For all the Jeeps in China
In the last full week of campaigning before the election, son of Michigan Mitt Romney drew the wrath of an unlikely constituency: car company CEOs. On the campaign trail last week, Romney told an Ohio audience, "Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China." The claim appeared to be based on a misreading of a Bloomberg story which reported that Chrysler would begin producing Jeeps in China for the local market to escape tariffs, but was not shifting production from the United States. Nonetheless, the Romney campaign doubled down on the attack with a new commercial claiming that, "[Barack] Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China."
A Chrysler spokesman described the claim as "a leap that would be difficult even for professional circus acrobats" and the company's CEO Sergio Marchionne, one of the Italians in question, denied in a letter to employees that any production would be moved to China. General Motors also denied the ad's claims that it plans to cut jobs in the United States.
Marchionne wasn't the only Italian fed up with Romney's rhetoric this week. The La Repubblica newspaper ran an irritated editorial on Thursday after the Republican candidate mentioned the country along with Greece and Spain as a cautionary tale for the U.S. economy.
Global warming back on the agenda
The issue of climate change has been conspicuously absent in this election. It was not mentioned once in any of the three presidential debates, even as both candidates touted their support for the coal industry. But the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy this week has put the issue back on the agenda, with political leaders including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggesting a link between the storm and human-caused global warming.
New York City's independent mayor, Michael Bloomberg, made a surprise endorsement of Obama this week, citing the president's steps on reducing carbon emissions as the main reason. His endorsement, published on Bloomberg.com, also blasted Romney for abandoning the emissions-cutting policies he supported as governor of Massachusetts.
Nonetheless, while both campaigns have been scrambling to respond to the storm, which dominated headlines for most of the week, neither candidate has gone as far as to put the damage in the context of climate change.
The Benghazi drip continues
The Central Intelligence Agency this week took steps to defend its response to Sept. 11 attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. According to an account provided to the media by senior intelligence officials, CIA operatives rushed to the compound within 25 minutes of the attack and helped organize the evacuation of the survivors. The officials insisted they had encountered no resistance from Washington, though the information doesn't address the shifting accounts provided by the administration in the wake of the attack.
A story published on Foreign Policy this week also reported that documents recently found at the Benghazi site show that the team at the consulate was concerned that they were under surveillance on the day of the attack and weren't satisfied with the level of security provided by the Libyan government.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and National Security Subcommittee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) have written a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanding an explanation for the documents.
Playing the Castro card
The two candidates are running neck-and-neck in Florida heading into the last week of the campaign, and the Romney campaign has evidently decided to make a last-minute effort to lock down Cuban-American voters in the state with a Spanish-language ad noting the "endorsements" Obama has received from Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, noting also that the Environmental Protection Agency sent out an Hispanic Heritage Month email containing a picture with a mural of Che Guevara. The ad failed to note that Fidel Castro would prefer a robot to either candidate.
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Mitt Romney and Barack Obama met on Monday night for the final debate before the election. The showdown in Boca Raton, hosted by Bob Schieffer of CBS, was supposed to focus exclusively on foreign policy, though both candidates frequently took the opportunity to pivot to discussions of the U.S. economy.
In contrast to previous debates, Romney was relatively muted in his criticism of the president's record, declining to criticize his handling of the Benghazi consulate attack. Romney did repeat his claim that the president had gone on an "apology tour" of the Middle East following his election, argued that Iran is now "four years closer to a nuclear weapon," and described proposed cuts to the military budget as "devastating."
Obama accused Romney of changing his positions on intervention in Libya and withdrawal from Afghanistan, and joked that the Republican candidate wants to "import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s, and the economic policies of the 1920s."
CNN viewers gave a slight edge to the more aggressive Obama in post-debate polls.
The Powell doctrine
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed Obama in an interview with CBS Thursday. "I signed on for a long patrol with President Obama," said the former general, who had attracted attention by crossing party lines to endorse the president in 2008. Expressing concern with Romney's shifting positions on foreign policy, Powell said, "Sometimes I don't sense that he has thought through these issues as thoroughly as he should have."
Former New Hampshire governor Romney campaign surrogate John Sununu caused controversy on Thursday night by saying that Powell supports Obama because he is African-American. I think when you have somebody of your own race that you're proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him," Sununu told CNN's Piers Morgan. Sununu later issued a statement saying that he doesn't doubt Powell's endorsed was "based on anything but his support of the president's policies."
Rice on Benghazi
The Obama campaign got an assist from both of George W. Bush's secretaries of state this week, with Condoleezza Rice downplaying Republican attacks on the Obama administration's handling of diplomatic security prior to the Benghazi attack. "It is not very easy in circumstances like this to know precisely what's going on as it's unfolding," she said in an interview with Fox's Greta Van Susteren. "There are protocols in place, I have no reason to believe they weren't followed, but it is not very easy in circumstances like this to know precisely what's going on as it's unfolding."
Reuters reported this week that the White House had received emails hours after the Benghazi attack saying that an Islamist militant group had claimed credit, though it now appears those emails may have been inaccurate. The Senate Intelligence committee has scheduled hearings into the attacks for several days after the election.
The third-party factor
Libertarian party candidate Gary Johnson launched his first television ad this week, touting his dovish foreign policy. The ads, which will run in several states in the mountain west, feature a menacing-looking drone and the former New Mexico governor describing himself as the "only candidate who does not want to bomb Iran." The ads follow Johnson's performance at a third-party candidates' debate on Tuesday in which he pledged to reduce military spending by 43 percent. Johnson, along with fellow third-party candidate Virgil Goode of the Constitution party, could be a factor in the battleground state of Nevada, where they have combined support of around 7 percent according to recent polls.
Who would the world vote for?
A BBC poll of 21,797 people in 21 countries shows 50 percent supporting Obama, with only 9 percent for Romney. France was the most pro-Obama country, with 72 percent support. The only country where voters preferred Romney was Pakistan, likely due to opposition to the Obama administration's drone attacks. Romney also enjoyed significant levels of support in Poland and in Obama's father's homeland, Kenya.
