When Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he'd vote for Barack Obama if he could, you knew it was only a matter of time until the president's opponents used the unwelcome endorsement against him. First there was the ad released by Gary Bauer's Campaign for American Values PAC on the "dictator vote" that Obama had secured from Chavez, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Now, as the Miami Herald reports, the Romney campaign itself has released a Spanish-language ad on Spanish-language TV in Florida that shows Chavez and Raul Castro's niece Mariela expressing support for Obama, and even tries to tie the president to Che Guevara by noting that the Environmental Protection Agency sent out an Hispanic Heritage Month email containing a picture with a mural of the Marxist revolutionary in the background. The Obama campaign has responded by emphasizing the administration's efforts to expand trade with Latin America and criticizing Romney for "giving Chavez the attention he thrives on and that he doesn't deserve."
Romney approved the message, but he isn't promoting the ad on his YouTube channel and the Miami Herald says the campaign has refused repeated requests to furnish the ad to the paper. Why? Perhaps because the spot stoops pretty low in sending out subliminal messages about Obama being a closet socialist. Poor email judgment on the part of the EPA does not make Obama a Marxist revolutionary, and superimposing Obama's face on a famous Che poster -- and then showing the poster again, this time with Che's face -- probably won't convince voters otherwise.
The ad also doesn't mention that Fidel Castro has said a robot would be a better president than Obama, or that Chavez once called the president a "clown" after Obama criticized Venezuela's ties to Cuba and Iran. During the 2008 election, Obama's aides had to tamp down controversy after a flag with an image of Che Guevara was spotted at a volunteer office unaffiliated with the campaign. Are we really doing this again?
As Election Day nears, the Romney campaign is busy publicizing the newspaper endorsements that the former governor is racking up. But the Republican candidate also received support from two unlikely figures on Thursday -- rock legend Meat Loaf and New York City icon the Naked Cowboy. And just like Clint Eastwood, who lectured Invisible Obama about counterterrorism and the war in Afghanistan, both cited foreign policy as a reason why they decided to endorse Mitt Romney.
During an appearance with Romney at a rally in Ohio last night, Meat Loaf, who rose to prominence during the Cold War, issued a full-throated defense of Romney's aggressive positions on Russia, adopting storm language that fit with the song he performed, "Stand in the Storm." (The song notes that "this world is tough as a splinter" and urges people to grow a "backbone" -- lyrics that fit nicely with Romney's pledge to show "more backbone" to Russian President Vladimir Putin.) Here's what Meat Loaf told the crowd, per the New York Times:
There has storm clouds come over the United States. There is thunderstorms over Europe. There are hailstorms, and I mean major hailstorms, in the Middle East. There are storms brewing through China, through Asia, through everywhere, and there's only one man that on the other night when President Barack Obama, God bless him, said to Mitt Romney, ‘The Cold War is over.' I have never heard such a thing in my life. The man needs to understand Putin and Russia, so I want you to know that there is one man who will stand tall in this country and fight the storm and bring the United States back to what it should be ... Gov. Mitt Romney!
Also on Thursday, the Naked Cowboy, a fixture in Times Square, told a CBS affiliate in New York that he had already voted for Romney by absentee ballot in the critical swing state of Ohio. And he explained why, echoing the pitch he made when considering a presidential run back in 2010 and backing Romney's bullish position on defense spending:
I believe in a small, decentralized, fiscally responsible federal government. I believe in an economy with free market principals, and I believe in the strongest national defense on earth. And those are the antithesis of all three things Obama is doing.
With endorsements like these, who needs Colin Powell?
Just over a month ago, I wrote a post with the headline, "Dems haven't had this much national-security swagger since LBJ." At the time, the Democrats were concluding their convention and President Obama was enjoying rare and resounding double-digit leads over his Republican challenger on foreign policy, national security, and counterterrorism. That was before the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Obama's lackluster performance in the first debate, and Mitt Romney's sustained post-debate bounce.
Fast-forward several weeks, and Romney appears to have made dramatic strides on foreign policy and national security. The wording of questions and types of respondents vary in the national polls below, so what follows is not an apples-to-apples analysis (sadly, there's no daily tracking poll for foreign policy). The most recent polls also don't reflect Obama's stronger outing in his second debate. But the general trend should be clear:
The Pew poll released this week also shows Obama losing some support for his response to the Libya attack, Obama and Romney running neck-and-neck on dealing with Iran's nuclear program, and Romney leading Obama by nine points on handling China's trade policies.
As I mentioned before, it's important to emphasize that these polls do not capture Obama's performance in the second debate. But when CNN polled Americans who watched this week's town hall and asked them which candidate would do a better job handling foreign policy, Obama emerged with a mere 49-47 advantage over Romney.
Obama clearly still has the overall edge on foreign policy. But his dominance appears to be waning -- just in time for a debate on foreign policy next week.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
With the U.S. presidential election now closer than ever, the press is brimming with speculation about whether Barack Obama, after turning in a lackluster performance in the first debate, can reverse Mitt Romney's momentum during his second outing tonight. And not just the U.S. media. News outlets from India to Israel are busy dissecting Obama's setback, Romney's comeback, and what the new state of play in the race means for their countries. Here's a snapshot of some of the most colorful coverage in recent days:
The British press has at times been rather brutal in assessing the shifting dynamics in the presidential race (sample Daily Mail headline this week: "Preparing for a new job already? Obama delivers pizzas to campaign workers as he gets ready for make-or-break TV debate at golf resort"). But commentators have also speculated about what a Romney win would mean for Britain. Over at the Telegraph, Tim Stanley argues that David Cameron and his Conservative Party have expressed their preference for Obama too openly. "By airing these views in public the Tories have gambled too much on Obama winning the election," he maintains. "And if he doesn't, then they'll have a President on their hands who they have routinely insulted. That can't be good for the Atlantic alliance." (Stanley, for the record, thinks tonight's debate will end in a draw or Romney win.)
Meanwhile, Sir Christopher Meyer, a former British ambassador to the United States, writes in the London Evening Standard that an Obama victory would be best for Britain:
Romney could turn out to be an excellent foreign policy president, yet right now, his foreign policy team is split between neo-con hawks and those of a more pragmatic, "realist" world view, similar to our own. We don't know which faction will come out on top. In the circumstances, we're better off with the devil we know - and that's Obama.
The state-run news agency Xinhua has a warning today for the presidential candidates: "[I]t would be both politically shortsighted and detrimental to China-US relations if they turned the town-hall-style meeting into a China-bashing competition" (the news outlet appears to be confusing tonight's debate with the third and final debate on foreign policy, which will touch on topics such as "the rise of China and tomorrow's world"). Sure, both candidates' tough talk on China may be nothing more than campaign bluster, Xinhua observes. But "these chameleonic politicians should not always expect that the wounds they have inflicted to the China-US ties would heal automatically" once they assume office.
In an article on the possibility that India could be dealing with several new world leaders in a matter of months, the Times of India marvels that "from being a candidate who could barely control his own Republican Party, Mitt Romney has surged forward to be a surprisingly competent debater and a more than credible opponent." Still, the paper adds, the outcome of the U.S. election may not have a major impact on bilateral relations. "The Indo-US relationship has now become institutionalized and isn't actually dependent on a president," the article notes.
In a debate preview at the Hindustan Times, the U.S.-based journalist Rashmee Roshan Lall argues that Romney is unlikely to endear himself to India or the world during Tuesday night's event. True, she notes, the "New Delhi punditocracy has always thought Republican presidents suit India much better than Democratic ones." But Romney doesn't mention India on the campaign trail and wants to "reinstate the US as globocop, albeit with a makeover that borrows heavily from some of the darker manifestations of Lord Voldemort." She concludes with a question: "Is it better to be steamrollered or simply ignored or might the best option for India and everyone else be four more years of Obama?"
As the U.S. race has tightened -- "The presidential race has begun anew," one Israel Hayom headline proclaims -- the editorial boards at Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post have published explanations for why they'll be remaining neutral during the election. Haaretz notes, in rather vivid language, that "Romney would stick with Israel's prime minister and they would become flesh of one flesh" but adds that the substantive differences between the candidates are minor. Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev, meanwhile, muses about the various leadership permutations that could result from elections in Israel and the United States.
