Perry and Huntsman bow out
The Republican field continued to narrow this week with two once-promising candidates dropping out before this Saturday's pivotal South Carolina primary. Jon Huntsman, the former U.S. ambassador to China whose campaign touted his foreign policy credentials but never connected with primary voters, ended his run on Monday. He immediately endorsed Mitt Romney, while attacking the state of the rhetoric in the GOP primary. "At its core, the Republican Party is a party of ideas, but the current toxic form of our political discourse does not help our cause," he said.
On Thursday, Rick Perry also bowed out and endorsed Newt Gingrich on a surreal news day on the campaign trail that also saw the final debate in South Carolina. The morning started with news that Rick Santorum may actually have won the Iowa primary by 34 votes, and later that day ABC aired an interview with Gingrich's ex-wife in which she claimed the former House Speaker had asked for an "open marriage."
Perry's departure followed another lackluster debate performance on Tuesday during which he claimed that Turkey's government was run by "what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists" -- prompting an angry response from Ankara -- and seemed to defend the U.S. Marines caught on video urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters.
The Gingrich surge
Allegations about his personal life notwithstanding, Gingrich continues to rise -- with recent polls showing him in a virtual tie with Romney in South Carolina. A Pew Poll taken last week showed Gingrich as the candidate Republican voters trust most to handle foreign policy at 33 percent, compared to Romney's 25 percent. Unfortunately for the Gingrich insurgency, an overwhelming majority of the same voters (58 percent) think Romney has the best chance of beating President Barack Obama. On the campaign trail this week, Gingrich described himself as "the only candidate in this race who understands the scale of change necessary to get this country working again."
Romney's offshore accounts
Already fending off questions about his vast personal wealth, Romney is facing additional scrutiny this week thanks to reports that he has as much as $8 million invested in funds listed in the Cayman Islands. Though Romney does still pay U.S. taxes on his income from these funds, the Cayman address offers some benefits over domestically registration, such as higher management fees and greater foreign interest -- benefits that cost the U.S. federal government billions of dollars per year.
At the CNN debate on Thursday night, Romney was booed after saying he would probably wait to release his full tax returns in April if he's the presumptive nominee since "Every time we release things drip by drip, the Democrats go out with another array of attacks."
Romney refused to say if he would release his tax returns for previous years, as his father did when running for president in 1968. "I'm not going to apologize for being successful," he said.
Paul draws jeers for "golden rule"
Ron Paul's foreign policy views continue to polarize. In Tuesday's debate, Paul was asked about his opposition to the killing of Osama bin Laden, and drew boos from the crowd by saying, "maybe we ought to consider a golden rule in foreign policy. Don't do to other nations what we don't want to have them do to us."
The Pew Poll showed only 10 percent of Republican voters thought Paul was the most trustworthy candidate on foreign policy -- though he still edged out Perry and Santorum.
President Obama sat down this week with Time's Fareed Zakaria for a wide-ranging interview on foreign policy, covering Iran, Afghanistan, the planned "pivot" to Asia, and the economy. The president defended his foreign-policy record, saying, "I made a commitment to change the trajectory of American foreign policy in a way that would end the war in Iraq, refocus on defeating our primary enemy, al-Qaeda, strengthen our alliances and our leadership in multilateral fora and restore American leadership in the world. And I think we have accomplished those principal goals."
What to watch for
South Carolina heads to the polls on Saturday with the latest RealClearPolitics poll average showing Gingrich at 32.5 percent and Romney at 31.5 percent. If he endures another weak finish in South Carolina, pressure may mount on Santorum to drop out of the race. (RCP has him in fourth place behind Paul.) Gingrich suggested on Tuesday that from the stand point of the conservative movement, consolidating into a Gingrich candidacy would in fact virtually guarantee a victory on Saturday."
The unexpected wild card in the race is comedian Stephen Colbert, who held a real-world rally with former candidate Herman Cain on Friday. Colbert's super-pac is encouraging South Carolina voters to cast a vote for Cain, though the pizza magnate was careful to assure voters, "I will not be assuming Stephen Colbert's identity. We are very different when it comes to the color of our - hair."
From South Carolina, the candidates will move on to Florida, a key battleground state, where Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog is predicting a 93 percent chance of a Romney win when voters head to the polls on Jan. 31.
The latest from FP:
Joshua Keating looks back at the foreign-policy lowlights of the Perry campaign.
Scott Clement suggests Iran could be a major liability for the president.
Uri Friedman looks at Paul's inadvertent tribute to Millard Fillmore.
David Rothkopf asks whether foreign-policy subtlety is even possible in today's media environment.
Peter Feaver thinks Zakaria missed an opportunity to probe more deeply into Obama foreign policy.
Josh Rogin looks at Obama's chummiest world leaders -- as suggested by the Time interview -- and what they say about him.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Rick Perry's presidential campaign, which is ending today, will almost certainly be remembered best years from now for the infamous "oops" moment, but he had some notable foreign-policy highlights as well. Here's a look back at the governor's greatest hits:
There’s not a person that’s been born yet that knows everything that’s going on, but you better have the ability to identify really good people. That’s how I’ve run Texas. For ten years. I’ve had very, very wise… They may not be the smartest ones. President Obama has got some really smart people around him; I just don’t know how wise they are.
“The way that we were able to stop the drug cartels in Colombia was with a coordinated effort,” Perry said. “It may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and to keep them off of our border and to destroy their networks. I don’t know all the scenarios that are out there but I think it is very important that we work with them, to keep that country from failing.”