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Round 2, fight!
There was only one foreign-policy question at the second presidential debate, held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Tuesday, but it provided one of the most memorable exchanges of the night. Audience member Kerry Ladka asked President Barack Obama why the State Department had "refused extra security for our embassy in Benghazi, Libya." (The request was actually for the embassy in Tripoli, not the Benghazi consulate.)
Obama didn't address the question directly, instead vowing again to "investigate exactly what happened, regardless of where the facts lead us, to make sure that folks are held accountable and it doesn't happen again." The president also said that on the day after the attack that killed U.S. Amb. Christopher Stevens, he had "stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an ‘act of terror.'"
Sensing an opening, Mitt Romney countered that it "took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror." After Obama asked Romney to "get the transcript" and moderator Candy Crowley interjected, "He did call it an ‘act of terror.'"
In fact, Obama had said, "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for." Some conservative commentators countered that the president was not actually referring to the Benghazi attack, but Obama had also used the description more specifically the following day.
Overall, the debate was generally scored as a win for Obama -- in stark contrast to the first debate two weeks ago -- with liberal commentators pointing in particular to the Benghazi exchange as a pivotal error by Romney. The voters, of course, may have another view.
The fallout from Benghazi continued to dominate media coverage of the election this week. On Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made headlines by saying, "I take responsibility" for the security arrangements at U.S. facilities abroad. Some interpreted the remark as an attempt to shift blame away from the president, though Obama later said at the debate, "I'm the president. And I'm always responsible."
The Drudge Report also highlighted a comment Obama made on the Daily Show on Friday -- "If four Americans get killed, it's not optimal" -- though the president was actually responding to a question from host Jon Stewart that used the word "optimal."
The New York Times reported on Friday that one of the prime suspects in the attack, Ahmed Abu Khatalla, had spent several hours sipping frappés and chatting with reporters at a hotel in Benghazi despite U.S. and Libyan pledges to bring the perpetrators to justice. Khatalla accused U.S. leaders of "using the consulate attack just to gather votes for their elections."
Polls keep narrowing
A Pew Research poll this week shows the two candidates running about even on foreign-policy issues. Overall, voters favor Obama 47 percent to 43 percent on handling foreign policy, but that's down from a 15 point spread in September.
The poll also found voters favoring stability over democracy in the Middle East, supporting "taking a firm stand" against Iran's nuclear program over avoiding military conflict, and "getting tougher" with China. Respondents supported Romney's policies on China by a 49-40 percent margin, but gave Obama a narrow edge on handling Iran and political instability in Egypt and Libya.
The final debate
The narrowing polls have raised the stakes for the third and final debate on Monday night, which will focus entirely on foreign policy. The debate will be held at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. CBS's Bob Schieffer will moderate. Although the two campaigns have sparred repeatedly on Iran's nuclear program, instability in the Arab world, and trade with China, a number of issues have yet to be discussed, including the fallout of the European financial crisis, the effects of climate change, and U.S. policy in Latin America and Africa.
You can follow FP's coverage on Monday night on the site and on Twitter using the hashtag #FPDebate.
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The Benghazi fallout continues
The Obama administration continued to face criticism this week over its handling of the Sept. 11 attack that killed U.S. Amb. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya. Contradicting the initial statements made by senior administration officials, the event is now being described as a terrorist attack unrelated to the protests over an anti-Islam video that erupted elsewhere in the Middle East on the same day. At a dramatic hearing convened by the House Oversight Committee this week, the former chief security officer for the U.S. Embassy in Libya testified that his request to extend the deployment of a U.S. military team had been turned down by the State Department.
In her testimony, Charlene Lamb, a deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, insisted, "We had the correct number of assets in Benghazi on the night of 9/11," to which committee chairman Darrell Issa replied, "That doesn't ring true to the American people."
Democrats, including ranking committee member Elijah Cummings, criticized the GOP for politicizing the investigation into the attack, but Barack Obama campaign spokesperson Stephanie Cutter took things a step further on Thursday by arguing during a CNN interview, "The entire reason that this has become the political topic it is because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. It's a big part of their stump speech and it's reckless and irresponsible."
Romney was quick to take advantage of the gaffe, saying at a rally that night, "No President Obama, it's an issue because this is the first time in 33 years that a U.S. ambassador has been assassinated. Mr. President, this is an issue because we were attacked successfully by terrorists on the anniversary of 9/11."
Meeting of the running mates
Benghazi also came up on Thursday night during the one and only debate between Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden. The vice president insisted that the White House had not been made aware of the request for more security from Tripoli. "We weren't told they wanted more security. We did not know they wanted more security there," he said. Ryan also picked up on Cutter's remark, saying, "This is becoming more troubling by the day. They first blamed the YouTube video. Now they're trying to blame the Romney-Ryan ticket for making this an issue."
Moderator Martha Raddatz, a veteran foreign-affairs correspondent for ABC news, pressed the candidates on a number of foreign-policy issues, including Iran's nuclear program, the escalating violence in Syria, and the war in Afghanistan. "Under a Romney administration, we will have credibility" on threats to use military force against Iran, Ryan promised, and said, "We wouldn't refer to Bashar Assad as a reformer when he's killing his own civilians with his Russian-provided weapons." But he offered few specifics on how a Romney administration's policies on these issues would differ going forward. "What would my friend do differently? If you notice, he never answers the question," Biden quipped.
Both candidates agreed on a 2014 withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, but Ryan criticized the Obama administration for announcing its withdrawal plan in advance. Biden said that U.S. goals in Afghanistan are "almost completed. Now, all we're doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security. It's their responsibility, not America's."
There were no questions about East Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe, or any country outside the Islamic world.
