus.
The U.S. territory, located about 2,300 miles south of Hawaii, gets its chance Tuesday to choose delegates to the Republican National Convention and vote on a presidential candidate. It’s a decidedly local affair.
Republicans will meet at Toa Bar & Grill.
The six delegates picked at the caucus will join three American Samoa “superdelegates” at the convention.
So roughly one delegate for every 5 voters -- not too shabby. (For what it's worth, Washington D.C.'s 30,000 registered Republicans have to make do with 19 delegates.)
Mitt Romney is likely to win today among Samoa's few registered Republicans. (For one thing 25 percent of Samoans are Mormon.)
The territorial contests are a weird quirk of the U.S. primary system. Residents of these territories don't get to vote in November's presidential election, but both parties allow them to vote in primaries.
The territorial contests generally don't get much attention unless the primary is close, as it was four years ago when both Bill and Hillary Clinton campaigned in Puerto Rico. The "island caucus" as a whole, as David Cohen points out, is worth 59 delegates, more than Virginia or Missouri.
Romney appears likely to sweep the contests this year, even dispatching his son Matt to campaign in Northern Mariana and Guam. (Delegate hungry Rick Santorum may have forgotten about Guam's 9 votes when joked about exiling liberal judges there.) Romney took both those territories as well as most of the delegates from the U.S. Virgin Islands, despite the fact that Ron Paul got more votes there. (It's complicated.)
Puerto Rico, where Romney is also favored, votes this Sunday.
Last night's debate in Arizona featured the usual rhetoric in the economy, more conversation than usual about contraception, and more evidence for the theory that Ron Paul is essentially running as a blocking tight-end for Mitt Romney at this point, repeatedly hammering at Rick Santorum's credentials as a fiscal conservative. We also got the first extended conversation about the situation in Syria, though everyone seemed anxious to pivot back to the comparatively more comfortable topic of Iran. To the highlights:
We kicked off our national-security discussion with the question of women in combat. Santorum had made some waves a few weeks ago by suggesting that he has reservations about opening more front-line duties to women since "men have emotions when you see a woman in harm’s way." He also made some inaccurate statements about Israel's stance on this issue. The other candidates proceeded to hang Santorum out to dry on this one.
I would look to the people who are serving in the military to give the best assessment of where women can serve. We've had over 100 women lose their lives in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I was with Governor Bob McDonnell. His daughter has served as a platoon leader in Afghanistan. He said that she doesn't get emotional when she faces risk, he's the one that gets emotional as she faces that kind of risk. And I believe women have the capacity to serve in our military in positions of significance and responsibility, as we do throughout our society.
He then transitioned to a discussion of defense cuts and national security more broadly.
Gingrich -- surprise, surprise -- thought it was a "misleading question":
You live in a world of total warfare. Anybody serving our country in uniform virtually anywhere in the world could be in danger at virtually any minute. A truck driver can get blown up by a bomb as readily as the infantrymen. So I would say that you ought to ask the combat leaders what they think is an appropriate step, as opposed to the social engineers of the Obama administration.
Paul's answer doesn't "want even the men to be over there."
I still have those concerns, but I would defer to at least hearing the recommendations of those involved. But I think we have civilian control of the military, and these are things that should be decided not just by the generals, but we should not have social engineering, as I think we've seen from this president. We should have sober minds looking at what is in fact the best proper -- proper roles for everybody in combat.
Then it was on to Iran, where Gingrich is no longer so enthusiastic about asking generals for their input:
General Dempsey went on to say that he thought Iran was a rational actor. I can't imagine why he would say that. And I just cannot imagine why he would have said it. The fact is, this is a dictator, Ahmadinejad, who has said he doesn't believe the Holocaust existed. This is a dictator who said he wants to eliminate Israel from the face of the earth. This is a dictator who said he wants to drive the United States out of the Middle East. I'm inclined to believe dictators. Now I -- I think that it's dangerous not to.
