The Election 2012 Weekly Report: UNGA-bunga party

Autumn in New York

Both candidates were in New York earlier this week as world leaders gathered for the U.N. General Assembly. In his address to the General Assembly on Tuesday, Barack Obama defended the principle of free speech following this month's riots in the Muslim world over an anti-Islamic video made in the United States. "The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech -- the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect," he said. After the speech, Barack Obama was quickly back on the campaign trail, a move that was criticized by some as the president chose not to meet with other world leaders during the week, leaving most of the face-to-face diplomacy to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Obama and Mitt Romney both addressed the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) that same day. Romney, who joked after being introduced that "If there's one thing we've learned this election season, it's that a few words from Bill Clinton can do a man a lot of good," devoted his speech to a critique of foreign aid as its currently conducted, calling for a more market-based approach.  "Nothing we can do as a nation will change lives and nations more effectively and permanently than sharing the insight that lies at the foundation of America's own economy -- free people pursuing happiness in their own ways build a strong and prosperous nation," he said.

In his CGI speech, Obama announced a new set of initiatives aimed at combating human trafficking, including new training for law enforcement and tighter restrictions on companies that receive federal contracts. "It ought to concern every community, because it tears at the social fabric. I'm talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name -- modern slavery," Obama said. 

Bombs away

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provided the U.N. General Assembly's most memorable moment with a speech during which he drew a literal "red line" on a cartoon bomb, meant to signify the point at which Iran would have nearly enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear weapon, necessitating an Israeli military strike. Though Netanyahu has been accused in recent weeks of barely concealed campaigning for his old friend Romney, he had kind words in his speech for Obama's own warnings to Iran, saying, "I very much appreciate the president's position, as does everyone in my country."

The red line in Netanyahu's speech, which he predicted would come in "by next spring, at most by next summer," seemed to indicate that Israel is not planning to attack Iran this year -- minimizing the chances of an "October surprise" before the U.S. election. On the other hand, Netanyahu's statement still seems to be at odds with the White House's position by suggesting that it is unacceptable for Iran to even have the capacity to build a weapon.

Romney's terrorism advantage

There's little to celebrate in the poll numbers for Romney. Even Fox News' polls have the GOP candidate trailing nationwide, and a Bloomberg poll released this week found that he has even lower favorability numbers than former President George W. Bush, who has been largely shut out of the campaign due to his lingering unpopularity. On the other hand, the same poll found that Romney currently enjoys a 48 percent to 42 percent advantage over Obama on the question of which candidate Americans would trust more to fight terrorism. The poll is one of the first to come out since the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya and Egypt, suggesting that the president has been damaged by the violence in the Middle East and the mixed signals from the administration over whether the incident in Benghazi was actually a terrorist attack. On the other hand, Romney was also criticized for what was seen as a rushed and overly partisan response to the events in Benghazi and Cairo, which may be one reason he's mostly keeping silent about them.

Ohio v. China

Barnstorming through the crucial state of Ohio, both candidates have sought to portray themselves as tougher on China. Campaigning at a factory in Bedford Heights, Romney again promised, "One thing I will do from day one is label China a currency manipulator. They must not steal jobs in an unfair way." Speaking at Bowling Green State University, Obama countered "He says he's gonna take the fight to them, he's going to go after these cheaters, and I've got to admit, that message is better than what he has actually done about this thing.... It sounds better than talking about all the years he spent profiting from companies that sent our jobs to China." Last week, Obama announced that the United States was filling a new case against China at the World Trade Organization while campaigning in Cincinnati.

Not everyone in the Buckeye state has responded well to the China-bashing, however. Toledo mayor Michael Bell, who has sought to attract Chinese investment in his struggling rust belt city, told the Financial Times he wishes both campaigns would cut it out. "I have to say, the campaign is really hindering us. The Chinese people we invited here are asking, ‘Why are you picking on us?'" he said.

French socialists for Obama

French Prime Minister Francois Hollande stopped short of endorsing a candidate in the U.S. election while visiting New York this week, but from his response it seemed pretty clear who his favorite was. "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. Hollande also defended Obama's decision not to meet with other leaders, saying, "I think everybody fully understood that Barack Obama is carrying out his campaign and he came to make a speech, one which met the expectations of the United States."

The latest from FP:

James Traub wonders if the Clinton Global Initiative speech revealed the real Romney foreign policy.

Paul Bonicelli on Romney's aid ideas.

Amy Zegart looks at why more Americans support Bush-era counterterrorism policies.

John Norris asks if America is ready for a male secretary of state.

An FP Slide Show looks at Hillary Clinton's busy week in New York.

Plus, the latest from the campaign trail at Passport and The Cable.

John Moore/Getty Images


New poll: Iran considered far and away America's #1 geopolitical foe

This year's presidential election has featured a long-running feud about which countries represent America's most dangerous foes (Iran? Russia? China?) and most treasured allies (Great Britain? Israel?) -- and how to characterize nations that occupy the murky middle ground between these two extremes.

On Thursday, the nonpartisan Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) released a poll that infuses some data into the debate, and the findings are particularly relevant in light of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu's U.N. speech yesterday on red lines for Iran's nuclear program.

We know from several recent surveys that many Americans believe Iran poses a grave danger to the United States (a CNN/ORC poll in April, for example, found that concern about Iran today is more widespread than concern about the Soviet Union in 1985). But most of these surveys have asked respondents to assess the severity of the Iranian threat (in the case of the CNN/ORC poll, alongside the threats posed by North Korea, Russia, and Syria).

FPI took a different approach, asking participants an open-ended question: "If you had to single out one country, which country do you think presents the most danger to American national security interests today?" The results are unequivocal. Forty-five percent of respondents selected Iran. China, the distant runner-up, clocked in at 8 percent, with Afghanistan right behind at 6 percent (Russia, which Mitt Romney once called "America's number one geopolitical foe," mustered a mere 1 percent). More than 60 percent of respondents supported preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons even if that meant using U.S. military force -- a finding that tracks with previous surveys. When it comes to America's geopolitical enemies, Iran and its nuclear program are clearly top of mind.

Even with these results, however, it's unclear how seriously Americans take threats from other nations these days. When FPI asked participants what represented the "largest threat to American national security interests today," for example, only 3.5 percent chose Iran -- well behind "terrorists" (17 percent), "Barack Obama/admin" (8 percent), and several other answers. Yes, you read that right: more respondents selected Obama than Iran.

The survey contains lots of other interesting findings. In another open-ended question about "America's best ally," 54 percent of respondents mentioned Great Britain and 16 percent cited Israel. Those who feel the country is headed in the wrong direction tended to have an unfavorable view of China, suggesting, in part, that concern about American decline goes hand-in-hand with wariness about China (it may also simply mean that those who are worried about China also oppose Obama). And nearly half of respondents view Greece favorably, even though Romney has used the country as a punching bag on the campaign trail (typical sound bite: "I think you're going to see America on the road to Greece unless we change course"). The poll is worth checking out in full here.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images