“Well, obviously, before you ever get to that point, you have to build a relationship in that region. And that’s one of the things that this administration has not done. Just yesterday we found out through Admiral Mullen that Haqqani has been involved with — and that’s the terrorist group directly associated with the Pakistani country — so to have a relationship with India, to make sure that India knows that they are an ally of the United States.”
“For instance, when we had the opportunity to sell India the upgraded F-16’s, we chose not to do that. [This was factually wrong. It was India that rejected the U.S. fighters.]We did the same with Taiwan. The point is, our allies need to understand clearly that we are their friends, we will be standing by there with them. Today, we don’t have those allies in that region that can assist us if that situation that you talked about were to become a reality.”
“Listen, there are some people who made the statement that the 21st century is going to be the century of China and that, you know, we've had our time in the sunshine. I don't believe that. I don't believe that at all. As a matter of fact, you think back to the 1980s, and we faced a similar type of a situation with Russia. And Ronald Reagan said that Russia would end up on the ash heap of history, and he was right. I happen to think that the communist Chinese government will end up on the ash heap of history if they do not change their virtues. It is important for a country to have virtues, virtues of honesty. And this whole issue of allowing cybersecurity to go on, we need to use all of our resources. The private sector working along with our government to really-- standing up to cyber-command in 2010 was a good start on that. But fighting this cyberwar I would suggest is one of the great issues that will face the next president of the united states and we must win.”
“Listen, I think we’re havin’ an interesting conversation here, but the deeper one that the speaker makes a reference to is the whole issue of foreign aid…. The foreign aid budget in my administration for every country is gonna start at zero dollars. Zero dollars. And then we’ll have a conversation. Then we’ll have a conversation in this country about whether or not a penny of our taxpayer dollar needs to go into those countries.
Listen, as — you know, I volunteered to wear the uniform of our country. And what bothers me more than anything, is this administration and this administration’s disdain all too often for our men and women in uniform. Whether it was what they’ve said about the Marines — now these young men made a mistake. They obviously made a — a mistake.
BAIER: You’re talking about urinating on the corpses?
PERRY: They — they made a — a mistake that the military needs to deal with. And they need to be punished. But the fact of the matter — the fact of the matter is this, when the Secretary of Defense calls that a despicable act, when he calls that utterly despicable. Let me tell you what’s utterly despicable, cutting Danny Pearl’s head off and showing the video of it.
PERRY: Hanging our contractors from bridges. That’s utterly despicable. For our president for the Secretary of State, for the Department of Defense secretary to make those kinds of statements about those young Marines — yes, they need to be punished, but when you see this president with that type of disdain for our country, taking a trillion dollars out of our defense budget, 100,000 of our military off of our front lines, and a reduction of forces, I lived through a reduction of force once and I saw the result of it in the sands of Iran in 1979. Never again.
PERRY: And you go to zero with foreign aid for all of those countries. And it doesn’t make any difference who they are. You go to zero with that foreign aid and then you have the conversation about, do they have America’s best interest in mind? And when you have countries like Turkey that are moving far away from the country that I lived in back in the 1970?s as a pilot in the United States Air Force that was our ally, that worked with us, but today we don’t see that.
All in all, given the high expectations and money spent, the Perry campaign was pretty disappointing. (Although you have to be somewhat impressed with a politician who can earn condmenation from officials of two foreign governments without even winning his party's nomination.)
To give credit where it's due, aside from the non-starter idea of sending U.S. troops into Mexican territory, Perry had much more realistic and humane rhetoric on border security and immigration than many of his counterparts. It's unfortunate that in the current political climate, that was considered a liability.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Romney rolls through New Hampshire, Gingrich unloads the kitchen sink
Mitt Romney enjoyed a decisive victory in the New Hampshire primary, taking 39.2 percent of the vote to second-place finisher Ron Paul's 22.8 percent. Romney took aim at President Barack Obama's foreign policy in his victory speech: "Internationally, President Obama has adopted an appeasement strategy. He believes America's role as leader in the world is a thing of the past. I believe a strong America must -- and will -- lead the future. He doesn't see the need for overwhelming American military superiority. I will insist on a military so powerful no one would think of challenging it. He chastises friends like Israel; I'll stand with our friends. He apologizes for America; I will never apologize for the greatest nation in the history of the Earth."
Romney might already be gearing up for a showdown with the president, but none of his opponents dropped out. After the drubbing in New Hampshire, the anti-Romney rhetoric from the other GOP candidates in South Carolina is getting harsh. Leading the attacks is Newt Gingrich, who essentially tied for fourth place in New Hampshire, and continues to make the case that only a "bold Reagan conservative," as opposed to a "timid Massachusetts moderate" can defeat the president.
A super-PAC supporting Gingrich unleashed a 28-minute video attacking Romney for causing layoffs during his time with private equity firm Bain Capital. Rick Perry piled on, calling Romney a "vulture capitalist." Some conservatives have complained about the anti-capitalist undertones of the attack -- with Rush Limbaugh even comparing Gingrich to liberal Massachusetts senate candidate Elizabeth Warren.
The Gingrich campaign also released a new attack ad which compares Romney to fellow Massachusetts pols John Kerry and Michael Dukakis ("a liberal governor who wanted us to believe he was strong on defense"). For good measure, the ad even threw in a clip of Romney speaking French.
Is Huntsman done?