If -- if an Israeli prime minister, haunted by the history of the Holocaust, recognizing that three nuclear weapons is a holocaust in Israel, if an Israeli prime minister calls me and says, I believe in the defense of my country. This goes back to a point that Congressman Paul raised that we probably disagree on. I do believe there are moments when you preempt. If you think a madman is about to have nuclear weapons and you think that madman is going to use those nuclear weapons, then you have an absolute moral obligation to defend the lives of your people by eliminating the capacity to get nuclear weapons.
Romney pounded home his talking points:
Ahmadinejad having fissile material that he can give to Hezbollah and Hamas and that they can bring into Latin America and potentially bring across the border into the United States to let off dirty bombs here. I mean -- or -- or more sophisticated bombs here, this -- we simply cannot allow Iran to have nuclear weaponry. And -- and -- and this president has a lot of failures. It's hard -- it's hard to think of -- economically his failures, his -- his policies in a whole host of areas have been troubling.
But nothing in my view is as serious a failure as his failure to deal with Iran appropriately. This president -- this president should have put in place crippling sanctions against Iran, he did not. He decided to give Russia -- he decided to give Russia their number one foreign policy objective, removal of our missile defense sites from Eastern Europe and got nothing in return. He could have gotten crippling sanctions against Iran. He did not. When dissident voices took to the street in Iran to protest a stolen election there, instead of standing with them, he bowed to the election. This is a president... who has made it clear through his administration in almost every communication we've had so far, that he does not want Israel to take action. That he opposes military action. This is a president who should have instead communicated to Iran that we are prepared, that we are considering military options. They're not just on the table. They are in our hand. We must now allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. If they do, the world changes. America will be at risk. And some day, nuclear weaponry will be used. If I am president, that will not happen. If we reelect Barack Obama, it will happen.
Santorum took the opportunity to remind the crowd of his long record on Iran, take a shot at the vice president, and stand resolutely behind.... Hosni Mubarak:
I would say that if you're looking for a president to be elected in this country that will send that very clear message to Iran as to the seriousness of the American public to stop them from getting a nuclear weapon, there would be no better candidate than me because I have been on the trail of Iran and trying to advocate for stopping them getting a nuclear weapon for about eight years now.
I was the author of a bill back in 2008 that talked about sanctions on a nuclear program that our intelligence community said didn't exist and had the President of the United States, president bush oppose me for two years.
And, by the way, so did Joe Biden on the floor of the Senate, and Barack Obama. I always say if you want to know what foreign policy position to take, find out what Joe Biden's position is and take the opposite opinion and you'll be right 100 percent of the time.
But they opposed me. He actively opposed me. We did pass that bill eventually at the end of 2006, and it was to fund the pro- democracy movement, $100 million a year. Here's what I said -- we need to get this -- these pro-American Iranians who are there, who want freedom, want democracy, and want somebody to help them and support them.
Well, we put -- we put some money out there and guess what? Barack Obama cut it when he came into office. And when the Green Revolution rose, the pro-democracy prose, we had nothing. We had no connection, no correlation and we did absolutely nothing to help them.
In the meantime, when the radicals in Egypt and the radicals in Libya, the Muslim Brotherhood, when they rise against either a feckless leader or a friend of ours in Egypt, the president is more than happy to help them out.
When they're going up against a dangerous theocratic regime that wants to wipe out the state of Israel, that wants to dominate the radical Islamic world and take on the great Satan, the United States, we do nothing. That is a president that must go. And you want a leader who will take them on? I'll do that.
Paul, ignoring the boos, said there's no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapon, and went on to plea for a return to declarations of war:
Now, if they are so determined to go to war, the only thing I plead with you for, if this is the case, is do it properly. Ask the people and ask the Congress for a declaration of war. This is war and people are going to die. And you have got to get a declaration of war.
And just to go and start fighting -- but the sanctions are already backfiring. And all that we do is literally doing the opposite. When we've been -- were attacked, we all came together. When we attacked the -- when we -- when we put them under attack, they get together and it neutralizes that. They rally around their leaders.
