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The Election 2012 Weekly Report: Countdown to Iowa

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

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Dynastic Dirges, Part Deux

This is a guest post from Nick Frisch, a writer based in Hong Kong:

"The outside world got a listen at North Korea's curious soundscape during yesterday's widely-covered funeral of Kim Jong Il. Like the Hermit Kingdom itself, the DPRK's aural heritage is a musical mishmash: bombastic or solemn Soviet anthems aped by the North's uniformed orchestras and Red Army-style choirs, but also deeply Korean, pan-peninsular folk classics like Arirang, an unofficial anthem on both sides of the DMZ.  (It has also been expanded into an iteration of Pyongyong's infamous song-and-dance spectaculars, the Arirang Mass Games.)

As Kim Jong Il's coffin and cortege wended their way through Pyongyang's snowy streets yesterday, it wasn't just the route and imagery that sought inspiration and legitimacy from the 1994 funeral of Kim Il Sung, his still-revered father and predecessor. "Memorial Song of a Partisan," played in 1994, was specially re-recorded by a Korean People's Army Band and piped out to sobbing crowds. It evolved from a Russian folk song adapted by the WWII-era anti-Japanese resistance fighters who grew into North Korea's founding elite. With the original's lilting waltz meter and tempo rectified to a solemn march, a switch to a dour minor key made the transformation into "Partisan" complete; it is now a standard dirge for state occasions.

Similar music greets visitors to Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where the eldest Kim lies on display and his just-departed son lay in state until yesterday.  As in 1994, the Song of General Kim Jong Il, which has "happy" and "sad" versions tailored to a given state occasion.

Not to be outdone, Kim Jong Un, North Korea's recently-anointed "supreme commander", was first introduced to his people and the world through song: as speculation mounted over Kim Jong Il's health difficulties and the elevation of Kim Jong Un, reports of a new song from the state's propaganda hit-machine began to circulate in 2009.  Recounts scholar of North Korean propaganda B.R. Myers, "young North Koreans had been taught to sing a song glorifying a certain General Kim, whose vigorous stride (so the lyric goes) was making the very rivers and mountains rejoice. That this General was not the current leader, whose name is invariably invoked in its full three syllables, was clear enough, ergo the poem's subject had to be the successor to the throne."

Now, that throne is his.