Despite the hype, Jon Huntsman did not enjoy a Rick Santorum-like surge in New Hampshire and finished a disappointing third place. (He's been widely mocked for claiming this result was a "ticket to ride" in a confetti-strewn post-primary speech.) The former ambassador says his goal for South Carolina, where a recent poll showed him trailing comedian Stephen Colbert, is to "stay relevant." As opposed to New Hampshire, where Huntsman campaigned tirelessly for nearly a year, often touting his foreign-policy expertise and even his fluency in Mandarin, Huntsman is working to remind South Carolinians of his conservative credentials on issues like gun control, abortion, and taxes. Huntsman's chief strategist told the Wall Street Journal "I don't care if Gary Johnson or [Twilight Zone creator] Rod Serling wins it.... As long as it's not Mitt Romney."
Santorum on Iran
Santorum weighed in on this week's mysterious killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran, which Iranian authorities have blamed on the United States and Israel. The Obama administration has denied any role in the assassination, raising Santorum's ire: "Well, I would have -- I've already made a public statement that any nuclear scientist, particularly any foreign nuclear scientist, who's cooperating with the Iranians in developing a nuclear weapon program would be considered an enemy combatant," he told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren. "And I wouldn't -- I would be doing what Israel was -- would be doing tonight, which is saying nothing."
The immigration debate returns
Immigration is again emerging as a major topic in South Carolina. The Romney campaign announced this week that it had received the endorsement of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the co-author of Arizona's restrictive immigration policy. Kobach called Romney, "the candidate who will finally secure the borders and put a stop to the magnets, like in-state tuition, that encourage illegal aliens to remain in our country unlawfully."
On this issue, Gingrich is playing the part of moderate, looking ahead to the looming Florida primary: "I can't wait for them to campaign in Florida," Gingrich said. "Try to go into Miami with the battle cry, 'everybody must go.'... That is clearly going to come across in the immigrant community as a sign you have no sense of humanity for people," Gingrich said this week. As it happens, the Romney campaign has already begun running Spanish-language ads in Florida.
Is anyone paying attention to foreign policy?
A newly released Gallup poll asks Americans, "What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?" "Foreign aid" and "international issues" received 2 percent each, compared with 31 percent for the economy in general and 26 percent for unemployment. The relative indifference to foreign policy could be bad news for Obama, who receives much higher ratings for his handling of international affairs than domestic matters.
What to watch for
The candidates meet for a debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Monday. CNN may have slightly bent its rules to allow the struggling Perry to participate. (Given Perry's difficulties in previous debates, that may not have been much of a favor.) The South Carolina Tea Party will hold a convention prior to the debate, featuring appearances by Gingrich and Santorum.
The current RealClearPolitics poll average shows Romney with a nearly nine-point lead over Gingrich in South Carolina.
The latest from FP
Larry Kaplow looks at Romney's Mexican roots and asks if he could be the "first Latino president." (Yes, someone's already started a "Mexican Mitt" fake Twitter feed.)
Scott Clement asks whether using China as a political punching bag is really effective.
Joshua Keating looks at five ways Romney will attack Obama.
Romney supporter Sen. Jim Talent tells FP's Josh Rogin that the White House is making dangerous, "budget-driven" decisions.
Michael A. Cohen says a Romney foreign policy probably wouldn't be all that different from Obama's.
David Rothkopf hopes this election will start a public debate about the virtues of American capitalism.
Expat journalist Eric Pape says Mitt can say what he likes about Paris, but he's enjoying European socialism just fine, thanks.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
After weeks of debate and fluctuating polls, we finally have some actual results from a GOP primary. Mitt Romney won the Iowa Caucasus with 24.6 percent, edging out surprise second-place finisher Rick Santorum by only eight votes. In his rambling victory speech, Romney took the opportunity to attack the president on national security. "Iran is about to have nuclear weaponry, just down the road here, and this president, what's he done in that regard? He said he'd have a policy of engagement. How's that worked out?"
The next day, Romney received an endorsement from Sen. John McCain, who said his former 2008 rival was committed, like Ronald Reagan, to a philosophy of , "Peace through strength."
Ron Paul came in third place in Iowa and promised to continue pushing his vision for a noninterventionist foreign policy. "Our foreign policy has been a mess and drains us both economically and our military forces," he said.
After a disappointing fourth-place finish, once frontrunner Newt Gingrich promised to continue to attack "Massachusetts moderate" Romney, (he also called Romney a "liar" in an interview) but took the opportunity to blast Paul's foreign policy views as "stunningly dangerous for survival of the United States."
Rick Perry, who came in fifth with 10.3 percent of the vote, despite spending more money than any other candidate in Iowa, is apparently staying in the race for now.
After essentially finishing last (Jon Huntsman didn't contest the caucuses) Michele Bachmann dropped out of the race, vowing to "continue fighting to defeat the president's agenda of socialism."
Santorum in the spotlight
As the latest "non-Romney" to emerge in the race, Santorum's foreign-policy views are beginning to receive more scrutiny. In particular, Santorum has staked out a position even more extreme than Gingrich on the legitimacy of Palestinian aspirations for statehood. "All the people that live in the West Bank are Israelis, they're not Palestinians... There is no 'Palestinian,'" he told a questioner back in November. (Israel probably wouldn't actually be thrilled with this position, as it would entail full Israeli political rights for Palestinians on the West Bank.)
Santorum has also recently vowed to bomb Iranian nuclear sites if they are not opened for inspections, saying that President Barack Obama's inaction against the Iranian nuclear program risks turning the United States into a paper tiger.