Romney speaks out
In a speech on Monday at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney referred back to the post-war policies of VMI graduate Gen. George Marshall -- not exactly a conservative hero in his day -- in arguing that Obama has weakened U.S. power through cuts to the military and has lost control of events in the Middle East. "I know the president hopes for a safer, freer, and a more prosperous Middle East allied with the United States," Romney said. "I share this hope. But hope is not a strategy. We cannot support our friends and defeat our enemies in the Middle East when our words are not backed up by deeds, when our defense spending is being arbitrarily and deeply cut, when we have no trade agenda to speak of, and the perception of our strategy is not one of partnership, but of passivity."
Attack of the RAND PAC
Outside of the presidential race, a political action committee associated with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has been buying ads targeting vulnerable Democratic senators over their support for foreign aid. In the first ad, targeting West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the narration states, "While they tear down and burn the American flag in Egypt and shout ‘death to America, Joe Manchin votes to provide U.S. taxpayer aid to Egypt." It concludes: "Joe Manchin works with Barack Obama to send billions of our taxpayer dollars to countries where radicals storm our embassies, burn our flag and kill our diplomats." RAND PAC is also planning to run similar ads against Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham defended Manchin from his Republican colleague's attacks, saying, "I'm sorry that my colleague Sen. Rand Paul felt that he needed to get involved and has gotten involved ... I very much would like to have a Republican president, and I'd very much like to have a Republican-controlled Senate, but when it comes to foreign policy and matters of war and national security, I really do try to be bipartisan and I respect Joe a lot."
The poll picture
Polls this week continued to show Romney making up ground. While the two candidates are in a dead heat nationally, a new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/Miami Herald poll shows Romney with a 7-point advantage in Florida, a state that appeared to be trending toward Obama a month ago.
The shift is even starker on foreign policy. A Fox News poll released on Wednesday gave Obama a 6-point edge over Romney on handling of foreign policy, down from a 15-point lead prior to the Benghazi attack. A new Zogby analytics poll gives Romney a 48 to 45 percent advantage on national security.
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The debates begin
The two candidates met for their first head-to-head debate on Tuesday night -- an encounter almost universally agreed to have been won by Mitt Romney. The debate was focused on domestic policy, but the rest of the world did come up a few times. Romney noted that, "Spain spends 42 percent of their total economy on government. We're now spending 42 percent of our economy on government. I don't want to go down the path to Spain." The statement provoked some backlash from Spanish reporters and politicians, and is slightly misleading, as well: Spain actually spends 46 percent and the American figure includes state and local expenditures as well.
Romney also promised to "open up more trade, particularly in Latin America" and "crack down on China if and when they cheat." Employing a popular applause line from the campaign trail, Romney also vowed to "eliminate all programs by this test -- if they don't pass it: Is the program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?"
Barack Obama, who appeared somewhat listless throughout the debate and unable to effectively defend his record, returned to national security when summing up his accomplishments as president. Describing his willingness to "take ideas from anybody, Democrat or Republican," the president said, "That's how we signed three trade deals into law that are helping us to double our exports and sell more American products around the world. That's how we repealed ‘don't ask, don't tell.' That's how we ended the war in Iraq, as I promised, and that's how we're going to wind down the war in Afghanistan. That's how we went after al Qaeda and bin Laden."
The two also clashed on defense spending, with Romney arguing, "We have a responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of our people, and that means the military, second to none. I do not believe in cutting our military." Obama countered that Romney's pledge to provide "$2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn't asked for" is economically unsustainable.
The two candidates will meet again on Oct. 16 for a town hall debate that will feature foreign and domestic policy and a final debate on Oct. 22 focused entirely on international issues.
Romney on the attack
Romney is likely hoping to capitalize on the momentum from his debate performance, and part of that will be renewed attacks on the president's handling of national security. Romney is scheduled to give a speech on foreign policy at the Virginia Military Institute on Monday. He still trails Obama in polls asking voters which candidate they trust more as commander in chief, though Obama's foreign-policy numbers have been slipping in the wake of the recent turmoil in the Middle East.
Romney's speech may continue themes raised in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Monday which criticized the president's handling of the crises in Libya, Syria, and over Iran's nuclear program. "[A]mid 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," Romney wrote.
On domestic policy, Romney seemed in the debate to have moved away from the Tea Party-influenced rhetoric on spending cuts and tax breaks that he has employed since the GOP primary toward more centrist positions, prompting Obama to quip, "When I got on the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney." The VMI speech will be an indication of whether a similar shift is underway on Romney's approach to foreign policy.
The Obama administration continues to face criticism for its handling of the attack in Benghazi, Libya, three weeks ago, that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Asked on 60 Minutes on Sunday if recent events in the Middle East had caused him to reconsider U.S. support for the Arab Spring, Obama replied, "I think it was absolutely the right thing for us to do to align ourselves with democracy [and] universal rights, a notion that people have to be able to participate in their own governance," Obama said. "But I was pretty certain and continue to be pretty certain that there are going to be bumps in the road because, you know, in a lot of these places, the one organizing principle has been Islam. The one part of society that hasn't been controlled completely by the government. There are strains of extremism, and anti-Americanism, and anti-Western sentiment."
Republicans have seized on the "bumps in the road" remark, with Romney campaign spokesperson Andrea Saul, saying "After nearly four years in office, President Obama is eager to make excuses for his failed policies at home and abroad by declaring ‘bumps in the road.'" Former candidate Newt Gingrich was more blunt, tweeting, "It is disgusting to have Obama describe the killing of an ambassador and three other Americans as 'a bump in the road' on 60 minutes." White house spokesperson Jay Carney countered that suggestions that the president was referring to the killing of Stevens in his remarks were "desperate and offensive."
The State Department began a review this week into the circumstances of the Benghazi attack and what security lapses may have occurred. Critics have asked why the ambassador was in such a lightly defended compound in a city where militant violence had recently occurred on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. FBI investigators finally arrived in Benghazi on Thursday, three weeks after the attack and after the site had already been picked over by looters and reporters. Some officials have suggested that the State Department dragged its feet in securing a security escort for the agents, though the administration blames the Libyan government for the delay.