So what we're doing is literally enhancing their power. Think of the sanctions we dealt with Castro. Fifty years and Castro is still there. It doesn't work. So I would say a different approach. We need to at least -- we talked -- we talked to the Soviets during the Cuban crisis. We at least can talk to somebody who does not -- we do not have proof that he has a weapon. Why go to war so carelessly?
Then came what Chuck Todd called the " first news of the debate", an extended discussion on Syria. However, when asked if he would support intervention against the Assad regime, Santorum seemed anxious to bring the discussion back to Iran:
Syria is a puppet state of Iran. They are a threat not just to Israel, but they have been a complete destabilizing force within Lebanon, which is another problem for Israel and Hezbollah. They are a country that we can do no worse than the leadership in Syria today, which is not the case, and some of the other countries that we readily got ourselves involved in.
So it's sort of remarkable to me we would have -- here again, it's -- I think it's the timidness (sic) of this president in dealing with the Iranian threat, because Syria and Iran is an axis. And the president -- while he couldn't reach out deliberately to Iran but did reach out immediately to Syria and established an embassy there. And the only reason he removed that embassy was because it was threatened of being -- of being overtaken, not because he was objecting to what was going on in Syria.
This president has -- has obviously a very big problem in standing up to the Iranians in any form. If this would have been any other country, given what was going on and the mass murders that we're seeing there, this president would have quickly and -- joined the international community, which is calling for his ouster and the stop of this, but he's not. He's not. Because he's afraid to stand up to Iran.
He opposed the sanctions in Iran against the -- against the central banks until his own party finally said, "You're killing us. Please support these sanctions."
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a president who isn't going to stop them. He isn't going to stop them from getting a nuclear weapon. We need a new president or we are going to have a cataclysmic situation with a -- a power that is the most prolific proliferator of terror in the world that will be able to do so with impunity because they will have a nuclear weapon to protect -- protect them for whatever they do. It has to be stopped, and this president is not in a position to do that.
Gingrich used the Syria question to pivot to his energy plan:
Well, the first thing I'd do, across the board for the entire region, is create a very dramatic American energy policy of opening up federal lands and opening up offshore drilling, replacing the EPA.
The Iranians have been practicing closing the Straits of Hormuz, which has one out of every five barrels of oil in the world going through it. We have enough energy in the United States that we would be the largest producer of oil in the world by the end of this decade. We would be capable of saying to the Middle East, "We frankly don't care what you do. The Chinese have a big problem because you ain't going to have any oil."
Second, we clearly should have our allies -- this is an old- fashioned word -- we have have our allies covertly helping destroy the Assad regime. There are plenty of Arab-speaking groups that would be quite happy. There are lots of weapons available in the Middle East.
And I agree with -- with Senator Santorum's point. This is an administration which, as long as you're America's enemy, you're safe.
You know, the only people you've got to worry about is if you're an American ally.
Not sure if "allies" or "covertly" was the old-fashioned word Gingrich was referring to.
Romney was the only one who actually advocated a position on intervention in Syria, and showed off his briefing on Syria's political ethnography:
We have very bad news that's come from the Middle East over the past several months, a lot of it in part because of the feckless leadership of our president. But one little piece of good news, and that is the key ally of Iran, Syria, is -- has a leader that's in real trouble. And we ought to grab a hold of that like it's the best thing we've ever seen.
There's things that are -- we're having a hard time getting our hands around, like, what's happening in Egypt. But in Syria, with Assad in trouble, we need to communicate to the Alawites, his friends, his ethnic group, to say, look, you have a future if you'll abandon that guy Assad.
We need to work with -- with Saudi Arabia and with Turkey to say, you guys provide the kind of weaponry that's needed to help the rebels inside Syria. This is a critical time for us.
If we can turn Syria and Lebanon away from Iran, we finally have the capacity to get Iran to pull back. And we could, at that point, with crippling sanctions and a very clear statement that military action is an action that will be taken if they pursue nuclear weaponry, that could change the course of world history.