Huntsman's last stand
Huntsman has essentially staked his campaign on Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, opting out of Iowa entirely and campaigning non-stop in the Granite State. "We have to do well in New Hampshire," he told CBS news this week. The Boston Globe endorsed Huntsman this week, pointing specifically to his foreign policy experience. "While other candidates point toward Cold War-style rejection and isolation of China, Huntsman promises deeper engagement. But he had the courage as ambassador to walk among protesters, drawing the ire of repressive Chinese authorities," the editorial read.
Nonetheless, recent polls show that the majority of New Hampshire voters, particularly front-runner Mitt Romney's supporters, which Huntsman was hoping to pick off -- are unlikely to change their mind before Tuesday.
A new strategy for the Pentagon
On Thursday, the president announced a new military approach which aims to trim roughly $450 billion from the defense budget by shrinking the Army and Marines, focusing more heavily on Special Operations and drone forces, and making a strategic "pivot" from the Middle East and Central Asia to the Pacific.
With the exception of Paul and Huntsman, the Republican candidates all oppose large-scale defense cuts. Romney has ridiculed the idea of a strategic shift to Asia in the past, saying, "President Obama seems to think that we're going to have a global century, an Asian century. I believe we have to have an American century, where America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world."
What to watch for
The candidates will meet for two final televised debates in New Hampshire on Saturday night and Sunday morning before voters head to the polls on Tuesday. Real Clear Politics' New Hampshire poll average shows Romney with a commanding 20 point lead over Paul, followed by Santorum, Huntsman, Gingrich, and Perry -- in that order.
Then it's on to South Carolina for the Jan. 21 primary, where Romney currently holds a 19 point lead over Santorum, his closest challenger.
The latest from FP
Scott Clement looks at why Huntsman's experience as ambassador won't help him win over skeptical GOP voters.
David Kenner says Santorum's views on Israel could be "profoundly damaging to U.S. and Israeli interests."
Daniel Drezner argues that Paul would make an even worse president than Gingrich -- and that's saying something.
David Rothkopf wonders why Obama has been so modest as a communicator and lists some of the president's underappreciated successes he should be crowing about.
Peter Feaver criticizes the Paul campaign for having a soldier in uniform speak at a campaign event and says the Iowa results prove there will not be a crack-up in the Republican Party over foreign policy.
Richard Ellis/Getty Images
The "dangerous" Ron Paul
With the latest polls showing him neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney in Iowa leading up to next week's caucuses, Ron Paul hasn't been toning down his non-traditional foreign policy rhetoric. Paul described sanctions against Iran as an "act of war" in front of a crowd in Iowa, and said Iran would be justified in blocking the Straits of Hormuz if they had no other recourse to respond.
Paul's unexpected poll surge has made him a target. In addition to the ongoing controversy over newsletters published under Paul's name during the 1990s, many of the attacks focus on his isolationist national security views. "One of the people running for president thinks it's O.K. for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. I don't," Romney told a crowd this week. Michele Bachman, whose own campaign seems to be fading fast, called Paul's foreign policy beliefs "dangerous." Influential Iowa Representative Steve King also attacked his congressional colleague, saying "I don't think that the Paul supporters have really stepped back and thought about what would happen if Ron Paul were operating out of the Oval Office and the commander-in-chief of our armed forces." New Hampshire's influential Union Leader newspaper, in endorsing Newt Gingrich this week, blasted Paul for spouting "nonsense" on national security.
Paul's campaign has brushed off the charges of national security naiveté, touting his popularity among veterans and claiming that he has "raised more funds from active military personnel than all other GOP competitors combined."
A late Santorum surge
All but written off just a few weeks ago, the conservative standard-bearer Rick Santorum is enjoying a late surge heading into the caucuses, with one recent poll putting him in third place. "I expect him to have a significantly better caucus night than predictors, the pundits, and the polls, have said over the last month," said Steve King. Santorum's rise is fueled mainly by Iowa's evangelical voters and is significant enough that Rick Perry has begun running ads attacking the former Pennsylvania senator's past support for earmarks.
In a recent radio interview, conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt asked Santorum if President Barack Obama intended for an Islamist front to take power in Egypt. Santorum wouldn't go quite that far but said that "this is a president who doesn't believe the Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamist front" and "does not understand what radical Islam is and its threat to the West." He also suggested the possibility of taking action against Iran to "show that we are not going to allow radicals to gain power and to use that power for purposes of spreading their radical jihadist ideology."
Condi for Veep?
The Gingrich campaign's sagging fortunes don't seem to have discouraged the candidate from daydreaming of filling Cabinet posts and officials in his administration. At a speech in Columbia, South Carolina, Gingrich said he'd love to see former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a vice presidential debate with Joe Biden. "That would be about as great a mismatch of knowledge versus ignorance as we've seen," Gingrich said. Gingrich quickly denied that he was endorsing Rice for vice president, just praising her as a "terrifically smart" person. Gingrich had previously suggested he could nominate John Bolton as his secretary of state.
Gingrich wasn't the only one looking to start the veepstakes early this week. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich suggested that Biden should switch places with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the 2012 race, in order to "stir the passions and enthusiasms of a Democratic base."
Obama on a roll
Still benefiting from this month's fight with Republicans over extending the payroll tax cut, the president's approval ratings (47 percent) are now above his disapproval ratings (45 percent) for the first time since July 2010. But, since World War II, only Harry Truman won reelection with an approval rating below 48 percent.
What to watch for
Iowans will caucus on Tuesday, Jan. 3, in the country's first major primary contest. RealClearPolitics' current poll average for the state has Romney at 21.6 percent, Paul at 21.2 percent, and Santorum and Gingrich tied at 14 percent. The New Hampshire primary -- which Jon Huntsman has chosen to focus on exclusively -- follows just a week later.