As for the upcoming debate, Israel Hayom's Abraham Ben-Avi thinks it is "Obama's last window of opportunity to rehabilitate his status as a leader" while Haaretz's Adar Primor argues that the world will still favor Obama over Romney even if the candidates sharpen the distinctions between them on foreign policy tonight. "Those [around the world] who have shaken off their Obama fixation have done so largely because in certain areas of policy he is seen as having adopted the Republican agenda," Primor writes.
Russia's RT didn't buy the widespread verdict that Romney trounced Obama in the first debate, noting that the "tepid" forum had shown the candidates to be "two sides of the same coin." But Romney's post-debate bounce has spurred the Russian press to give the GOP candidate a closer look. News outlets covered Romney's Russia comments during his recent foreign-policy address in Virginia but cautioned against reading too much into the aggressive rhetoric (the state-run Voice of Russia did note that "a serious politician should avoid making that kind of remarks with respect to another leading country"). One Russian lawmaker, meanwhile, accused Romney of embracing George W. Bush's failed policies and presiding over the "last convulsion of the American-style world."
In the most creative commentary, the Voice of Russia compares the debates to chess matches and quotes the chess player Vladislav Tkachev:
"Very often the real moves, such as the candidate's plan of actions and package of reforms, remain in the background and the psychological factor comes to the fore. Suffice it to look at the footage of the confrontation between Karpov and Kasparov to see that the duel of the eyes, a springy step and an overall aggressive look were of paramount importance. It is common knowledge how difficult it is to give the right answer when exposed to the rival's glare. The response of the audience can also either pep one up or completely demoralize. Barack Obama with downcast eyes did not look his best this time, side by side with his opponent who radiated confidence."
However, there are more debates ahead and the results could change. After all, Obama is leading in public opinion polls. The main thing for him now is to get rid of the image of a serious, thoughtful and humane but not very determined leader because this is the wrong style for the time of change. However, chess practice shows that the style of playing games cannot change overnight.
The German press has adopted the Mitt-mentum narrative -- as U.S.-based journalist Gregor Peter Schmitz wrote in Der Spiegel, Joe Biden's vice presidential debate performance "almost single-handedly revived the Obama campaign, which was in danger of being put on life support after the president's disastrous debate performance in Denver." But news outlets have also pointed out that the race would look very different if it were held in Germany (or many other European countries, for that matter), where more than eight in ten people would support the Democrats. "Obama has assured victory -- among Germans," a headline in Die Welt declares (an article in Berliner Morgenpost suggests that Obama's overwhelming popularity in the country helps explain why Romney didn't visit Germany during his overseas trip this summer).
The Pakistani press has covered the narrowing race. "Even the New York Times, which favours Mr Obama, concedes that Mr Romney has continued to surge since the debate," an article in Dawn observes. But in an op-ed for the same newspaper, Muhammad Ali Siddiqi argues that the weeks since the first debate have shown Obama to be the true victor. "Mr Obama was consistent, without flamboyance, and stood his ground" while "Mr Romney played to the gallery," Siddiqi notes. He adds that "Mr Romney would like to conduct his foreign policy in Cold War fashion" but admits that, contrary to the impression in Pakistan, foreign policy has "taken a back seat in the campaign."
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
In conjunction with Mitt Romney's foreign-policy address address in Virginia this week, in which he vowed to prevent Iran from "acquiring nuclear weapons capability," the Romney campaign has updated the Iran section of its website to reflect that pledge:
Here's what the section looked like late last month, when I wrote about Romney's shifting "red line" for Iran's nuclear program. Notice the language below is virtually identical to the wording above, save for the references to capability:
It's not surprising that the campaign would update its site to reflect a revised or refined policy. But the change does challenge the explanation Romney's foreign-policy advisors gave in September when the Republican candidate told ABC's George Stephanopoulos (twice) that he had the same red line as Obama -- Iran "may not have a nuclear weapon" -- even though his surrogates had said the candidate wouldn't tolerate Iran obtaining the capability to develop a nuclear weapon, a lower bar for preemptive military action.
At the time, Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul told the New York Times that Romney had not meant to suggest in the ABC interview that his red line was the same as Obama's. She pointed to the candidate's remark that Iran shouldn't have the "capacity to terrorize the world" and argued that Stephanopoulos had mischaracterized Romney's position. "Gov. Romney's red line is Iran having a nuclear weapons capacity," Saul maintained.
Yes, the Iran debate involves extremely subtle linguistic distinctions. But it seems more likely that, amid Benjamin Netanyahu's calls for the United States to articulate red lines, Romney has decided in the election's final weeks to clearly distinguish his position from the president's, and to adopt the Israeli prime minister's more aggressive stance. As he told CNN on Tuesday, "My own test is that Iran should not have the capability of producing a nuclear weapon. I think that's the same test that Benjamin Netanyahu would also apply."
Mitt Romney often gets dinged for putting very little meat on the bones of his foreign policy, and Monday was no exception -- one of the dominant themes of his critics is that his big Virginia Military Institute address offered very few spefic clues as to what he'd do differently than Barack Obama.
But so what? Putting aside the moral question of whether American voters have a right to know what they're buying, why should Romney offer any specifics that the Obama campaign will just attack anyway? It makes sense for him to be vague now so that he can maximize his flexibility while in office -- and avoid damaging intraparty smackdowns on foreign policy while's he's trying to win an election. I doubt in any case that voters would punish him for not offering the sorts of wonkish, nuanced positions on Laotian trade tariffs and the frozen Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that Washington foreign-policy hands tend to demand.
That said, Romney has offered more specifics than many of his critics will let on. He's promising to see that the Syrian rebels get their hands on weapons they can use to take out Bashar al-Assad's planes and helicopters. He's vowing to stop Iran from having the capability to develop nuclear weapons, vice Obama's promise to stop Iran from weaponizing. He's not going to re-invade Iraq. And he's more or less conceded that Obama's 2014 withdrawal date in Afghanistan is appropriate.
These are actually fairly significant matters of war and peace we're talking about here, and Romney has been just about as forthcoming as any nominee would be in his position.
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.
Plenty of folks have already pored over Republican nominee Mitt Romney's major address on foreign policy today, pointing out their disagreement and factual gripes, but here's one you probably won't hear too much about: his suggestion that he'd have better luck than his predecessors in persuading European countries to cough up more dough for their militaries.
Here's what Romney said:
I will call on our NATO allies to keep the greatest military alliance in history strong by honoring their commitment to each devote 2 percent of their GDP to security spending. Today, only 3 of the 28 NATO nations meet this benchmark.
If you believe that, then I have a bridge in Bruges to sell you!
Of course, Romney's got a point here -- the Kantian Europeans have been free-riding on American military strength for decades. But the problem is getting urgent now, with contractors now warning that critical supply chains are at risk of collapse.
And as then Defense Secretary Bob Gates all but screamed from the rooftops in a much-discussed 2011 speech, the Libyan war exposed just how little European countries are able to contribute to the common defense these days. As Gates put it, “Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can’t .... The military capabilities simply aren’t there."
Ouch! But seriously: Does anyone think Romney can pull this off? American presidents have been begging Europe to bolster its defenses for years, going back to Dwight Eisenhower, whose secretary of state threatened in 1953 to carry out an "agonizing reappraisal" of U.S. commitments if the Europeans didn't get their acts together.
In the middle of a never-ending economic crisis -- at a time when the likes of Britain, Greece, Italy, and Spain are implementing what you might call European-style austerity programs -- is Europe really going to cough up a few more percentage points of GDP on Mitt's say so?
Perhaps the best we can hope for in the short term is that European countries get smarter about collaborating and promoting "selective excellence" as each country specializes in what it does best. But until Europeans' economic situation turns around -- and their perception of threats changes -- no amount of American hectoring is going to make an impact.
Mitt Romney may not have unveiled many new policy proposals in his foreign-policy address on Monday, but he did roll out a number of sound bites, including "hope is not a strategy." And one line in particular sounded quite familiar:
There is a longing for American leadership in the Middle East-and it is not unique to that region. It is broadly felt by America's friends and allies in other parts of the world as well- in Europe, where Putin's Russia casts a long shadow over young democracies, and where our oldest allies have been told we are "pivoting" away from them ... in Asia and across the Pacific, where China's recent assertiveness is sending chills through the region ... and here in our own hemisphere, where our neighbors in Latin America want to resist the failed ideology of Hugo Chavez and the Castro brothers and deepen ties with the United States on trade, energy, and security. But in all of these places, just as in the Middle East, the question is asked: "Where does America stand?"