An exasperated Ron Paul tried again:
I've tried the moral argument. I've tried the constitutional argument on these issues. And they don't -- they don't go so well. But there -- there's an economic argument, as well.
As a matter of fact, Al Qaida has had a plan to bog us down in the Middle East and bankrupt this country. That's exactly what they're doing. We've spent $4 trillion of debt in the last 10 years being bogged down in the Middle East.
The neoconservatives who now want us to be in Syria, want us to go to Iran, have another war, and we don't have the money. We're already -- today gasoline hit $6 a gallon in Florida. And we don't have the money.
So there you have it. The first time Syria has come up in a presidential debate, it was taken as an opportunity by the candidates to talk about the Iranian nuclear program, offshore drilling, and the national debt. I won't claim these issues are unrelated, but surely it might be possible to actually talk about potential U.S. policy responses to the situation in Syria for a few minutes?
The war in Afghanistan wasn't discussed. Neither was trade or the eurozone crisis.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
During this year's Republican primary, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum have all suggested that they would use military force if necessary to dismantle Iran's nuclear program. And tensions between Washington and Tehran have only increased as speculation swirls about an imminent Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, Iranian officials trumpet their nuclear advances, and mysterious bombings appear to target Israeli diplomats in Georgia, India, and Thailand.
But how does the American public view the situation in Iran? New polling from the Pew Research Center this morning suggests that Americans are in a rather bellicose mood when it comes to confronting Iran, and pessimistic about the power of sanctions to keep Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
In the survey, 58 percent of respondents said it was more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if that meant taking military action. Only 30 percent preferred avoiding a military conflict even if it meant Iran going nuclear. Republicans (74 percent) were far more supportive of using military force than Democrats (50 percent), but Democratic backing was still substantial.
Around half of Americans, meanwhile, believe the United States should remain neutral if Israel strikes Iran. But, as Pew points out, more respondents said the United States should support (39 percent) Israel than oppose (5 percent) it. A majority of Republicans think the United States should back Israel while a majority of Democrats think it should stay neutral.
Pew notes that there are nuances in the data as well. Women and young people, for example, are more likely to support the United States staying neutral in an Israeli-Iranian conflict. And, not surprisingly, conservative Republicans, including Tea Party supporters, are more likely to champion American support of Israeli military action than moderate or liberal Republicans.
Where there's more agreement across the aisle is in the belief that tough economic sanctions -- a tactic the Obama administration continues to pursue -- will be ineffective in persuading Iran to abandon its nuclear program. Sixty-four percent of the public thinks these measures will not work, compared with 56 percent in October 2009.
Of course, supporting military force if it means preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons (in other words, approving of it as a last resort) isn't the same as a full-throated endorsement of the military option. In a Quinnipiac University poll in November, 36 percent of respondents supported the use of force in any case, while an additional 14 percent backed the option if sanctions failed. In a CNN/ORC survey around the same time, more than six in 10 respondents selected "economic and diplomatic efforts" -- not "military action right now" -- as the best U.S. policy toward Iran's nuclear program.
If Americans are so down on economic sanctions as an effective solution, however, one wonders whether they're beginning to resign themselves to a military conflict, even if they have little appetite for it.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Newt Gingrich charged into Florida this week with a head of steam, hoping to capitalize on his victory in South Carolina and attack competitor Mitt Romney on immigration and his somewhat exotic personal finances. Gingrich attacked Romney's suggestion that "self-deportation" could be a solution to illegal immigration: "You have to live in a world of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts and automatic, you know, $20 million a year income with no work to have some fantasy this far from reality."
But Gingrich seemed to falter at a debate on Thursday night when pressed by both Romney and moderator Wolf Blitzer to defend his attacks. "Wouldn't it be nice if people didn't make accusations somewhere else that they weren't willing to defend here?" Romney said of the Swiss bank account jibe, continuing that he wouldn't apologize for his own success. (It remains to be seen how Romney will respond to new reports that he didn't fully disclose his income from the Swiss account.)