When will Syria be an issue?
The crisis in Syria showed worrying signs of inflaming the wider region this week when Turkey shelled targets within Syria in retaliation for a Syrian Army mortar attack that killed a woman and three children in Akcakale, Turkey. The Turkish parliament has authorized further military action, though it does not appear likely that there will be a larger military response for the time being. NATO called an emergency meeting to discuss the issue, though there has been no discussion yet of invoking Article 5, which would obligate the alliance to come to the aid of member state Turkey. The U.S. State Department called Turkey's actions "appropriate" and "proportional" and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed outrage at the Syrian mortar attack.
The possible internationalization of the conflict raises the question of whether the Syria crisis will become more of an issue in the campaign. The Romney campaign has accused the president of having "dragged his feet" in response to the crisis and a "lack of leadership" but Romney has provided few specifics on how he would handle Syria differently other than being "more assertive." In his Wall Street Journal article, Romney noted that, "In Syria, tens of thousands of innocent people have been slaughtered" but didn't address the crisis further.
Looking ahead to the VP debate
The major political event of next week will be Thursday's vice presidential debate at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Democrats are hoping for a strong performance from Joe Biden to stop the GOP's momentum. In the debate, which will include both foreign and domestic policy, Paul Ryan may be looking to establish his national security bona fides in a debate with the more experienced Biden. Ryan has lately been taking up the attacks on the administration's handling of Benghazi, telling radio host Laura Ingraham, "We've seen a confused, slow, inconsistent response to what is now very clearly known as a terrorist act."
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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.
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."
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Tale of the tape
Mitt Romney was forced to play defense again this week after Mother Jones released a secret recording of remarks he made at a private Boca Raton fundraiser in May. In addition to saying that his "job is not to worry about" the 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income taxes and would likely never vote for him anyway, Romney made a number of controversial statements on foreign policy.
Addressing the stalled Mideast peace process, Romney told the audience, "I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there's just no way." He suggested that the best course of action for the United States was to "kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it."
The remarks prompted an angry response from Palestinian officials.
Romney also addressed Iran's nuclear program, saying, "if I were Iran -- a crazed fanatic, I'd say let's get a little fissile material to Hezbollah, have them carry it to Chicago or some other place, and then if anything goes wrong, or America starts acting up, we'll just say, ‘Guess what? Unless you stand down, why, we're going to let off a dirty bomb.'" Nuclear analysts, however, noted that Romney's understanding of this kind of weaponry was a bit off -- fissile material would not be necessary to produce a dirty bomb.
The leaked video, in which Romney also joked that if his father had been Mexican, "I'd have a better shot of winning this," overshadowed speeches Romney delivered on Monday at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles and on Thursday at a rally in Miami, aimed at making up ground among Latino voters -- 68 percent of whom favor Barack Obama according to a recent poll. "This party is the natural home for Hispanic Americans because this is the party of opportunity and hope," Romney in the Miami speech.
Romney also participated in a forum hosted by Spanish-language television network Univision, in which he addressed the hot-button issue of immigration. "We are not going to round up people around the country and deport them," he said. "Our system is not to deport people." Romney also seemed to soften his stance on the issue, saying that he supported granting permanent residence to illegal immigrants who serve in the military or "kids that get higher education." The education-for-residency deal is a central component of the proposed DREAM act, which Romney said he opposed during the GOP primary.
Obama appeared on the Univision program a day after Romney and was pressed by host Jorge Ramos on why he had failed to honor a pledge made in 2008 to "have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support." Obama blamed the fact that "the economy was on the verge of collapse" and called the inability to pass immigration reform his "biggest failure." Obama was also pressed on why his administration had deported more people -- 1.5 million since 2009 -- than any of his predecessors.
Overall, this week brought good news for Obama on the polling front. His approval rating is back above 50 percent for the first time since May, an increasing number of voters expect the economy to improve, and he's above 50 percent in the crucial swing states of Wisconsin, Virginia, and Colorado.
Interestingly, the most worrying number for the president this week may be in an area that's been one of his main strengths so far in the campaign: foreign policy. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken in the days following the attacks on U.S. embassies in Libya and Egypt found that Obama's approval rating on foreign policy dropped to 49 percent from 54 percent in August -- his lowest rating since the killing of Osama bin Laden. However, Obama still enjoys an advantage over his opponent: 45 percent still believe he would make a better commander-in-chief compared to 38 percent for Romney.
Swinging on Syria
The deteriorating situation in Syria hasn't been much of an issue on the campaign so far, as Romney has avoided the tough talk among some of his Republican colleagues in calling for military action to oust Bashar al-Assad. But Romney's top foreign-policy advisor Dan Senor blasted the president's handling of the crisis in an appearance on CBS on Friday morning. "It's been over a year since the president said Bashar Assad must go," Senor said. "Bashar Assad is still in power. America looks impotent in the region."
Senor suggested that a Romney administration would do more to work with regional allies to supply the rebel forces fighting Assad.
The Bibi factor
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took his call for the United States to impose a more specific "red line" on Iran's nuclear program to the Sunday talk shows last weekend. "It's like Timothy McVeigh walking into a shop in Oklahoma City and saying, ‘I'd like to tend my garden. I'd like to buy some fertilizer.... Come on. We know that they're working on a weapon,'" Netanyahu said on NBC's Meet the Press, referring to Tehran's claims that its nuclear program is solely for scientific and energy purposes. Employing an American football metaphor, Netanyahu continued, "You know, they're in the last 20 yards, and you can't let them cross that goal line,"
The Obama administration has rebuffed calls to impose a red line that would trigger a military response, arguing that it needs to maintain flexibility in negotiations. Romney had previously suggested that he and the president had the same line when it came to Iran's nuclear program -- building an actual weapon -- but on a conference call with a group of American rabbis this week, Romney seemed to change his position, saying "for me, it is unacceptable or Iran to have the capability of building a nuclear weapon" -- a position much closer to what Netanyahu has suggested.