The latest from FP
Scott Clement looks at why Republican candidates are still failing to connect with Hispanic voters.
Uri Friedman surveys the GOP field's selective approach to American exceptionalism, which makes room for Swiss healthcare, Chilean retirement schemes, and a Chinese-style (lack of) welfare state.
The contributors to FP's Shadow Government blog, are weighing in this week with their assessments of how president Obama has handled foreign policy and national security this year.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Paul gets his turn
Just days from the Iowa caucuses, polls show Congressmen Ron Paul surging into the lead. The libertarian has long been an annoyance for the Republican establishment, but Paul's success in the polls has brought with it the kind of negative press the congressman avoided when he was viewed as merely a fringe candidate. Much of the attention this week has focused on newsletters that were published in Paul's name during the 1990s, while he was out of office. (The newsletters were also an issue in the 2008 election after the New Republic ran a lengthy expose on their contents.)
In addition to disparaging comments about African Americans and gays, the newsletters contain incendiary language about Israel, describing it as "an aggressive, national socialist state." Another passage suggests that the 1993 World Trade Center bombings may have been the handiwork of the Israeli spy agency, the Mossad. Paul's views were already suspect among many Jewish Republicans, who declined to invite him to a major candidate forum in Washington earlier this month because of his support for cutting U.S. aid to Israel. In several interviews this week, Paul denied writing the newsletters or even being aware of their contents at the time.
Newt Gingrich, who has seen his fortunes in the polls fade as Paul has surged, took a shot at the new kid on the block this week, describing Paul's foreign-policy views as naïve. "This is a guy who basically says, if the United States were only nice, it wouldn't have had 9/11. He doesn't want to blame the bad guys," Gingrich said in a radio interview. "He dismisses the danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon and seems to be indifferent to the idea that Israel could be wiped out. And as I said, I think the key to his volunteer base is people who want to legalize drugs."
Michael Cohen took on Paul's foreign policy in a piece for FP this week, arguing that "his entire philosophy is largely a renunciation of much of what Republicans believe about America's role in the world."
Romney comes out swinging on security
As the media frenzy focuses on Paul and Gingrich, Mitt Romney has been working to build his commander-in-chief credentials with a series of statements on foreign policy. Speaking to reporters on his campaign bus, he said he believes Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin "endangers the stability and peacefulness of the globe." Speaking just hours before terrorist bombings ripped through Baghdad, he described President Barack Obama's inability to secure an agreement to keep U.S. troops in Iraq as one of his "signature failures."
In an interview with Fox's Chris Wallace last weekend, Romney gave the president credit for giving the order for the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, but then said that "any president would have done that." Critics immediately jumped on what appears to be yet another flip-flop from the candidate, who criticized candidate Obama in 2008 for saying he'd be willing to unilaterally order a raid within Pakistani territory. The Democratic National Committee began running ads this week featuring comments from prominent Republicans including former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, praising the president's handling of the bin Laden raid.
North Korea reactions
Several of the candidates issued statements this week in reaction to the death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. Romney called on China to "exert its influence" over its neighbor and take control of the North Korean nuclear weapons program. He also said that he hoped Kim's death would hasten the end of the North Korean regime. Former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman said Kim's death gives North Koreans "the best opportunity to get on a path towards a more free and open society and political reform." Rick Perry said the United States should "engage with China, and encourage Beijing to work towards a peaceful transition from a grim dictatorship to a free Korea," though the strength of his message was somewhat undermined by a press release referring to "Kim Jong II." To be fair, an "I" and an "l" look pretty similar ... and he's not the first candidate to think the late tyrant's name indicated that he was the second Kim Jong.
Obama's foreign-policy advantage?
Something of a consensus seems to be developing that -- considering the state of the U.S. economy -- that foreign policy could be the president's strong suit going into this election. CNN's Fareed Zakaria, writes that Republicans, facing two unpopular wars and unable to make traditional attacks of appeasement stick, are "effectively ceding the vast swathe of foreign policy to Obama." Conservative commentator Juan Williams notes that following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, Obama "has fulfilled a major campaign promise" and that we're facing an unusual 2012 political scenario, in which Republicans will find a Democratic presidential incumbent vulnerable on the economy but strong on national security.
Indeed, the president gets strong marks from voters on his handling of national security and terrorism. But as poll-watcher Scott Clement noted last week in Foreign Policy's Election 2012 Channel, Obama's numbers aren't quite as strong on international affairs generally, or the war on Afghanistan in particular.
Return of Iraq
The war in Iraq was a defining issue of the last election, and Obama got high marks from voters from wanting to end the campaign there, one he never supported. But if the current violence and political dysfunction in the country continue following the recent troop withdrawal, it could quickly reemerge as a major national security headache for the Obama administration. In addition to Romney, Gingrich blasted the withdrawal this week, saying, "I think we're going to find to our great sadness that we've lost several thousand young Americans and had many thousands more wounded undertaking a project that we couldn't do." Obama's 2008 opponent, Sen. John McCain, also weighed in, telling the American Enterprise Institute's Danielle Petka, "All the gains we have achieved in Iraq are now at risk, and the enormous expenditure of blood and treasure that those gains entailed are now in jeopardy of being viewed by history as sacrifices made in vain."
What to watch for
For the next two weeks, it's all eyes on Iowa. Paul (27.5 percent) retains a slight lead in a recent University of Iowa poll, with Gingrich (25.3 percent) a close second, Romney (17.5 percent) in third, and Perry (11.2 percent) a distant fourth.