In her well-received Republican convention speech, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made the question "Where does America stand?" a central theme of her remarks:
And we have seen once again that the desire for freedom is universal - as men and women in the Middle East demand it. Yet, the promise of the Arab Spring is engulfed in uncertainty; internal strife and hostile neighbors are challenging the fragile democracy in Iraq; dictators in Iran and Syria butcher their own people and threaten the security of the region; China and Russia prevent a response; and all wonder, "Where does America stand?"
Indeed that is the question of the moment- "Where does America stand?" When our friends and our foes, alike, do not know the answer to that question - clearly and unambiguously - the world is a chaotic and dangerous place. The U.S. has since the end of World War II had an answer - we stand for free peoples and free markets, we are willing to support and defend them - we will sustain a balance of power that favors freedom.
Romney continued to echo Rice in his subsequent statements, acknowledging that Americans have a touch of leadership fatigue but warning that America's enemies would eagerly fill the void if the United States leads "from behind" or fails to lead at all:
I know many Americans are asking a different question: "Why us?" I know many Americans are asking whether our country today-with our ailing economy, and our massive debt, and after 11 years at war-is still capable of leading.
I believe that if America does not lead, others will-others who do not share our interests and our values-and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us. America's security and the cause of freedom cannot afford four more years like the last four years. I am running for President because I believe the leader of the free world has a duty, to our citizens, and to our friends everywhere, to use America's great influence-wisely, with solemnity and without false pride, but also firmly and actively-to shape events in ways that secure our interests, further our values, prevent conflict, and make the world better-not perfect, but better.
And I know too that there is weariness - a sense that we have carried these burdens long enough. But if we are not inspired to lead again, one of two things will happen - no one will lead and that will foster chaos -- or others who do not share our values will fill the vacuum. My fellow Americans, we do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead - and one cannot lead from behind.
I've noted before that Rice's record differs sharply from Romney's campaign rhetoric on issues such as foreign aid, U.S.-Russian relations, North Korea's nuclear program, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But when it comes to a sweeping, high-level critique of the Obama administration's foreign policy, Romney apparently believes that Rice got it just right.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
As my colleague Dan Drezner notes today, excerpts released ahead of Mitt Romney's big foreign-policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute this morning suggest that the Republican candidate isn't going to be rolling out much new policy content in his address. The problem, Drezner adds, is that Romney's rhetoric on international affairs has been pretty opaque so far:
If one pushes past the overheated rhetoric, then you discover that Romney wants a lot of the same ends as Barack Obama -- a stable, peaceful and free Middle East, for example. But that's not shocking -- any major party president will want the same ends. The differenes are in the means through which a president will achieve those ends. And -- in op-ed after op-ed, in speech after speech -- Romney either elides the means altogether, mentions means that the Obama administration is already using, or just says the word "resolve" a lot. That's insufficient.
But if Romney's foreign-policy views have been incoherent, the Obama campaign's criticisms of Romney's positions have been no less perplexing. Simply put, team Obama can't seem to decide whether the president's challenger is the second coming of Barack Obama or George W. Bush -- or a different beast entirely: a blundering buffoon or possibly an inveterate flip-flipper.
These contradictions are on full display in a memo that Obama foreign-policy advisors Michèle Flournoy and Colin Kahl sent out in advance of Romney's speech.
First, Flournoy and Kahl paint Romney as the second coming of George W. Bush (but worse and outside the "mainstream"):
Mitt Romney has, throughout this campaign, raised more questions than answers about what he'd actually do as President. He supported the Iraq war and said that removing all of our troops from Iraq was "tragic," he called Russia - not al-Qaeda - our "number one geopolitical foe," and he said that he wouldn't have set a timeline to end the war in Afghanistan. Those aren't policies, those are misguided talking points - and the American people deserve more from someone running to be commander-in-chief.
Today's latest effort to reboot and reset the Romney foreign policy doesn't change the fact that he's repeatedly taken positions outside of the mainstream and often to the right of even George W. Bush. This isn't surprising. After all, Romney is advised by the same people who were responsible for some of the worst foreign policy failures in American history, including the Iraq War. And now he wants to take us back to the same with-us-or-against-us approach that got us into wars without getting us out of them.
Then as the second coming of Barack Obama:
For example, Governor Romney still can't say what he'd do differently on Iran other than taking us to war. He continues to criticize the President's timeline in Afghanistan even while saying he'd pursue it as President. His position on Libya has no credibility since he's been both for and against our Libya policy. And he offers no way forward on Syria other than suggesting that the United States should get more deeply involved in the conflict without defining a strategy.
And then as an inveterate flip-flopper. (In a statement on Sunday, Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith noted that Romney has "erratically shifted positions on every major foreign policy issue, including intervening in Libya, which he was against before he was for.")
The bar is high for Governor Romney during his speech today. After six previous chances, it is up to him to finally clear it. Because while the American people can trust Barack Obama's strong record of winding down wars and decimating al-Qaeda, Mitt Romney has repeatedly shown that he has no idea what he'd actually do as commander-in-chief. In today's complicated world, that's just not good enough.
In a new ad today attacking Romney for his gaffe-filled overseas tour this summer and response to the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, the Obama campaign promotes the fourth persona: the blundering buffoon. "If this is how he handles the world now, just think what Mitt Romney would do as president," the narrator declares. (As Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Sunday, "This is the same guy who, when he went overseas on his trip, the only person who has offended Europe more is probably Chevy Chase.")
So on one side of this campaign, we have a president who has made America lead like America again. What is there on the other side? An extreme and expedient candidate, who lacks the judgment and vision so vital in the Oval Office. The most inexperienced foreign policy twosome to run for president and vice president in decades.
It isn't fair to say Mitt Romney doesn't have a position on Afghanistan. He has every position. He was against setting a date for withdrawal-then he said it was right-and then he left the impression that maybe it was wrong to leave this soon. He said it was "tragic" to leave Iraq, and then he said it was fine. He said we should've intervened in Libya sooner. Then he ran down a hallway to duck reporters' questions. Then he said the intervention was too aggressive. Then he said the world was a "better place" because the intervention succeeded. Talk about being for it before you were against it!
Mr. Romney-here's a little advice: Before you debate Barack Obama on foreign policy, you better finish the debate with yourself!
"President Mitt Romney"-three hypothetical words that mystified and alienated our allies this summer. For Mitt Romney, an overseas trip is what you call it when you trip all over yourself overseas. It wasn't a goodwill mission-it was a blooper reel.
But a Romney-Ryan foreign policy would be anything but funny. Every president of both parties for 60 years has worked for nuclear arms control-but not Mitt Romney. Republican secretaries of state from Kissinger to Baker, Powell to Rice, President Bush, and 71 United States senators all supported President Obama's New Start treaty. But not Mitt Romney. He's even blurted out the preposterous notion that Russia is our "number one geopolitical foe." Folks: Sarah Palin said she could see Russia from Alaska; Mitt Romney talks like he's only seen Russia by watching Rocky IV.
Mitt Romney is an inexperienced flip-flopper who is comically inept on the world stage. But in all seriousness, folks, he's dangerous.
Mitt Romney stunned Barack Obama in their debate last week, in part by ditching the persona of a movement conservative -- vowing not to reduce taxes for the rich, to protect education funding, highlighting his willingness to work across the aisle, and so on. It was a deft move, one that clearly has caught off balance an Obama campaign that was counting on running against the unpopular agenda of Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan. As New York Times columnist David Brooks put it, "Moderate Mitt" -- the successful businessman and technocratic governor of Massachusetts -- has returned.
On Monday, Romney is due to give a speech on foreign policy at the Virginia Military Institute. Can he do the same?
I have my doubts. For one thing, making a pivot to the center on foreign policy would entail embracing Obama's position even tighter than Romney already has. If you strip aside the bluster, Romney's foreign policy looks much like Obama's. Why give a big speech if you're just going to explain that you more or less agree with the other guy? Nuance doesn't sell in an election year.