The other notable foreign-policy moment of the debate was a Palestinian-American Republican from Jacksonville informing the candidates that "we do exist." Both Gingrich and Santorum have questioned the validity of "Palestinian" as an identity duringthis year's campaign.
Thanks to his weak performances and some seemingly off-topic policy proposals -- more on that in a moment -- Gingrich is losing some momentum ahead of Tuesday's key Florida primary. The latest RealClearPolitics average has Romney back in the lead by 7 percent.
The Little Havana Primary
As it generally does during Sunshine State campaigning, U.S. policy toward Cuba became a major topic of discussion this week. When asked during an interview with the Spanish-language television network Univision whether he would be willing to employ military force to overthrow the Castro regime, Gingrich responded, "Well I think at the moment you don't need to ... in that case you had an uprising. I would say bluntly, because I find it fascinating that Obama is intrigued with Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, but doesn't quite notice Cuba." He promised to use "all the tools that Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Prime Minister [Margaret] Thatcher used to break the Soviet Empire."
Romney was similarly aggressive, saying, "I want to be the American president that is proud to be able to say that I was president at the time that we brought freedom back to the people of Cuba.... If I'm fortunate to become the next president of the United States it is my expectation that Fidel Castro will finally be taken off this planet." (In a bizarre exchange on Monday, the two candidates sparred over whether Fidel Castro would "meet his maker" or go to hell after he dies.)
Rick Santorum said the Obama administration's move to ease travel restriction on Cuba send "the exact wrong message at the exact wrong time" at Thursday's night's debate. Only Ron Paul criticized the decades-old embargo on Cuba, saying the country is no longer a threat to U.S. security.
Fidel Castro himself weighed in on the contest this week, writing in his regular newspaper column, "The selection of a Republican candidate for the presidency of this globalized and expansive empire is -- and I mean this seriously -- the greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance that has ever been."
State of the Union
As expected, Tuesday night's State of the Union address was something of kickoff for Barack Obama's reelection campaign. The president made frequent reference to the successful killing of Osama bin Laden and the U.S. drawdown in Iraq. He made the case for his Iran policy, saying the regime is "more isolated than ever" and vowed to take no option off the table for preventing Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. He also reiterated his "iron-clad commitment" to Israel's security and announced the creation of a new Trade Enforcement Unit to investigate unfair trade practices from countries like China.
Much of the speech seemed aimed at refuting the notion that he has embraced the reality of a diminished role for the United States in world affairs. "Anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn't know what they're talking about," he said to a standing ovation.
The Obama administration's recent decision to deny a permit for the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada is emerging as a major campaign issue. Rebutting charges that he is beholden to environmentalists, the president announced this week that his administration is opening up "around 38 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for additional exploration and development."
Nonetheless, the GOP candidates are seizing on Keystone, with Gingrich attacking the decision as "totally, utterly irrational," Santorum arguing that it is "absolutely essential that we have as much domestic supply of oil, that we build the Keystone pipeline," and Romney saying the president's calls for energy independence are meaningless without increased domestic supplies like Keystone.
Of all this week's political developments, the best remembered may be Newt Gingrich's space policy speech, which was aimed at workers in Florida's struggling space corridor, but received widespread mockery in the media. "By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon, and it will be American," Gingrich said, saying the facility could be used for science, commercial purposes, and tourism -- setting the stage for an eventual mission to Mars. Gingrich made no apologies for his "grandiose" vision, comparing it to President John F. Kennedy's 1961 pledge to put a man on the moon.
What to watch for
It's Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, Paul, in that order, in polls ahead of Tuesday's Florida primary, then only four days until caucuses in Nevada and Maine. Paul has been campaigning in Maine, hoping to capitalize on his support among more libertarian, less socially conservative New England voters.
TV viewers can safely turn back to developments on American Idol for the next few weeks, as there's only one debate scheduled for all of February. That could be bad news for Gingrich if he comes up short in Florida.