Netanyahu will travel to New York later this month for the U.N. General Assembly, but will not meet with Obama. According to the White House, the two will simply not be in the city at the same time and Obama's tight schedule does not allow a meeting, but Romney has called the decision "confusing and troubling."
The latest from FP:
Former candidate Newt Gingrich accuses the president of apologizing for American values following the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Louis Klarevas worries that Obama is caving to pressure from the right in declaring the killing of Christopher Stevens a "terrorist attack."
The Palestine Liberation Organization's U.S. ambassador, Maen Rashid Areikat, responds to Romney's comments on the peace process.
Joe Cirincione on what Romney got wrong about dirty bombs.
Gordon Adams says forget the 47 percent -- the defense industry is the real moocher class.
Arif Rafiq says it's time to admit that Obama's Afghanistan strategy has been a complete disaster.
Romney's right: Russia is our No. 1 geopolitical foe, argues John Arquilla.
Aaron David Miller wonders if Romney can be trusted with the Middle East.
Michael Cohen says we shouldn't expect the president to be able to fix the Middle East.
Samuel Berger says Romney has adopted Netanyahu's dangerous Iran timetable.
Netanyahu has proved that the "Israel lobby" was always overblown, says David Rothkopf.
Not so fast, says Stephen Walt.
Peter Feaver is troubled by Obama's handling of the embassy attacks.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
The embassy aftermath
The escalating chaos in the Middle East sparked by an anti-Islamic video spilled over into the presidential campaign this week. On Tuesday night, shortly after protesters had stormed the U.S. embassy in Cairo and reports had emerged that a U.S. diplomat had been killed in Libya, Mitt Romney issued a statement saying, "It's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks." Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus also tweeted, "Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic."
The criticism was prompted by messages put out by the U.S. embassy in Cairo before that compound had been stormed, denouncing the offending film. The Obama administration disavowed the messages from the embassy, which were reportedly published without State Department approval, and Obama campaign spokesman Ben Labolt fired back late on Tuesday night: "We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack."
On Wednesday morning, after it had been reported that four Americans had been killed in Libya, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Romney again criticized the Obama administration's handling of the events, accusing the White House of sending "mixed signals." "I think it's a terrible course for America to apologize for our values," Romney said, referring to the original Cairo embassy statements.
Barack Obama criticized Romney personally in an interview with CBS, saying, "Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first, aim later. And as president, one of the things I've learned is you can't do that."
The Romney campaign has continued to step up its attacks, with advisor Richard Williamson telling the Washington Post, "There's a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you'd be in a different situation.... For the first time since Jimmy Carter, we've had an American ambassador assassinated."
Obama has also has his own trouble with messaging this week. In an interview with the Spanish-language Telemundo network on Saturday, he said of the Egyptian government, "I don't think that we would consider them an ally, but we don't consider them an enemy. They're a new government that is trying to find its way."
The White House walked back the statement later with spokesman Tommy Vietor telling Foreign Policy, "Egypt is longstanding and close partner of the United States, and we have built on that foundation by supporting Egypt's transition to democracy and working with the new government."
The thin red line
The Obama administration this week rejected calls by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to spell out a specific "red line" that were Iran to cross on its nuclear program would trigger an action in response. "We need some ability for the president to have decision-making room.... We have a red line, which is a nuclear weapon. We're committed to that red line," a senior official told the New York Times.
Facing criticism at home, Netanyahu denied that his frequent criticism of the Obama administration on Iran was intended to sway the election. "That's nonsense, because what's guiding me is not the election in the United States but the centrifuges in Iran," he told the newspaper Hayom.
In an interview on Friday morning, Romney told ABC's George Stephanopoulos, "My red line is Iran may not have a nuclear weapon." When asked if that meant he had the same "red line" as Obama, Romney -- who has frequently criticized the Obama administration's handling of Iran, replied "yes."
According to a recent CNN poll -- conducted before this week's events -- Obama holds a 12 point advantage over Romney when voters are asked which candidate they trust to handle foreign policy. "For the first time in a very long time, a Democrat has a clear advantage on national security issues," campaign advisor Michele Flournoy told Buzzfeed, responding to the poll.
Romney foreign policy advisor Robert O'Brien accused the Obama campaign of trying to distract voters from a sagging economy."It doesn't surprise me that they're raising foreign policy because it's another distraction from the Administration's terrible economic record... They're going from one shiny object to the next." Another advisor made a similar comment to Politico, defending the lack of discussion of national security at the Republican convention. "This is an economy election and if he gets off on foreign policy or war policy, he's playing on the president's turf," he said.
Weekly Standard editor and leading neoconservative commentator William Kristol criticized the statement, writing, "What does it say when a Romney adviser concedes "foreign policy or war policy" as "the president's turf"? Can one imagine a Reagan adviser saying such a thing in 1980?"
Romney v. Beijing
The Romney campaign launched an ad this week accusing the Obama administration of failing to prevent U.S. jobs from being lost to China by not standing up to its deflationary currency practices. In a speech on Thursday, Romney said that Obama "had the chance year after year to label China a currency manipulator, but he hasn't done so" and promised again to "label China the currency manipulator they are on the first day."
An editorial in a state-run Chinese news agency on Friday fired back, calling Romney's remarks "as false as they are foolish" and saying it is "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."
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is heading to China this weekend amid escalating tensions between Beijing and Tokyo over disputed islands in the East China Sea.
On Sept. 10, Washington Post columnist and former George W. Bush advisor Marc Thiessen wrote a column criticizing Obama for not receiving regular Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs) from his intelligence advisors. Citing numbers from the Government Accountability Institute, Thiessen wrote, "During his first 1,225 days in office, Obama attended his PDB just 536 times -- or 43.8 percent of the time. During 2011 and the first half of 2012, his attendance became even less frequent -- falling to just over 38 percent. By contrast, Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush almost never missed his daily intelligence meeting."