Second, the Obama administration's stumbles on Benghazi offer a pretty tempting target, and it's clear that Romney will try to hit the president hard on Libya. Never mind that Romney's been all over the yard on the Libyan war, or that the kinds of austerity budgets he and his running mate favor imply deep cuts in diplomatic security -- the death of an ambassador is evidently too good an opportunity to pass up. Mitt Romney has probably never thought about Libya a day in his life -- but he'll be all over it tomorrow.
Finally, what issues could he reasonably pivot on? Would he say that he'd try to work with Russia on smoothing the U.S. path out of Afghanistan? That he'd take military force off the table in dealing with Iran and vow not to entangle the United States in Syria's civil war? That he'd push hard for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and seek to de-escalate tensions with China?
It's hard to imagine any of those things happening -- which is why I expect Romney's big speech will be more of the same: America good, strength good, military very good, Obama very bad.
Update: Spaniards woke up today to the news that Mitt Romney had decided to single out their country for fiscal irresponsibility, and many are not happy. María Dolores de Cospedal, the secretary-general of the ruling People's Party, told the radio service RNE that "Spain is not on fire through and through as some on the outside would have us believe," noting that Romney's remarks "upset me deeply" and that Spain "has also been a model for economic recovery." She conceded that "our image has been damaged and regaining confidence is very difficult" but added that Spain "is in the eye of the hurricane" for a reason -- "there are many people who have a lot of interest in the euro not being stable and there are some who believe that the easiest thing to do is to attack Spain." (Cospedal was also responding to a recent New York Times article on widespread poverty in the country.)
Other Spanish leaders have lashed out at Romney as well. José Manuel García-Margallo, the minister of foreign affairs and cooperation, said it was "very unfortunate" that Romney had made "tenuous analogies" without "understanding the reality of countries" like Spain. Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, the justice minister, didn't catch the debate but pledged to "correct misperceptions" about Spain.
Beyond the official responses, the Spanish press is chewing over Romney's comments as well. Headlines include "The Prescription for Spain's Bad Image Is Self-Esteem" and "Romney Didn't Speak the Truth About Spain." Spain is "in bad shape," blogger Martí Saballs admitted at La Expansión, but "to make it an example of a country that the United States shouldn't imitate strikes me as an extraordinary frivolity."
Original post: It may be early morning in Spain right now, but news outlets in the country quickly seized on Mitt Romney's warning during the presidential debate on Wednesday night that if the United States didn't get its fiscal house in order, it could end up like Spain, which is currently grappling with sky high unemployment and steep borrowing costs, and may soon receive a European bailout.
"Spain spends 42 percent of their total economy on government," Romney noted, veering away from the European cautionary tale he most often trots out on the campaign trail: Greece. "We're now spending 42 percent of our economy on government. I don't want to go down the path to Spain." Here's the clip, via Slate:
Within minutes of Romney's remark, Spain's major news outlets lit up with the news. Here's El Pais, with the headline, "Romney: 'I don't want us to go down the path of Spain.'"
And El Mundo, with the banner, "Mitt Romney: 'I don't want to follow the path of Spain.'"
And ABC, with the headline, "Romney: 'Spain spends 42 percent of its economy on government. I don't want to be like Spain.'"
Romney didn't specify his source for the statistics, but he may have gotten his numbers from the Index of Economic Freedom, which the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, publishes each year in partnership with the Wall Street Journal. According to the 2012 Index, America's government expenditure as a percentage of GDP is 42 percent and Spain's is 46 percent (Greece's is 53 percent, which perhaps explains why Romney landed on an ailing European country whose situation was more in line with America's). It's important to keep in mind that government expenditure data in the Index includes federal, state, and local spending.
What are people in Spain making of Romney's remarks? The commentary won't surface until tomorrow, but El Mundo hosted a colorful live blog that included several opinions from its journalists (some of whom are reporting from the States). "Publicizing how well things are going for us," Felipe Sahagún observed drily. "If only for this, it would be better for us to stick with Obama. At least he doesn't stick his finger in our eye."
"Romney has a special obsession with Europe," Eduardo Suárez noted, adding that the GOP candidate has cited Spain before. "He often cites it as an example of everything the United States shouldn't be." Another reporter pointed to IMF statistics on U.S. and Spanish government spending under the heading, "electoral lies."
One commenter on the site had a more pessimistic view. After complaining about the Spanish government's taxes, the reader added, "Well of course you don't want the path of Spain. Who would?"
CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP/Getty Images
In their effort to court undecided voters in industrial swing states like Ohio, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been going to great lengths to demonstrate their toughness on China, hurling attack ad after attack ad at one another.
Romney has pledged to label China a currency manipulator on his first day in office and promised to balance the budget by asking whether each federal program is so important that it's worth borrowing money from China to finance it. Obama, availing himself of the power that comes with already being in office, announced a World Trade Organization complaint against China during a campaign stop in Ohio. Cracking down on China's unfair trade practices is a loaded issue -- encompassing jobs, the economy, U.S. foreign policy, and American power -- and it may very well come up during tonight's presidential debate.
So who's making the better case? A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted between Sept. 26-30, indicates that the advantage goes to Romney. When asked who would do a better job "dealing with the economic challenges we face from China," 45 percent of registered voters selected Romney while 37 percent selected Obama (the poll also shows Romney slashing Obama's foreign-policy edge by more than half, from 47-32 in July to 46-40). The NBC/WSJ survey hasn't asked the China question before, but a Bloomberg poll of likely voters, conducted between Sept. 21-24, showed Obama and Romney tied at 43 percent when it came to who would do the best job of "dealing with China on trade" (50 percent of respondents in that survey were skeptical of Romney's pledge to designate China as a currency manipulator). If Romney has indeed opened up a lead on Obama on China, that would be a significant development.
Still, there are some caveats to these numbers. Democratic pollster Fred Yang pointed out on MSNBC today that Republicans in past elections have enjoyed even greater advantages on China. And while Romney has narrowed the gap with Obama in swing states such as Florida and Virginia, he's still far behind the president in Ohio -- a state where the Republican candidate's message on China should have particular resonance (indeed, a recent Zogby poll commissioned, fittingly, by Death by China Productions found that likely voters in Ohio trust Romney more than Obama to crack down on unfair Chinese trade practices). If Romney is in fact winning the China argument, it's not yet clear that the achievement will translate into electoral success.
Even so, Obama would probably like to have that eight-point lead on China. After all, all he got for his tough line on Beijing is a lousy (if legally shaky) lawsuit.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Mitt Romney's gaffe-filled overseas tour this summer served up lots of comedic fodder for Democrats. Senator John Kerry noted that for Romney, "an overseas trip is what you call it when you trip all over yourself overseas." Referencing the Republican candidate's criticism of London Olympics organizers during his visit to the United Kingdom, President Obama observed that "you might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally." Now, it seems, Ed Miliband, Britain's Labour Party leader, is getting in on the action. In an address to a party conference this week, Miliband reflected on his meeting with Romney in London:
You may have noticed that doing this job you get called some names, some of the nice, some of them not so nice. Let me tell you my favorite; it was when Mitt Romney came to Britain and called me ‘Mr Leader.' I don't know about you but I think it has a certain ring to it myself, it's sort of half-way to North Korea. Mitt, thanks a lot for that.
Here's a clip of Romney calling Miliband 'Mr. Leader' back in July (Miliband stays straight-faced):
The joke fell pretty flat, apparently. The Independent reports that it "did not work, partly because he rushed the timing" (the Guardian actually timed the length of applause -- a paltry three seconds). I imagine Romney wouldn't appreciate it either.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Stalled budget negotiations and Benjamin Netanyahu's extension of the timeline for striking Iran's nuclear facilities have the Israeli press speculating that the Israeli prime minister will call early elections in February or March (they're currently scheduled for October 2013). But in a report today, the Israeli financial paper Globes suggested another reason why Netanyahu might want to hold elections as soon as possible:
The likely reelection of US President Barack Obama is also part of Netanyahu's calculations. Netanyahu's aides fear revenge by Obama against Netanyahu for supporting the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, throughout the campaign.
