Perry and Huntsman bow out
The Republican field continued to narrow this week with two once-promising candidates dropping out before this Saturday's pivotal South Carolina primary. Jon Huntsman, the former U.S. ambassador to China whose campaign touted his foreign policy credentials but never connected with primary voters, ended his run on Monday. He immediately endorsed Mitt Romney, while attacking the state of the rhetoric in the GOP primary. "At its core, the Republican Party is a party of ideas, but the current toxic form of our political discourse does not help our cause," he said.
On Thursday, Rick Perry also bowed out and endorsed Newt Gingrich on a surreal news day on the campaign trail that also saw the final debate in South Carolina. The morning started with news that Rick Santorum may actually have won the Iowa primary by 34 votes, and later that day ABC aired an interview with Gingrich's ex-wife in which she claimed the former House Speaker had asked for an "open marriage."
Perry's departure followed another lackluster debate performance on Tuesday during which he claimed that Turkey's government was run by "what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists" -- prompting an angry response from Ankara -- and seemed to defend the U.S. Marines caught on video urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters.
The Gingrich surge
Allegations about his personal life notwithstanding, Gingrich continues to rise -- with recent polls showing him in a virtual tie with Romney in South Carolina. A Pew Poll taken last week showed Gingrich as the candidate Republican voters trust most to handle foreign policy at 33 percent, compared to Romney's 25 percent. Unfortunately for the Gingrich insurgency, an overwhelming majority of the same voters (58 percent) think Romney has the best chance of beating President Barack Obama. On the campaign trail this week, Gingrich described himself as "the only candidate in this race who understands the scale of change necessary to get this country working again."
Romney's offshore accounts
Already fending off questions about his vast personal wealth, Romney is facing additional scrutiny this week thanks to reports that he has as much as $8 million invested in funds listed in the Cayman Islands. Though Romney does still pay U.S. taxes on his income from these funds, the Cayman address offers some benefits over domestically registration, such as higher management fees and greater foreign interest -- benefits that cost the U.S. federal government billions of dollars per year.
At the CNN debate on Thursday night, Romney was booed after saying he would probably wait to release his full tax returns in April if he's the presumptive nominee since "Every time we release things drip by drip, the Democrats go out with another array of attacks."
Romney refused to say if he would release his tax returns for previous years, as his father did when running for president in 1968. "I'm not going to apologize for being successful," he said.
Paul draws jeers for "golden rule"
Ron Paul's foreign policy views continue to polarize. In Tuesday's debate, Paul was asked about his opposition to the killing of Osama bin Laden, and drew boos from the crowd by saying, "maybe we ought to consider a golden rule in foreign policy. Don't do to other nations what we don't want to have them do to us."
The Pew Poll showed only 10 percent of Republican voters thought Paul was the most trustworthy candidate on foreign policy -- though he still edged out Perry and Santorum.
President Obama sat down this week with Time's Fareed Zakaria for a wide-ranging interview on foreign policy, covering Iran, Afghanistan, the planned "pivot" to Asia, and the economy. The president defended his foreign-policy record, saying, "I made a commitment to change the trajectory of American foreign policy in a way that would end the war in Iraq, refocus on defeating our primary enemy, al-Qaeda, strengthen our alliances and our leadership in multilateral fora and restore American leadership in the world. And I think we have accomplished those principal goals."
What to watch for
South Carolina heads to the polls on Saturday with the latest RealClearPolitics poll average showing Gingrich at 32.5 percent and Romney at 31.5 percent. If he endures another weak finish in South Carolina, pressure may mount on Santorum to drop out of the race. (RCP has him in fourth place behind Paul.) Gingrich suggested on Tuesday that from the stand point of the conservative movement, consolidating into a Gingrich candidacy would in fact virtually guarantee a victory on Saturday."
The unexpected wild card in the race is comedian Stephen Colbert, who held a real-world rally with former candidate Herman Cain on Friday. Colbert's super-pac is encouraging South Carolina voters to cast a vote for Cain, though the pizza magnate was careful to assure voters, "I will not be assuming Stephen Colbert's identity. We are very different when it comes to the color of our - hair."