In a follow-up column, Thiessen accused Obama of skipping his briefing the day after the attack in Benghazi to attend a fundraiser in Las Vegas. Vietor responded to Thiessen: "As I've told you every time you ask, the President gets his PDB every day.... Unlike your former boss, he has it delivered to his residence in the morning and not briefed to him."
Former Vice President Dick Cheney even entered the debate, telling the Daily Caller through a spokesperson, "If President Obama were participating in his intelligence briefings on a regular basis then perhaps he would understand why people are so offended at his efforts to take sole credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden."
The foreign vote
Two polls this week made clear that Romney should be glad he's not running for president in Europe. According to a YouGov poll of more than 12,000 people across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan, and China, only around one in 20 had a positive view of the Republican candidate. In Britain, 47 percent said a Romney victory would make them feel less favorable toward the United States, and only 3 percent said that they would feel more favorable. Respondents from the Middle East were more ambivalent about the election. Another poll by the German Marshall Fund found that 39 percent of Europeans had a negative view of Romney, compared to 23 percent positive.
Advisors on the move:
ABC reports that senior Romney foreign-policy advisor Dan Senor, who had been traveling with vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, has been pulled off the campaign trail to handle "foreign policy developments" from campaign headquarters in Boston. Senor's role in the campaign had drawn attention during Romney's trip to Israel in August.
The latest from FP:
Aaron David Miller looks at the troubled relationship between Barack and Bibi.
David Rothkopf wonders when Democrats started sounding like Rudy Giuliani when talking about terrorism.
Will Inboden argues that foreign-policy bipartisanship is a thing of the past.
Kori Schake says Romney got national security right in his convention speech.
Democrats flex foreign-policy muscle
At their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week, the Democrats weren't shy about touting their rare advantage on national security in this year's election. Speakers mentioned Osama bin Laden 21 times during the three-day event, and Barack Obama ridiculed Republican challenger Mitt Romney's foreign policy in his acceptance speech on Thursday evening.
"My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy," the president asserted. "After all, you don't call Russia our number one enemy -- not al Qaeda, Russia -- unless you're still stuck in a Cold War mind warp. You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally."
At a campaign stop in Iowa on Friday, Romney defended the critical comments he made while visiting London during this summer's Olympic Games, calling it the kind of "straight talk" Obama avoids. "I think it would be appropriate if the president would talk to China in a straight talk manner," he said. "They have manipulated their currency for well over a decade, taken American jobs, and I think it's totally appropriate to show backbone and strength as we deal with other nations around the world, there is nothing wrong with telling people the truth."
On Friday morning, shortly after the Democratic convention wrapped up, a much-anticipated jobs report revealed that that while the unemployment rate had fallen from 8.3 percent to 8.1 percent, the economy had added only 96,000 jobs in August, far below the 125,000 that economists had forecasted and the revised figure of 141,000 that the economy had added in July. The Romney campaign pounced. "If last night was the party, this morning is the hangover," Romney noted, adding that the president had "yet to keep his number one promise to fix the economy."
Saluting the troops
Democrats seized on the controversy surrounding Romney's failure to mention the war in Afghanistan during his acceptance speech last week -- an effort that was no doubt aided by the optics of Obama addressing the troops at Fort Bliss, Texas, the very next day. "No nominee for president should ever fail in the midst of a war to pay tribute to our troops overseas in his acceptance speech," Senator John Kerry (D-MA) declared on Thursday evening in the most substantive foreign policy speech of the convention. (Romney, for his part, points out that he mentioned Afghanistan during a visit to the American Legion a day after the convention.) A Gallup poll in August showed Romney leading Obama 55 percent to 38 percent among veterans.
Platform politics: Jerusalem
Of all the controversies surrounding this year's Democratic platform, none was more consequential than the debate surrounding the decision to not include language affirming that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel in the document's section on Israel. The wording had appeared in the party's 2008 platform, but drafters reportedly removed it to indicate that Jerusalem will remain a so-called final-status issue in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Party leaders ultimately reinstated the language during a chaotic and contentious voice vote after facing heavy criticism from the Romney campaign and others.
Talk of immigration reform figured prominently in the Democratic convention. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, the first Latino to deliver the keynote address at a convention, praised Obama's executive order this summer to halt the deportation of young illegal immigrants. "The president took action to lift the shadow of deportation from a generation of young, law-abiding immigrants called ‘Dreamers,'" Castro noted. Benita Veliz, an undocumented immigrant and a leader of the Dreamers movement, also addressed the convention. The GOP convention also featured several Latino speakers, including Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and New Mexican Governor Susana Martinez.
Global warming wasn't a major topic of conversation at the Republican and Democratic conventions -- beyond a debate about whether caring about the rise of the oceans is a good thing -- but Romney did make headlines this week by adjusting his stance on climate change, albeit in a rather confusing fashion. "I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences," he argued. "However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue."
The latest from FP:
Over the last couple weeks, there's been an extended debate on ForeignPolicy.com between Peter Feaver, Charles Kupchan, and Bruce Jentleson over the merits of Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's foreign policies. Check it out here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Alex Massie explains why he's sick and tired of U.S. political conventions.
Uri Friedman explores the surprising Republican reset with Pakistan.
Aaron David Miller makes the case for why Barack Obama will win reelection.
John Kerry outlines why the Republicans can't be trusted with national security.
Joshua Keating tells us what a Polkian presidency might look like.
Foreign Policy releases its list of the 50 most powerful Democrats on foreign policy.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Obama and Romney spar on Afghanistan
At a surprise appearance at the daily White House press conference on Monday, President Barack Obama addressed a number of foreign-policy issues, notably Syria and Afghanistan. On Syria, the president seemed to rule out U.S. military intervention to topple Bashar al-Assad's regime, though he also issued a stark warning on the use of chemical or biological weapons. "We have been very clear to the Assad regime but also to other players on the ground that a red line for us is, we start seeing a whole bunch of weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus," he added. That would change my equation."