As my colleague Josh Keating pointed out yesterday, the Israeli leader hasn't explicitly endorsed either candidate in the U.S. presidential election. But many political observers in Israel and the United States have pointed out that Netanyahu and Romney are like-minded friends who even have many donors in common, and argued that Netanyahu's actions -- hosting Romney in Israel, demanding that Obama set red lines for Iran's nuclear program, chatting by phone with both Romney and Obama during a recent visit to New York -- amount to an implicit endorsement of the GOP candidate (or, at the very least, an unstated preference).
Globes isn't alone in raising the possibility that Obama, if reelected, could make Netanyahu pay a price for his perceived meddling in the race. As the president has pulled away from Romney in the polls, the idea has gained traction in the Israeli press. Haaretz columnist Anshel Pfeffer, for instance, recently argued that Netanyahu's behavior could torpedo the prime minister's reelection bid:
Surveys show that Israelis are more concerned over losing their strategic alliance with the United States than they fear an Iranian nuclear bomb. Though very few serious observers believe there is much prospect of U.S.-Israeli ties being seriously downgraded during the administration of whichever candidate wins in November, there are certainly grounds to believe that the Obama-Netanyahu relationship will become even more acrimonious, should both leaders be reelected as polls indicate is likely. They have both been so bad at papering over their differences in public that there is little hope for any improvement once Obama enters his second term, unencumbered by electoral considerations....
If ... Obama secures another four years in the Oval Office, then no matter how he treats Netanyahu and Israel over the next few months, Bibi's opponents and media critics will ceaselessly remind voters how the prime minister allowed himself to be openly aligned with the president's rival. Will that harm Netanyahu's reelection bid? It depends on how deep the mistrust between him and Obama will seem and what other issues are on the agenda, but opposition politicians are already routinely blaming him for jeopardizing Israel's most crucial relationship. For now, not one of his challengers is seen as a credible prime minister, and the electoral mathematics still favor a right-wing-religious coalition, but a full-blown crisis with the administration may yet prove the most significant threat to the chances of a third Netanyahu victory. If Obama wins in November, Netanyahu may very well regret his decision four months ago not to hold early elections in 2011.
In another Haaretz op-ed on Friday, Don Futterman, the Israel program director for the Moriah Fund, made a similar point:
Netanyahu and [casino magnate Sheldon Adelson] may have been able to buy Republican support for their pet positions: that Iran must be attacked and settlements allowed to flourish. They forgot to consider the possibility that Obama might be reelected. At this moment, it seems Netanyahu may have bet on the wrong horse, but why was the leader of the Jewish state betting on horses at all?...
The Iranian threat should never have become a partisan issue in U.S. election politics. If only our prime minister could have looked after Israel's interest with dispassionate concern instead of trying to play kingmaker. Due to the damage he has done to Israel's relationship with the U.S. administration and the personal animus he has demonstrated toward one of the most supportive American presidents Israel has ever known, Netanyahu's legacy may prove more apocalyptic than messianic. His failure could be epic and historic.
And here's former Knesset employee Susan Hattis Rolef in the Jerusalem Post a week earlier:
It is not difficult to guess that irrespective of the result of the US presidential election, but certainly in the case of an Obama victory which today seems more than likely, Netanyahu's [appearance on the Sunday talk shows] will further distance liberal American Jewry from Israel, emotionally, culturally and financially.
Israel-US relations are already in need of some serious repair, and let us just hope that we are not in a situation of "all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again."
In the wake of Netanyahu's visit to the U.N. General Assembly in New York last week, the White House and the prime minister's office have emphasized their common ground when it comes to dealing with Iran, the biggest thorn in the side of U.S.-Israeli relations. But while we may all be focused on Nov. 6, some in Israel are still preoccupied by the question of what happens the day after.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
I think we can add Hugo Chavez to the list of Obama endorsements that Ohioans won't be seeing in the president's campaign ads:
"If I were American, I'd vote for Obama," Chavez said in a televised interview that aired Sunday.
The Venezuelan leader called Obama "a good guy" and said if the U.S. president were a Venezuelan, "I think ... he'd vote for Chavez."
Not surprisingly, Romney supporters are gleefully publicizing the endorsement.
No other leaders have have been quite as blatant in picking a candidate in the U.S. election. After all, they're going to have to deal with whoever gets elected and generally duck the question when asked. (See Hamid Karzai's diplomatic answer to Wolf Blitzer: " It's for the American people to decide their president. I like them both and have worked well with both.") But a number of other leaders have dropped some hints about who they'd rather see in the White House in November.
Probably leaning Obama:
Francois Hollande: The French president was not exactly subtle when asked about the U.S. election in New York last week. "I'm careful to say nothing because you can imagine if a Socialist were to support one of the two candidates that might be to his detriment," he said. He then quipped: : “So I suppose I should endorse Mitt Romney. But I won’t.”
Hollande may be a socialist, but Obama fandom seems to cut accross party lines in France. Nicolas Sarkozy set a precedent for this sort of thing, when he essentially endorsed Obama in 2008. He also said of Obama's mideast peace efforts in March, "President Obama, who is a very great president, won't take the initiative before he's re-elected -- and I hope he will be."
David Cameron: Conservatives on either side of the pond hoping for Thatcher-Reagan II if Romney is elected might be disappointed. From all the signals we've gotten, Cameron seems to be an Obama man. Visiting the United States in March, Cameron praised the president for his “strength, moral authority, and wisdom" as well as his "strong and beautiful words." The British tabloids had a field day over Cameron's "fawning" after taking in a basketball game with the president and U.S. conservatives complained about Camerons"unprecedented" Republican leaders while in Washington. Then came the GOP candidate's visit to London and the series of gaffes that came to be known as "Romneyshambles." Cameron, not surprisingly, differed with Romney's doubts about whether Britain could successfully come together to "celebrate the Olympic moment," saying, "We'll show the world we've not only come together as a United Kingdom but are extremely good at welcoming people from across the world." (London mayor Boris Johnson was a lot more blunt.)
Vladimir Putin: Putin was the only foreign leader mentioned by name in Romney's convention speech, so it makes sense that he takes the U.S. race a bit personally. The Russian president suggested in an interview with the satellite network RT that Obama would probably be easier to work with than the candidate who has described his country as America's "number one gepolitical foe." “Is it possible to find a solution to the problem, if current President Obama is re-elected for a second term? Theoretically, yes,”Putin said. He continued: "My feeling is that he is a very honest man, and that he sincerely wants to make many good changes. But can he do it? Will they let him do it?”
He has also paid a backhanded compliment to Romney: “I’m grateful to him for formulating his stance so clearly because he has once again proven the correctness of our approach to missile defense problems... The most important thing for us is that even if he doesn’t win now, he or a person with similar views may come to power in four years. We must take that into consideration while dealing with security issues for a long perspective.”
Probably leaning Romney:
Benjamin Netanyahu: Romney has made his support for Netanyahu, whom he has known since the 1970s, a centerpiece of his campaign. Anonymous sources close to Netanyahu say would prefer to see Romney in the White House. As Romney notes in his now infamous hidden camera fundraising speech, some of his campaign consultants also worked for Netanyahu and the two share a number of major donors as well. All the same, Netanyahu has denied that his recent comments asserting that Obama has no "moral right" to prevent Israel from attacking Iran were not meant to undermind the adminsitration. "What's guiding me is not the election in the United States but the centrifuges in Iran,"he recently told an Israeli newspaper. This hasn't really satisfied his American critics.
Donald Tusk/Lech Walesa: As recently as 2011, despite past disagreements over issues like the planned missile defense system in Poland, Tusk told Obama “We feel that you are one of us” during a visit to Poland. But this May, Tusk responded with rare vitriol to a reference made by the president to "Polish death camps" -- as opposed to Nazi death camps located in Poland -- during a White House ceremony. Tusk said the remarks smacked of " ignorance, lack of knowledge, bad intentions" and rejected the White House's explanation that the president has simply "misspoke." Tusk met with Romney during the GOP candidate's trip to Poland in July but hasn't said anything that can be construed as an endorsement of either side.
Former Polish President and anticommunist icon Lech Walesa was not so subtle, telling Romney, “I wish you to be successful because this success is needed to the United States, of course, but to Europe and the rest of the world, too." Walesa had refused to meet with Obama in 2011. Romney has made confronting Russia a centerpiece of his foreign policy and has accused Obama of abandoning Poland in the name of the "reset" with the Kremlin. Though feelings toward the U.S. haven't really changed much in Poland in recent years.