Huntsman, who has a laser-like focus on New Hampshire, has opted out of Iowa entirely, but for the socially conservative (and bottom-dwelling) candidates Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann a strong showing in the caucuses might be their last chance to save their campaigns. Some recent polls show Santorum climbing into fourth place in Iowa, and his campaign has blanketed the state with major advertising buys. Bachmann is still drawing enthusiastic crowds, but appears unlikely to climb out of the single-digits.
The latest from FP:
Michael Cohen speculates on just what a Ron Paul foreign policy would look like.
Scott Clement says Republican voters aren't as worried about Iran as their candidates' rhetoric might suggest.
Joshua Keating discusses Huntsman's dubious claim to have done "more than anybody" to fight China's one-child policy.
David Rothkopf looks at the 14 biggest lies of 2011.Most of the 2012 candidates -- including the president -- are guilty of several of them.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
The GOP candidates faced off in Sioux City on Thursday in what will likely be the last primary debate before the Iowa Caucuses. Foreign policy was very much on the agenda. Responding to a question about the downed U.S. drone in Iran and president's request that it be returned by Iran, Mitt Romney accused the Obama administration of weakness: "Does timidity and weakness invite aggression on the part of other people? Absolutely," Romney said. "A strong America is the best ally peace has ever owned. A spy drone downed over Iran and he says ‘pretty please?'"
Rick Perry repeated his call for Attorney General Eric Holder to resign over the controversial Operation Fast and Furious undercover gun-running scheme on the U.S.-Mexico border. In response to a question about whether Holder should take responsibility for the incident even if, as he claims, he didn't know about, Perry said, "If I'm the president of the United States, and I find out that there is an operation like Fast and Furious and my attorney general didn't know about it, I would have him resign immediately." Perry also disputed the president's assessment that the border is safer that it's ever been.
Jon Huntsman took a counterintuitive approach, using lower immigration numbers as evidence of the president's failures: "In terms of immigration, and illegal immigration, this president has so screwed up this economy, nobody is coming anymore. There is nothing to come for. There's not a problem today! Look at the numbers coming across. The numbers posted the other day -- lowest in four decades."
Rick Santorum continued his attack on Latin America policy and claims that Islamist militant groups are using the region as a safe haven: "This president has ignored that threat, has insulted our allies like Honduras and Colombia deliberately and embraced like other scoundrels in the Middle East, embraced Chávez, Ortega, and others in South America not promoting our value and interests."
Ron Paul, who has seen a recent surge in the polls, dismissed concerns about Iran's nuclear program, saying, "There is no evidence they have a nuclear weapon. This is another Iraq coming. There's war propaganda going on." Michele Bachmann responded incredulously to Paul's attitude, saying she had "never heard a more dangerous statement."
The Gingrich-Huntsman debate
Newt Gingrich finally got his wish for a three-hour Lincoln-Douglas style debate he sat down on Monday at New Hampshire's St. Anselm College with the trailing Huntsman. It was a cordial affair -- after all, a strong showing by Huntsman in New Hampshire can only be to Gingrich's advantage against Romney -- with few major disagreements between the two. (Huntsman even referred to Gingrich as a "great historian.") Gingrich disapproved of the way Obama had handled the Arab Spring, particularly how he "dumped" U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak in a "very unceremonious way." Huntsman anticipated "a hubristic, nationalistic generation" poised to take power in China.
Are Gingrich's 15 minutes up?
Once again, Newt dominated the news this week, particularly for his controversial comments that Palestinians are an "invented people," a remark that generated a sharp backlash from Palestinian leaders. Even Romney, hardly known for his pro-Palestinian views, went after Gingrich's "erratic outspokenness."
This also seemed to be a week when major Republican figures turned on Gingrich. Columnist George Will blasted the front-runner, saying he "seems to believe there is always some higher synthesis, inaccessible to lesser intellects, that makes all his contradictions disappear." The National Review piled on: "His character flaws -- his impulsiveness, his grandiosity, his weakness for half-baked (and not especially conservative) ideas -- made him a poor Speaker of the House."
Whether attacks like these will resonate with primary voters remains to be seen, though Gingrich's numbers do seem to be slipping somewhat in Iowa.
Obama touts Iraq pullout
At a modest ceremony in Baghdad this week, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta marked the official pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq. In a new web video from the Obama campaign titled, "Promises Kept," the president touts his commitment to ending the Iraq war, saying, "Over the next few days, a small group of American soldiers will begin the final march out of that country... Iraq's future will be in the hands of its people." The pullout, despite being conducted along a timeline previously agreed by Obama's predecessor, is likely to be a centerpiece of Obama's pitch to voters, along with the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Cain for SecDef?
Guess who's back? Former candidate Herman Cain, who famously struggled with even the fundamentals of foreign policy during his campaign, was interviewed by Barbara Walters this week as part of her annual "most fascinating people" segment and told her that if he had his choice of Cabinet positions, he'd like to be secretary of defense. This response prompted a rare "what?" from the veteran interviewer. Perhaps he'd settle for ambassador to Uzbekistan?
What to watch for
All eyes are on Iowa this holiday season as residents of the Hawkeye state prepare for caucuses on Jan. 3. There's now increasing speculation that Paul might have his turn as the next "anyone-but-Romney," following turns by Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and Gingrich. Paul has consistently polled in second or third place in Iowa, and with Gingrich's numbers beginning to fall, he may be in a position to capitalize. Expect more scrutiny of Paul's views, particularly his neo-isolationist foreign policy, in the days ahead.