The latest from FP
FP had all your AstroNewt news covered. Charles Homans looked at why the Republican establishment is dismissive of space policy, Joshua Keating asked if there's anything actually worth mining on the moon, and Uri Friedman investigated whether anyone has ever actually had sex in space.
Josh Rogin reported on the president's unlikely new neoconservative foreign-policy muse.
Scott Clement discussed which foreign-policy issues are most likely to have an impact in the general election.
Rosa Brooks argued that Obama needs a grand strategy.
FP bloggers from across the political spectrum dissected the State of the Union.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
I have a new piece up on the early days of Newt Gingrich's foreign policy as speaker of the House. In the process of reading some of the early coverage of Gingrich's tenure, I came across this kicker from a 1995 New York Times article which didn't quite fit my piece but is pretty amusing with the benefit of hindsight:
Still, the Gingrich revolution has spawned clones who have suggested that Mr. Gingrich's Contract with America be replicated elsewhere. In a front-page article in the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero several days ago, Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's billionaire former Prime Minister, proposed a Contract With the Italians.
But Mr. Berlusconi's enthusiastic endorsement of the Gingrich philosophy may not be worth much. His tenure as Prime Minister lasted only seven months.
Of course, Berlusconi would go on to serve a second term as prime minister from 2001 to 2006 and a third one from 2008 to 2011.
In fact, Berlusconi may be the only politician in the world with more political lives than Gingrich and a greater ability to bounce back stronger than ever from ethical and sexual scandals.
PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images
It's tough to change your political identity halfway through a campaign. Jon Huntsman will likely continue to be tagged as the "moderate" in the race, no matter how conservative his political record actually is. But the former Utah governor has seemed to be tacking to the right in recent days as he's started to get a bit of buzz in New Hampshire.
Take, for instance, this recent interview with RedState in which Huntsman reaffirms his anti-tax and anti-abortion credentials. Interestingly, the second subject involves his time as ambassador to China. He also made this somewhat grandiose claim:
Q. What, if anything, and let me break this up into two questions. What, if anything should be done by the United States to encourage China to change its "one child" policy?
A. Well, uh, I probably did more than anybody. Uh, because my daughter Gracie was known by 1.3 billion people in China. Everybody heard her story. They knew that we had adopted her and given her life. Uh, they knew that she got to seek a great educational opportunity - a young, pretty, brilliant girl who was, I mean, it was all the time in China. I dare to say that our one act of adopting a girl, as United States Ambassador to China, in many minds - and this would be impossible to quantify - but I tell you, may have had more of an impact in that country, one thing, than all the speeches combined of U.S. government officials over the years.
Q. Okay. One thing that many people may not know is that India, where your other daughter was adopted from, certain parts of India are contemplating adopting a two child policy. What if anything can or should the United States do about that?
A. Well, I would just offer the same thing, and that is highlighting the beauty and the value of life. And there's nothing more powerful than leading by example. And when you can lead by example by showing the kind of life that these little girls live when they are allowed into this world, I think that's a very powerful manifestation all by itself.
I'm not quite sure I buy that all 1.3 billion of China's citizens were aware of the U.S. ambassador's daughter or that the mere fact of her existence did "more than anybody" to change Chinese minds on this issue, but this does seem like a smart issue to talk about. Social conservatives in the U.S. have strong objections to the one-child policy, but it's not exactly like moderates are ethusiastic about it.
Huntsman's promise to reinstate the Mexico City Policy, which prohibits funding to international organizations that provide abortions, might be a little more controversial in the unlikely event he makes it past the primary.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Michele Bachmann is taking some flack for this Bill O'Reilly interview in which she raises no objections to the notion of "dragging [illegal immigrants] out, putting them on a bus with their children’s crying," but she also makes one whopper of a factual error:
BACHMANN: Can I tell you why this is such a big problem?
O'REILLY: No we know why it's a problem.
BACHMANN: No let me tell you why. There was a column that came out this weekend by Mark Steyn, he said 50 percent of the population of Mexico has now gone north of the border, 50 percent of the population.
Andrew Burton/Getty Images
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