Fidel Castro:Back in 2008, Castro called Obama "more intelligent, refined, and even-handed" than John McCain. But this time around, he has argued that a robot would do a better job preventing "a war that would end the life of our species". (Jokes about his personality aside, Castro's no fan of Mitt Romney. He says Republicans have "more nuclear arms on their backs than ideas for peace in their heads.") Really, he just seems excited about the robot idea, writing, "I'm sure 90 percent of voting Americans, especially Hispanics, blacks, and the growing number of impoverished middle class, would vote for the robot."
Am I missing any endorsements or near endorsements? Write them in the comments.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
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.
Friday ushered in a surreal new chapter in the duel between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney over how to approach relations with Israel and Iran's nuclear program, as both candidates hopped on phone calls with Benjamin Netanyahu a day after the Israeli prime minister delivered a fiery U.N. address on red lines for Iran in New York.
During Obama's conversation with Netanyahu (see photo above), the White House announced, "the two leaders underscored that they are in full agreement on the shared goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon." Romney told reporters that while he and the Israeli leader spoke about red lines in a subsequent chat, they did not delve into the "kind of detail" that "would define precisely where that red line would be."
The bizarre episode raises the question: Is it normal for presidential candidates to insert themselves into global events by dialing up heads of state? In fact, Obama did pretty much the same thing -- multiple times, no less -- as a candidate during the 2008 campaign.
Obama, like Romney, embarked on a foreign trip as a candidate, meeting face-to-face with leaders such as Afghan President Hamid Karzai, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (headline: "Obama Talks Tough About Iran During Visit to Israel"). But he also placed several phone calls.
In January 2008, for example, Obama reached out to the two leaders at the center of a bitterly disputed election in Kenya, his father's homeland. "What I urged was that all the leaders there, regardless of their position on the election, tell their supporters to stand down," Obama explained at the time. The Bush-era State Department, which coordinated the calls with Obama, praised the effort. "Any time you have a person of stature ... who is pushing for a peaceful, political resolution, that's a positive thing," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
Then, after hostilities erupted between Georgia and Russia in August 2008, both Obama and Republican challenger John McCain phoned Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, while condemning Russia for violating Georgia's sovereignty. In fact, the candidates called Saakashvili so frequently -- the Georgian leader said he heard from them "pretty often" -- that it became a bit of a contest; when pressed by Fox News, Saakashvili conceded that McCain had called first but that Obama was "very supportive." In September, the prime minister requested a call with Obama to thank him for mentioning Georgia in his convention speech.
The campaign-trail diplomacy didn't stop at phone calls. McCain sent two of his allies in the Senate -- Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) -- to Georgia at the height of the conflict, while Joe Biden, then a leading contender to be Obama's running mate, made the trip himself.
Perhaps that's the lesson: We'll know this is getting out of hand when Romney dispatches campaign surrogates to Jerusalem.
The White House
Earlier this month, when Mitt Romney swiftly denounced President Obama's handling of the attacks on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya as news of the deadly Benghazi assault was still developing, the Republican challenger was showered with criticism from both sides of the aisle.
"Sometimes when really bad things happen, when hot things happen, cool words or no words is the way to go," conservative columnist Peggy Noonan argued. A Pew poll released last week found that 45 percent of respondents who followed news about the attacks approved of Obama's handling of the crisis, while only 26 percent supported Romney's condemnation of the president's actions.
In a provocative column today, the Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer argues that Romney should issue a sweeping indictment of Obama's foreign policy in light of the president's response to the violence in Libya, especially as the administration shifts its position on whether the incident constituted a terrorist attack.
Earlier this week, Romney briefly criticized Obama for referring to the Mideast unrest as "bumps in the road" and for not classifying the Libya assault as a terrorist attack. But when it comes to foreign policy critiques, Romney has spent much more time this week on pending defense cuts and unfair Chinese trade practices. Conservative pundits and the Republican National Committee (and now even some Democrats) have been far more relentless in hammering Obama on Libya.
Here's Krauthammer on Romney's missed opportunity on Libya:
Here was a chance to make the straightforward case about where Obama's feckless approach to the region's tyrants has brought us, connecting the dots of the disparate attacks as a natural response of the more virulent Islamist elements to a once-hegemonic power in retreat. Instead, Romney did two things:
He issued a two-sentence critique of the initial statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on the day the mob attacked. The critique was not only correct but vindicated when the State Department disavowed the embassy statement. However, because the critique was not framed within a larger argument about the misdirection of U.S. Middle East policy, it could be - and was - characterized as a partisan attack on the nation's leader at a moment of national crisis.
Two weeks later at the Clinton Global Initiative, Romney did make a foreign-policy address. Here was his opportunity. What did he highlight? Reforming foreign aid.
Yes, reforming foreign aid! A worthy topic for a chin-pulling joint luncheon of the League of Women Voters and the Council on Foreign Relations. But as the core of a challenger's major foreign-policy address amid a Lehman-like collapse of the Obama Doctrine?
I'm not sure I agree with Krauthammer's critique of Romney's foreign aid speech; the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) wasn't exactly the right forum to proclaim the spectacular failure of the Obama doctrine. Obama, after all, devoted his CGI address not to championing his counterterrorism record or celebrating his commitment to ending America's wars but rather to discussing human trafficking.
But I also wonder whether Krauthammer's larger assessment is accurate. Is Romney's decision not to seize on the mounting controversy over the Libya attack a strategic blunder -- a sign that Mitt has a self-destructive preference for small ball? Or has the GOP candidate heeded Noonan's advice and concluded that silence is the best policy as the administration contends with a gathering storm of criticism?
A Fox News poll released on Friday shows that 39 percent of registered voters approve of the Obama administration's handling of the situation in Libya -- down from 48 percent in a Fox News survey in August. That's a trend the Romney campaign may not want to meddle with.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
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
The foreign-policy results of the new Bloomberg National Poll haven't gotten much attention yet, but the survey contains some bad news for the Obama campaign. According to the poll, Mitt Romney has a 48-42 advantage over Barack Obama on the question of which candidate would be tougher on terrorism. Romney, in other words, has encroached on one of Obama's signature strengths.
What makes this result so surprising is that the president has consistently trounced Romney when it comes to counterterrorism. A Fox News poll earlier this month found that 49 percent of respondents trusted Obama to do a better job than Romney in protecting the United States from terrorist attacks, compared with 41 percent who put their faith in the Republican candidate. The president had a 51-40 advantage on handling terrorism in an ABC News/Washington Post poll around the same time, and a 50-35 edge on carrying out the war on terror in an Ipsos/Reuters poll in August. The Democrats' rare national-security muscle was on full display at their convention, where speakers boasted about the administration's successful raid against Osama bin Laden and targeted killings of al Qaeda leaders.
The Bloomberg poll contains other grim findings for Obama -- such as declining approval of the president's diplomacy and a neck-and-neck battle between Obama and Romney on flashpoint campaign issues such as energy independence, Chinese trade practices, relations with Israel, and Iran's nuclear program (61 percent of respondents were skeptical about Obama's pledge to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon). There are also bright spots for the president, like healthy skepticism about Romney's promise to designate China a currency manipulator and Obama's continued advantage over Romney on the question of which candidate would be better suited to handle a Mideast crisis.
Significantly, Bloomberg's survey, which was conducted from Sept. 21-24, is one of the first polls to come out since the wave of anti-American protests in the Middle East. The key question: Is Romney's terrorism advantage an anomaly, or a sign that Obama is more vulnerable on national security after the unrest in the Middle East and the administration's shifting account of the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi?
Given that a separate poll this weeks shows Obama besting Romney on national security among likely voters in swing states, it may be too early to answer that question.
David Calvert/Getty Images
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
In his 60 Minutes interview on Sunday night, Mitt Romney offered an interesting response to Scott Pelley's question about what sacrifices he would ask the American people to make in his effort to balance the budget. He argued that those sacrifices would depend on the extent to which he is willing to go hat in hand to China, the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt.
I'm going to look at every federal program and I'll ask this question, "Is this so -- program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?" And if it doesn't pass that test, I'm going to eliminate the program because we just can't afford to keep spending more money than we take in. This is, this is something which is not just bad economics. I think it's immoral.