From South Carolina, the candidates will move on to Florida, a key battleground state, where Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog is predicting a 93 percent chance of a Romney win when voters head to the polls on Jan. 31.
The latest from FP:
Joshua Keating looks back at the foreign-policy lowlights of the Perry campaign.
Scott Clement suggests Iran could be a major liability for the president.
Uri Friedman looks at Paul's inadvertent tribute to Millard Fillmore.
David Rothkopf asks whether foreign-policy subtlety is even possible in today's media environment.
Peter Feaver thinks Zakaria missed an opportunity to probe more deeply into Obama foreign policy.
Josh Rogin looks at Obama's chummiest world leaders -- as suggested by the Time interview -- and what they say about him.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
On the campaign trail, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain consistently distills his foreign policy philosophy to "peace through strength and clarity," a twist on Ronald Reagan's "peace through strength" mantra. But he raised doubts about his grasp of international affairs last week when he expanded on that stump speech line off the cuff.
First, in an exchange that went viral online, Cain bungled his response to a question about President Obama's Libya intervention (Cain called it a "thoughtful pause"). Then he was quoted as saying, "I'm not supposed to know anything about foreign policy" (Cain claimed he said "everything," not "anything"). And then he suggested that the Taliban might be part of Libya's new government - an assertion critics condemned as unfounded (a Cain spokesman pointed out that one of Libya's new military leaders fought with the Afghan Taliban).
Now, it seems, the campaign is turning to the more dependable written word to try and break this sound bite-media tempest-campaign clarification cycle. In a column published late yesterday on Cain's site, the candidate summarizes his approach to foreign policy. "Peace through strength and clarity means there is no doubt about where we stand, for what we stand and with whom we stand," he explains. As an example, he cites President Obama's decision to sign the New START treaty with Russia:
Not only did that treaty commit America to arms reductions that the Russians would not necessarily have to match, but it permitted them to maintain a sizable advantage in tactical nuclear weapons, while ignoring programs and ambitions of other nations like Iran, North Korea, China and Pakistan. But more to the point, we simply don't need to be signing treaties like this with unfriendly countries.
Cain suggests that Obama has spurned allies such as Israel and Great Britain while naively extending an olive branch to American opponents such as Iran and Venezuela. He compares his foreign policy views to those of Obama's predecessor:
I agree with former President George W. Bush that the United States should promote free democratic movements throughout the world, and that it is in our strategic interests to do so. That does not mean we try to "impose democracy at the barrel of a gun," as some of Bush's rather disingenuous critics claimed he was doing. It means we support these movements where the opportunity presents itself (as President Obama should have in Iran and Syria) or when strategic necessity compels us (as I believe President Bush correctly did in Iraq in 2003). And you don't always have to use force.
Cain also rejects claims that his stumbles last week render him unfit to be America's commander-in-chief and that he flaunts his lack of foreign policy experience:
I think it's clear by now that I am not going to score the best of all the candidates on media pop quizzes about the details of current international events. Some have claimed that I take some sort of perverse satisfaction in not knowing all these details. That is not true. I want to know as much as I can. But a leader leads by gathering all the information available in a given situation, and making the best decision at the time based on that information, and in accordance with sound principles. As president, I would not be required to make decisions on the spur of the moment based on a question from a reporter. I would make them the way I made them as a CEO -- based on careful consideration of all the facts and the best advice of the best people.
Might there be a "it's 3 am and Herman Cain is still deciding" attack ad in the offing?
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Herman Cain's evident confusion in response to a complete softball on Libya from the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel may be even more painful to watch than Rick Perry's recent debate gaffe:
Here's Adam Serwer's summary:
"President Obama supported the uprising correct? President Obama called for the removal of Gaddafi? Just want to make sure we're talking about the same thing before I say yes, I did agree or no, I didn't agree." Cain then added, "I do not agree with the way he handled it for the following reasons...Nope that's a different one...Got all this stuff twirling around in my head..." Finally Cain asks for a more detailed question. "Specifically what are you asking me did I disagree or not agree with Obama?"
As I've said, I could care less whether a candidate can rattle off the names of world leaders. But if a question that basically boils down to, "Libya, what do you think about that?" throws you for a loop, that's a problem.
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