He also said the U.S. military needs to beef up its vetting process for Afghan troops following a series of lethal "green on blue" attacks on U.S. troops by their Afghan counterparts. There have been 32 such incidents this year. "We have got to make sure we are on top of this," the president said, promising to discuss the problem with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. (Karzai later blamed the attacks on foreign spies.)
Mitt Romney criticized the president on his handling of the war this week, telling a gathering in New Hampshire, "When our men and women are in harm's way, I expect the president of the United States to address the nation on a regular basis and explain what's happening and why they're there, what the mission is, what its purpose is, how we'll know when it's completed."
The Obama campaign struck back, with spokesperson Lis Smith saying that Romney has refused to detail his own plan for withdrawing from the war. "If he does have some secret plan, he owes it to our men and women in uniform to tell them," she said.
Ryan on the attack
At the same New Hampshire rally, Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan spoke at length on foreign policy for the first time. He called Iran "an existential threat to Israel'' as well as "our own national security" and discussed the Middle East peace process, arguing that "when President Obama made the 1967 borders the precondition for the beginning of negotiations, it undercut our ally." Ryan was referring to a speech last year in which Obama made the case that "the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps," comments that led to a minor kerfuffle with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
On Thursday, the Romney campaign unveiled a new energy plan that the candidate says will allow the U.S. to achieve energy independence by 2020. The plan involves deregulating the oil and gas industry, opening up more federal lands and offshore waters to drilling, and approving the Keystone XL pipeline between the United States and Canada. In a policy paper released this week, the campaign accuses Obama of having intentionally "sought to shut down oil, gas and coal production in pursuit of his own alternative energy agenda."
Beating the Iran drums
With more signs emerging this week that Iran is continuing -- or even accelerating -- work on its nuclear program, despite covert sabotage efforts, Romney's campaign advisors have been ratcheting up the calls for military action, though as FP's Josh Rogin notes, they differ on the specifics. In an article for the Weekly Standard, former White House aide and Romney campaign advisor Elliot Abrams argues that the time has come for Obama to ask Congress for an authorization for the use of military force against Iran, as a way of reassuring Israel that he is serious about preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. "This is the way for him to show seriousness of purpose, and for Congress to support it -- and send an unmistakable message to the ayatollahs," he writes.
Meanwhile, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton argues in the Washington Times that Israel should not count on the United States to take action and should instead "make its own military decision, preferably one based on physics, not politics." Bolton also suggested that U.S. policy may not change fast enough for Israel even if Romney wins, prompting an Obama campaign spokesperson to suggest he had gone "off message."
What's in the GOP platform?
The GOP platform prepared last week will be released on Monday, ahead of the GOP convention. Other than a last-minute change from "Czechoslovakia" to Czech Republic, the foreign-policy sections of the platform have gotten less attention than what the document says about abortion and Medicare. FP's Uri Friedman runs down what we know about the platform so far. It includes a section on "Unequivocal Support for Israel," including recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital after the creation of a Palestinian state, support for increasing the U.S. military budget -- over the howls of the party's libertarian wing -- and the first-ever GOP plank on "Internet freedom."
The latest from FP:
Michael Levi argues that Romney's plan still won't free America from Mideast oil.
Lawrence Korb, Max Hoffman, and Robert Ward say Ryan's defense budget plan is actually closer to Obama's than Romney's.
Peter Feaver asks why Obama rarely talks about the war in Afghanistan anymore.
Josh Rogin reports on the inflammatory Facebook postings of the former Navy Seal leading attacks on Obama.
The Life of Ryan
Last Saturday, Mitt Romney ended weeks of speculation by naming Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate. With Ryan, Romney gets a potential VP who is popular with the GOP base and is seen as a leader on fiscal issues. He does not, however, get an awful lot of foreign-policy experience, which could be an indication that this isn't going to be a major focus of the campaign going forward.
Ryan is known staunch free-trader, having worked on the Middle East Free Trade Agreement, and has even bucked GOP orthodoxy by suggesting that the embargo on Cuba by eased. Most of what we know about Ryan's foreign-policy views comes from a June 2, 2011 speech at the Alexander Hamilton Society in which he strongly supported promoting democracy in the Middle East and argued that the United States "should seek to increase China's investment in the international system."
Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" budget plan would boost military spending while cutting the budget of the State Department and USAID.
Prominent Romney campaign advisor and Middle East specialist Dan Senor has been named as Ryan's senior advisor.
Going to the mat over China
Ryan wasted no time attacking Obama on trade policy, accusing President Barack Obama of weakness on Chinese trade practices in a speech in Ohio on Aug. 16. "Free trade is a powerful tool for peace and prosperity, but our trading partners need to play by the rules," Ryan said, according to Buzzfeed's Zeke Miller. "This challenge focuses on China. They steal our intellectual property rights, they block access to their markets, they manipulate their currency. President Obama said he would stop these practices. He said he'd go to the mat with China, instead they are treating him like a doormat."
Many of the shortlisted names passed over for the VP slot will get a chance at the national spotlight at the Republican National Convention in Tampa Bay at the end of August, including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who will give the keynote, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio -- an emerging GOP leader on foreign policy -- who will introduce Romney. Other rising stars including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell are also slated to speak, along with party veterans such as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Sen. John McCain.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former President George W. Bush are not scheduled to speak.
Spec Ops or swift boat?
A group of U.S. Special Operations veterans calling themselves the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund has released an ad this week criticizing Obama for taking undue credit for the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and leaking compromising information to the press. Wired reports that the ad was viewed 226,000 times on YouTube on its first day and will air on television in key battleground states. The donors that are funding the effort have not been revealed.