Romney didn't specify exactly how he'd determine whether a federal program passes the China sniff test, but the line, which the Republican candidate hasn't used much yet on the campaign trail, is attractive for several reasons. For one thing, it draws a straight line between two top issues for Republicans: the swelling national debt and a perceived loss of America's geopolitical power. As Paul Ryan declared during a PowerPoint presentation on the debt over the weekend, "We are now relying on other governments to basically cash-flow our government. And when you rely on other countries to lend you their money to run your country, you lose your sovereignty."
The line also plays into Romney's larger argument that Obama has been weak on China and failed to stop Beijing from "cheating" by manipulating its currency and engaging in unfair trade practices -- an argument the campaign hopes will play well in swing states like Ohio, which depends on the auto industry (during a campaign stop in Ohio last week, Obama announced a WTO complaint against China over its subsidies for exports of cars and auto parts).
In the latest installment of the Obama-Romney ad wars on China, the Romney campaign released an ad today accusing China of "stealing American ideas and technology" and Obama of failing to take action against Beijing (Obama has filed several trade cases against China, though he's never labeled the country a currency manipulator) -- just as Romney and Ryan begin a bus tour in Ohio (the Obama campaign retorted that Romney's 2011 tax returns included Chinese investments).
Given that Romney has repeatedly called the Chinese cheaters and pledged to label Beijing a currency manipulator on his first day in office, I'm getting the sense that federal programs would have to have a whole lot going for them to pass Romney's litmus test for balancing the budget.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Foreign policy assumed a more prominent role in the election in September, fueled by the emphasis on national security at the Democratic convention, the attacks on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya, and the tensions between Israel and the United States over Iran's nuclear program. And the campaigns and their support groups have taken notice, injecting international affairs -- or, more accurately, a selective and often misleading reading of international affairs -- into the political ads now blanketing America's airwaves.
In early September, for example, the Koch brothers-supported Americans for Prosperity released an ad starring a Canadian woman named Shona Holmes, who told the story of how she'd sought treatment for a life-threatening brain condition in the United States to avoid long waits under Canada's government-run health care system. The message: Oust Obama and repeal health-care reform so that the United States doesn't become Canada. Holmes even held a press conference in Charlotte during the Democratic convention.
CBS criticized the ad when it was released, noting that the "U.S. law is insurance-based and runs through the private market, while Canada's is a public system largely run and administered by the government." Bloomberg, meanwhile, pointed out that back in 2009, when Holmes appeared in another Americans for Prosperity ad campaign, a Canadian neurosurgeon had accused Holmes of exaggerating the gravity of her condition (back in Canada, Holmes confronted death threats and a Facebook campaign to deport her).
When the Democrats caused an uproar at the convention by not affirming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in their platform -- and then hastily added the language during a messy floor vote -- the right-wing Emergency Committee for Israel, which had run ads slamming Obama's position on Jerusalem before, pounced. The spot below includes footage of the embarrassing vote on the Jerusalem amendment (with the voice votes of delegates who supported the amendment conveniently edited out), before a narrator asks, "Is this still your Democratic Party? Or Obama's?"
So far, the Romney campaign hasn't released an ad attacking Obama over the U.S. mission attacks, but it did release a spot shortly after the incidents denouncing the president for failing seven times to stop China's "cheating" (code for labeling China a currency manipulator) and losing half a million manufacturing jobs -- all while China secured a competitive advantage in manufacturing.
PolitiFact pointed out that the United States has actually created half a million manufacturing jobs since 2010, though that hasn't been enough to replace the decline that occurred during Obama's first months in office. And it noted that while Obama hasn't labeled China a currency manipulator, it has filed seven complaints over China's trade practices with the World Trade Organization. The Washington Post added that the bar graphs the ad uses to illustrate China's new manufacturing edge are "totally out of proportion."
The Obama campaign quickly responded with an ad accusing Romney of investing in companies that shipped jobs overseas and investing part of his personal fortune in China. "Romney's never stood up to China," the narrator says. "All he's done is send them our jobs." PolitiFact confirmed that Romney did have some Chinese investments (indeed, BuzzFeed reported today that Romney's blind trust sold shares in a Chinese video company in June), but the Washington Post added that "there is no evidence that Romney, through Bain investments in which he had an active role, was responsible for shipping American jobs to China."
This week, the conservative group Let Freedom Ring released an ad criticizing Obama for supporting a bill as a senator to restrict U.S. military aid to countries that use child soldiers, only to waive the restrictions as president. "Why aren't you standing up for these children?" the narrator asks.
The statistics, quotes, and assertions in the ad generally check out. In October 2010, Obama granted waivers to Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Yemen because, as the Christian Science Monitor put it at the time, these countries were considered "key national security interests." Obama took a similar action the following year.
Let Freedom Ring released another ad this week denouncing Obama for inviting Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood to the White House and sending Cairo $1.5 billion in foreign aid, when the Brotherhood wants to "conquer" Israel, "undermine" the United States, and renew ties with Iran. The ad doesn't mention the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, but Let Freedom Ring President Colin Hanna made sure the subtext was clear. "After our embassies were stormed, President Obama's administration offered apologies while the Muslim Brotherhood stood by as we were attacked," he told US News & World Report on Thursday.
The ad is highly misleading. It begins by showing a fiery speaker pledging to establish a capital in Jerusalem at what the narrator describes as a "Muslim Brotherhood rally for their new Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy." But the spot doesn't mention that the speaker is the Egyptian cleric Safwat Higazi, not Morsy. To support the claim that the new Egyptian leader wants to revive relations with Tehran, the ad cites a Reuters report on an interview with an Iranian news agency that Morsy denies giving. The narrator makes the contentious claim that Iran is "building nuclear weapons" and cites a line from a 1991 memeorandum for the Brotherhood's North American wing to prove that the group's "top leaders" are interested in "taking over America."
Most recently, the group Secure America Now released an ad featuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent warnings about the progress Iran has made on its nuclear program and the need for the international community to move beyond diplomacy and sanctions to stop it. "The world needs American strength," the ad declares. "Not apologies."
What the ad fails to mention is that Netanyahu was not involved in making the spot and that the Israeli prime minister has avoided expressing support for either candidate in the U.S. election. On Friday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Netanyahu had passed along a message to Obama that he is not trying to interfere in the race. That won't stop groups like Secure America Now from invoking his words to prove their point, of course.
Let Freedom Ring/YouTube
As my colleague Josh Rogin reports, Mitt Romney changed his tune about what he considers a "red line" for Iran's nuclear program in a conference call with American rabbis on Thursday, arguing that "it is unacceptable for Iran to have the capability of building a nuclear weapon." That echoed foreign-policy advisor Dan Senor's warning on CBS this morning about "Iran developing a nuclear weapons capability."
Tellingly, however, Romney's campaign website, while not mentioning red lines specifically, still states that "Mitt Romney believes that it is unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon" -- the red line the Republican candidate articulated in an interview with ABC just last week (and the red line the Obama administration has staked out, without calling it a red line). There's no mention of nuclear weapons capability.
The campaign, in other words, appears to be in the process of shifting gears, having made a calculation that it needs to do a better job of differentiating Romney's policy on Iran's nuclear program -- which the candidate has cast as the most important foreign-policy issue in the campaign -- from Obama's. This week's move: lowering the bar for a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities to Iran's capacity to build and deliver a bomb.
If the campaign is interested in a sharp contrast, however, it has a ways to go. In Thursday's conference call, Romney said he didn't want to get into "great detail" about where precisely he would draw red lines when it came to the development of Iran's nuclear program (to Romney's credit, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dodged this question too). In his CBS appearance, Senor sidestepped questions about the first thing a President Romney would do about Iran before finally saying the candidate would grant fewer waivers to financial institutions around the world on sanctions.
"We do not advocate military action against Iran, it should be the option of last resort," Senor said, before adding that "what the administration has done is broadcast to the mullahs in Tehran that the military option is the absolute one thing America doesn't want anybody to do." Given that Obama has said he will also take no options -- including military force -- off the table, it's still unclear how Obama and Romney materially differ on this issue.