The latest from FP:
Defense writer Sharon Weinberger examines Gingrich's far-out futurist vision of warfare.
Former candidate Tim Pawlenty tells FP's Josh Rogin that Gingrich is a flip-flopper on foreign policy.
Michael A. Cohen laments that more genuine disagreements weren't aired at the Gingrich-Huntsman showdown.
Poll-watcher Scott Clement explains why, despite Iraq and Osama, the president shouldn't feel safe from attacks on his foreign-policy record.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
The Israel Primary:
The main foreign-policy event of the campaign week was a forum hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition, during which six of the GOP candidates attacked the administration's policies toward Israel. Congressman Ron Paul, who favors cutting U.S. aid to Israel -- as well as every other country -- was not invited.
Current front-runner and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich led the charge, accusing the White House of "one-sided, continuing pressure that says it's always the Israelis' fault no matter how bad the other side" and promised to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem -- a controversial move approved by Congress 15 years ago but resisted by the last three administrations -- on the first day of his presidency. Gingrich also vowed to appoint former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton as his secretary of state.
Gingrich's main rival, former governor Mitt Romney, devoted much of his remarks to Iran, saying "regime change is what's going to be necessary" and promising to indict President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the crime of incitement to genocide. Romney and Gingrich both called on the White House to fire Howard Gutman, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium who set off a firestorm of controversy with a speech that suggested a distinction between anti-Jewish sentiment in the Middle East and other forms of anti-Semitism.
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, the former U.S. ambassador to China under the Obama administration, said Gutman's comments reflected a deeper strain of anti-Israel sentiment within the administration. "These aren't speeches that are cooked up at the local level and at the embassy.... They go high up within the State Department," he said.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, attempting to assuage Israeli concerns about his pledge to drastically reduce foreign aid, promised that "strategic, defensive aid" to Israel would actually increase under his administration.
Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann touted her personal connections to Israel, particularly her time volunteering on a kibbutz in 1974. She also said she does "not see presently that there is a road to statehood" for the Palestinians.
Former Senator Rick Santorum compared U.S. policies toward Islamic extremists to actions taken by Britain before World War II. "For every thug and hooligan, for every radical Islamist, he has had nothing but appeasement," he said. Romney also accused the administration of appeasement with regard to Iran.
Obama: Ask Bin Laden:
Asked by a reporter to respond to the "appeasement" charge at a press conference on Thursday, a visibly testy President Barack Obama replied, "Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al Qaeda leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement. Or whoever is left out there, ask them about that."
Obama also defended his administration's record on Iran, saying it has "systematically imposed the toughest sanctions" on Tehran and that the country is more isolated than ever.
Gay rights becomes a foreign-policy flashpoint:
The Obama administration announced a new initiative this week to use foreign aid and international diplomacy to promote gay rights abroad, for the first time identifying LGBT issues as a major U.S. foreign-policy goal. Santorum and Perry, two of the more socially conservative candidates in the race, were quick to respond.
"Obviously the administration is promoting their particular agenda in this country, and now they feel it's their obligation to promote those values not just in the military, not just in our society, but now around the world with taxpayer dollars," Santorum told reporters in Iowa.
"This administration's war on traditional American values must stop. Promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America's interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers' money," Perry said in a statement to supporters.
Perry's comments seemed to be part of his slumping campaigns attempts to reach out to socially conservative voters, and followed a TV ad in which the candidate lamented "there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school."
Huntsman backtracks on climate:
Huntsman, widely viewed as the moderate in the race despite a very conservative governing record, has distinguished himself from most of the candidates in the field by openly supporting the notion that human activity is causing climate change. "To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy," he tweeted in August. But the candidate seemed to backtrack on that position in a speech to the Heritage Foundation this week, in which he argued that there "questions about the validity" of climate science and that there's "not enough information right now to be able to formulate policies" on global warming.
Huntsman joins Gingrich, Romney, and Paul in the group of candidates who once allowed for the human factor in climate change but have changed their tune when running for president.
What to watch for:
The candidates meet for two debates in Iowa this week, the first on Saturday night in Des Moines on ABC, the second on Thursday in Sioux City on Fox News. With Gingrich still leading the polls, expect other candidates to go on the attack.
On Monday, Gingrich and Huntsman will go head-to-head in a Lincoln-Douglas style debate on foreign policy and national security at New Hampshire's St. Anselm College. Gingrich, who has been openly critical of the format and moderating of previous debates (particularly when he was shunted to the side, before becoming a front-runner), has repeatedly expressed his desire for Lincoln-Douglas debates and has said he will challenge Obama to seven of them if he wins the nomination. Gingrich may be hoping that giving Huntsman a prominent platform may help him take moderate votes away from Romney in New Hampshire, where the former Massachusetts governor is still leading. Romney has declined Gingrich's invitation for a one-on-one Lincoln-Douglas debate.
The latest from FP:
Despite the hype surrounding this week's Jewish coalition event, pollwatcher Scott Clement says Israel won't actually matter all that much in next year's election.
Michael Cohen wonders why Obama is trying so hard to avoid the label "apologist-in-chief."
Alex Wong/Getty Images
My attention was struck by this tweet today from Newt Gingrich: "My first day in office, I will move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel's chosen place, Jerusalem."
Putting aside the wisdom of that decision, is this symbolic gesture really the best use of the president's first day in office during a time of recession and war? I doubt that would even be the first thing on Benjamin Netanyahu's wish list for the new president.