When Romney has been pressed for specifics on Iran in recent interviews with NBC and ABC and in Thursday's conference call, he's repeatedly referenced a speech he gave in Israel in 2007, in which he called for economic sanctions ("at least as severe as the sanctions we imposed on Apartheid South Africa"), diplomatic isolation (including an indictment of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for genocide), more cooperation from Arab states, a threat of military force against Iran, and a NATO-led effort to support moderates in the Muslim world. But as the 2012 election enters its final weeks, Romney will likely be pressured to do more than refer people interested in details to a talk he gave more than five years ago.
When Charlie Rose asked Senor on CBS this morning what the "single biggest difference" between Obama and Romney was on foreign policy, Senor responded, "The biggest crisis facing the United States from a security standpoint is Iran developing a nuclear weapons capability." Note that he sidestepped the question about differences. The Romney campaign, it seems, is still ironing those out.
ALEX KOLOMOISKY/AFP/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
As tensions mount between Israel and the United States over setting "red lines" for Iran's nuclear program, Mitt Romney made a notable admission to ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Thursday: His red line is the same as Obama's. "My red line is Iran may not have a nuclear weapon," Romney explained. "It is inappropriate for them to have the capacity to terrorize the world." When Stephanopoulos asked twice whether Romney's red line squares with Obama's (the president's stated policy is to "prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon"), the Republican candidate replied in the affirmative each time.
What's odd is that while Romney did vaguely mention Iran's "capacity to terrorize the world," he didn't suggest that he would draw a line at Iran obtaining the capability to develop a nuclear weapon -- a lower bar for a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities (one Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu favors and the Obama administration has not yet committed to). Romney alluded to that lower threshold during a visit to Jerusalem over the summer, telling Netanyahu that "as we face the challenges of an Iran seeking nuclear capability, we must draw upon our interests and our values to take them on a different course."
But, crucially, Romney hasn't gone as far as his surrogates have in drawing a red line at nuclear capability. Romney advisor Dan Senor, for example, previewed the candidate's Jerusalem remarks by saying "it is not enough just to stop Iran from developing a nuclear program" since "the capability, even if that capability is short of weaponization, is a pathway to weaponization." In an interview with the New York Times this week, advisor Eliot Cohen said Romney "would not be content with an Iran one screwdriver's turn away from a nuclear weapon" but did not specify the point at which the development of Iran's nuclear capability -- a highly technical process that may already be quite far along depending on how you define the slippery term -- would be unacceptable.
The ABC interview didn't offer many other insights into how Romney's Iran policy would differ from Obama's. Romney advocated for "crippling sanctions" -- a track the Obama administration has pursued aggressively. He said "Iran as a nuclear nation is unacceptable to the United States of America" -- echoing Obama's assertion that "when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say." He explained that the United States must make clear that it will "take any action necessary to prevent ... Iran becoming nuclear"; Obama has said that "when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table."
Indeed, Romney's sharpest criticisms of Obama's Iran policy in the ABC interview and in a recent NBC sit-down have centered upon the president's outreach to Iran's leaders and silence during pro-democracy protests in Iran in 2009 -- critiques that relate to the first half of Obama's term, before the administration adopted a more aggressive posture toward Tehran as engagement floundered.
What's particularly striking about Romney's failure so far to clearly differentiate his Iran policy from Obama's is that the Republican candidate recently argued that the president's greatest foreign-policy mistake is not doing enough to halt Iran's nuclear program. "Iran is closer to having a weapon, closer to having nuclear capability than when he took office," Romney told NBC's David Gregory last week.
Romney, in other words, appears to be suggesting that Obama cost the United States precious time in initially pursuing engagement with Iran, and that a President Romney will largely stick to Obama's recalibrated approach (tough sanctions mixed with diplomacy) -- but with a threat of force that Tehran will, for reasons that have yet to be specified, take more seriously. It's a subtle distinction for an issue that Romney has characterized as Obama's biggest blunder.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Yesterday I noted that the Chinese press had yet to respond to Mitt Romney's accusation on the campaign trail and in a new ad that Beijing is cheating by manipulating its currency. Today Xinhua, China's state-run news agency, picked up the gauntlet in a stinging English-language editorial:
[I]t is rather ironic that a considerable portion of this China-battering politician's wealth was actually obtained by doing business with Chinese companies before he entered politics.
Such blaming-China-on-everything remarks are as false as they are foolish, for it has never been a myth that pushing up the value of China's currency would be of little use to boost the chronically slack job market of the world's sole superpower, not to mention to magically turn the poor US economic performance around....
If these mud-slinging tactics were to become US government policies, a trade war would be very likely to break out between the world's top two economies, which would be catastrophic enough to both sides and the already groaning global economy.
For generations, China-bashing has been a cancer in US electoral politics, seriously plaguing the relations between the two countries.
Chinese news outlets have issued searing rebukes of Romney's rhetoric several times before in this election. What's more interesting is the sparring that ensued between Obama and Romney campaign staffers once Xinhua published the editorial.
In tweeting a Reuters article on the op-ed this morning, Stephanie Cutter, Obama's deputy campaign manager, wrote, "Must read: China's Xinhua slams Romney for making his money off Chinese companies before running for pres." That prompted a swift response on Twitter from Romney spokesman Ryan Williams. "Team Obama promoting 'news' from Chinese propaganda agency," he wrote.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has since joined the debate, tweeting that it's "offensive that the Obama campaign would use the Chinese propaganda paper Xinhua to promote their campaign" and that the "Obama campaign's actions show they won't stand up to cheaters/protect US jobs."
"What's offensive," Cutter shot back, "is that Mitt thinks voters will believe he'll be tough on China -he's personally profiting of China as we speak."
How long before we see a new ad attacking Obama for outsourcing his PR to China?
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.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
A day after denouncing President Obama for his handling of attacks on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya, Mitt Romney appears to be changing the subject. During a campaign stop in Virginia on Thursday, the Republican candidate veered away from the controversial critique, focusing on foreign-policy issues such as China instead.
Accusing Beijing of decimating American manufacturing by undervaluing its currency, Romney declared that he'll "call [the Chinese] on the carpet" if they continue to "cheat." Obama "had the chance year after year to label China a currency manipulator, but he hasn't done so," Romney added. "And I will label China the currency manipulator they are on the first day."
The Romney campaign complemented the speech with a new ad accusing Obama of "failing to stop cheating" by ceding manufacturing ground to China (the Obama campaign quickly shot off a press release pointing to manufacturing job growth since 2010 and the administration's seven trade complaints against China). At one point in the spot, Romney passionately tells a small audience on a factory floor that "it's time to stand up to the cheaters."
All of this makes me wonder: How are the Chinese, who are gearing up for their own leadership transition this fall, responding to all this cheating talk?
It turns out they don't care very much. And when they do, they don't see as much of a difference between the two candidates as you might think. After all, as a candidate in 2008 Obama bashed Beijing for manipulating its currency and accused George W. Bush of being a "patsy" in his trade negotiations with China. As Bloomberg's Adam Minter recently put it in an entertaining look at Chinese impressions of the U.S. election, Romney is "boiled cabbage next to Obama's boiled chicken."
China-bashing, many Chinese news outlets argue, has simply become par for the course in U.S. elections. Romney may be trying to "curry favor with hard right-wing elements in the Republican Party" with his proposals on China, a recent op-ed in the state-run China Daily noted, but the Chinese people, "have become inured to such campaign talk from American politicians. Since the end of the Cold War, both Democratic and Republican politicians have cited former US policies toward China in attempts to rake up unsavory parts of each other's pasts." The campaign rhetoric is "just meant to win votes and would prove disastrous if pursued," the writer adds.
An editorial late last month in the state-run Global Times -- entitled, "U.S. election pick barely matters for China" -- is even more dismissive and aggressive:
[Romney] has attracted less attention from the Chinese public than previous candidates. In the recent few days, Chinese media has focused on a fleeing official and the inappropriate behavior of a security supervisor at the site of a traffic accident.
To China, the US matters less than before. Even though the majority of Chinese think the US intends to contain China and are worried about potential confrontation between the two sides, but the worry hasn't generated much apprehension.
Chinese increasingly believe the biggest challenge for the country comes from within. Washington cannot easily threaten us. Any move of the US against China will be responded to accordingly.
So far, I'm not seeing much coverage of Romney's new ad in the Chinese press. Then again, I suppose that's not surprising.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.