Not to worry though, Gingrich has other plans for his first day -- and he's even taking suggestions on his website. In addition to the Jerusalem move, Gingrich will sign executive orders to "eliminate the thirty-nine White House "Czar" positions created during the current administration," reinstate the ""Mexico City Policy," to prohibit the funding of international NGOs that provide abortions (which is also what George W. Bush did on his first day) and "Restore conscience clause protections for Healthcare Workers."
These all seem like somewhat niche issues. But still, not a bad day's work.
Here's how the other candidates are planning to spend Jan. 21, 2013:
Rick Perry's going to repeal Obama's healthcare law on his first day, and he's even picked out the sharpie he's going to do it with.
Ron Paul says he'd start with foreign policy by "bringing the troops home so they can spend their money here instead of overseas.'
Jon Huntsman's got a busy day planned for himself, with "three immediate steps" on energy policy including clarifying rules to allow offshore drilling and fracking, opening the U.S. fuel network to alternative energy, and eliminating "every subsidy for energy companies."
But no candidate in the race has as ambitious a plan to hit the ground running as Mitt Romney, who has five bills and five executive orders planned for day one, including eliminating energy regulations, implementing the free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, labeling China a currency manipulator, and giving states waivers to opt out of Obamacare.
In case you don't remember, on Obama's first day, he froze White House salaries, unveiled new ethics rules, appointed George Mitchell as Mideast peace negotiator, and issued an executive order closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. (The last two didn't work out so well.)
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
Back in May, we did a quick round-up of the foreign policy and national security positions of the 2012 Republican field. Since then, some candidates -- Mitch Daniels and Mike Huckabee -- have dropped out, some -- Newt Gingrich -- have seen their fortunes fall dramatically, and one -- Texas Governor Rick Perry -- has emerged as a surprisingly compelling possible contender. As many commentators have noted, Perry comes without the liabilities plaguing much of the Republican field. His record is unquestionably conservative, unlike Mitt Romney. He's personable and charismatic, unlike Tim Pawlenty. After this weekend's prayer rally, attended by more than 30,000, he looks like a more formidable candidate than Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum to appeal to evangelical voters.
But what does Perry think about the world? He hasn't made that many statements on foreign policy, but we can gather some indications from the people he's taking advice from. Perry has held meetings with former Bush administration officials including Doug Feith and William Luti, as well as Shadow Government contributor Dan Blumenthal. Former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld has also reporteldy played a role in organizing his national national security briefings. This would seem to indicate that Perry is closer in outlook to the neoconservatism of the Bush adminsitration than the less interventionist approach of Tea Party leaders like Michele Bachmann and Rand Paul. Indeed, a source at the briefings told the National Review that Perry does not have “the neo-isolationism that you might expect from certain people [close to] the Tea Party.” (As if trying to complete the Bush White House circa 2002 vibe of his pre-campaign, Perry has also met with former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, who came away from the meeting with the impression that Perry will run.)
As governor, Perry as made visits to China, Mexico, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Qatar, Turkey, France and Sweden. Not surprisingly for a Texan, his thoughts on national security have mostly been directed across the Rio Grande. Last year, for instance, he suggested that the U.S. may need to deploy troops in Mexico to control the drug violence in the border region. Perry also defied the requests of the Mexian government, the Obama administration, the International Court of Justice, and Bush in July when Texas proceeded with the execution of a Mexican citizen.
Perry has recently waded into Middle Eastern politics as well. In May, he criticized Obama's Middle East speech, saying it "continues a misguided policy of alienating our traditional allies, in this case Israel, one of our strongest partners in the war on terror. As someone who has visited Israel numerous times, I know that it is impracticable to revert to the 1967 lines." Perry has also called on the Justice department to prosecute Americans who take part in the Gaza flotilla.
Perry's most detailed explanation of his foreign policy views may come in his recent book, Fed Up: Our Fight To Save America From Washington:
We are now confronted with the rise of new economic and military powerhouses in China and India, as well as a Russia that is increasingly aggressive and troublesome to its neighbors and former satellite nations that are struggling to maintain their relatively newfound independence. There is no reason to believe that armed conflict with any major power is imminen, but the world is rapidly changing, and the United States must be prepared for the ramifications of shifting balances of power.
North Korea and Iran, in contrast, are utterly unpredictable an do present an imminent threat with their nuclear ambitions. [...] Leftists in Latin America and threatening democracy, and Hugo Chavez is harboring communist rebels in Venezuela. All of these issues require our attention and investment in defense capabilities.
In light of these threats, Perry feels the U.S. defense budget has been dangerously eroded as a result of the "explosion of entitlement spending." He's also not a big fan of the Russia reset:
...it was a slap in the face to a number of our allies. As a Wall Street Journal article put it, "Some prominent figures in the region, such as former Polish President Lech Walesa, worried the new U.S. administration was turning away from its traditional allies in Central Europe to placate Russia." But there is good news for those who prefer our foreign policy be popular among the European elite, because NATO's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, welcomed the U.S. policy shift, saying it was his "clear impression that the American plan on missile defense will involve NATO... to a higher degree in the future." Surely we can't be serious?
(Why the former president of Poland -- even a historically significant one -- is a "traditional ally" who should not be offended, but the secretary general of a defense alliance of which the United States was a co-founder is a figure worthy only of disdain is a little bit unclear.)
In other words, Perry seems to tick all the boxes of a conventional Republican defense hawk. Whether that will work in a very unconventional campaign season remains to be seen.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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