The Obama campaign hit back, comparing the group to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the notorious organization that attacked John Kerry's Vietnam War record in 2004. "The Republicans are resorting to 'Swift Boat' tactics because when it comes to foreign policy and national security, Mitt Romney has offered nothing but reckless rhetoric," campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt told Reuters.
Immigration reform comes into effect
The immigration reform measure announced by Obama in June, under which the federal government will stop deporting illegal immigrants who arrived in the country as childrenand are enrolled in school or the military, came into effect this week. Long lines formed outside immigration offices throughout the country as immigrants sought to enroll in the program. The reform is similar to the DREAM Act, a more formal and controversial program that is supported by the Obama administration but has little prospect of passing through congress. Immigration opponents have accused the president of pushing through the reform in order to pander to Hispanic votes.
Immigration is emerging as a major issue in statewide races as well, particularly in a closely contested Republican Senate primary in Arizona, where businessman and Tea Party activist Wil Cardon has been hammering Rep. Jeff Flake over his past support for immigration reform.
More scrutiny for Adelson
Real estate mogul Sheldon Adelson, who almost single-handedly bankrolled Newt Gingrich's presidential run and is now one of Romney's major backers, has continued to generate controversy over his business dealings in Macau. The New York Times reported this week that one of Adelson's Chinese representatives, Yang Saixin, is the subject of a federal investigation into the bribery of Chinese officials. Adelson is also currently suing the National Jewish Democratic Council for defamation over an online petition that quoted news accounts alleging that he had approved of prostitution at his Macau casinos. The petition has been removed, but the group has not apologized for its contents.
The Romney campaign doesn't seem to be making any effort to distance itself from the controversial Adelson, who has pledged $100 million to defeat Obama. On Tuesday, Ryan met with Adelson at fundraising event in Las Vegas.
The latest from FP:
On the Shadow Government blog, Peter Feaver says it takes some chutzpah for Obama supporters to question Romney's foreign-policy qualifications (given how green Obama himself was in 2008) and looks at the foreign-policy implications of Ryan's fiscal views. Paul Bonicelli assesses what we've learned so far about how the two view national security.
Michael Cohen asks what ever happened to the long legacy of Republican foreign-policy expertise.
Obama campaign advisor Colin Kahl defends the president's record on the Middle East.
Ty McCormick is not impressed with Ryan's vision for Middle East trade.
And Joshua E. Keating takes a look at some of the world's most controversial VPs.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
The Zoellick Identity
It's been a week of trouble appeasing the Republican base for Mitt Romney's campaign. On the domestic front, a campaign spokesperson angered conservatives by touting the former Massachusetts governor's record on healthcare. On the foreign policy front, the selection of former World Bank president Robert Zoellick as the campaign's national security transition chief has enraged the party's neo-conservatives. "For foreign policy hawks, Zoellick is an anathema," wrote Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin.
Though Zoellick served as trade representative and deputy secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration, he's seen by many as a moderate who has been fairly accommodating to China over the years. According to the Romney campaign, his role will be confined to staffing. "Zoellick does NOT advise on policy," one source on the campaign told Rubin. (FP's Daniel Drezner also highlighted some of the factual inaccuracies in her post.)
Nonetheless, the pick is seen by some as indication that a potential Romney White House might not have a foreign policy as hawkish as his campaign stump speaches suggest. "It gives a more reliable indicator of what Romney is thinking, which is not in line with all his rhetoric," James Mann, of the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies told the Financial Times.
Send in the general?
Matt Drudge threw another curveball into the veep selection process this week with an item suggesting that Romney might pick Gen. David Petraeus as his running mate. Drudge quoted an unnamed Democratic fundraiser who allegedly told the conservative news aggregator that President Barack Obama believes Romney will pick Petraeus.
While there are a number of reasons why the story is extremely unlikely to be true, the Petraeus rumors highlight the fact that some of the names on the VP shortlist, such as Tim Pawlenty and Paul Ryan are a bit light on national security experience. Drudge was also the source of last month's Condoleezza Rice buzz. Perhaps he's suggesting something?
Running on autopilot
In an Aug. 6 Washington Post article, some of the Romney campaign's dozens of outside foreign policy advisers complained that their input is being ignored -- and that the candidate's "decisions are influenced by a small coterie of mostly political aides."
"They have this theory of the campaign and have been on autopilot with it and haven't adjusted. It's all about attacking Obama, when the bigger job is to introduce himself," said one unnamed foreign policy expert, who also complained that the heavy emphasis on Russia makes the campaign "look like Rip Van Winkle and they think it's 1989."
Should there be more foreign policy in the election?
Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson argued in a column this week that the Obama administration's decision to continue many of the Bush initiatives "has largely taken defense and foreign policy off the table in the current election." But he warns that while "criticizing the slayer of Osama bin Laden requires a more sophisticated critique than the presidential campaign -- currently at the level of ‘Romney Hood' vs. ‘Obamaloney' -- will bear," Romney can't afford to ignore the risks posed by Obama's "doctrine of deferred decisions" on issues including Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan.
If he's lost Kristof...
Formerly a staunch Obama supporter, Times columnist Nicholas Kristof appears to be losing faith the president. In June, he wrote that seeing the devastation wrought by Omar al-Bashir's government bombing in Sudan's Nuba mountains had left him "not only embarrassed by my government's passivity but outraged by it." And in a column this week, he declared Obama "AWOL" on Syria, writing, "I'm generally a fan of Obama's foreign policy, but on Syria there's a growing puzzlement around the world that he seems stuck behind the curve."
No foreign policy in the ad war
This week saw a controversy over attack ads from both sides, with Romney's campaign demanding Obama denounce a super-PAC ad linking Romney to a woman's death from cancer and the Obama team pushing back against an ad suggesting the president would end work requirements for welfare. So far, however, there's been relatively little on the airwaves about foreign-policy issues. The Obama campaign has produced an ad touting the killing of Osama bin Laden, and the Republican Jewish Coalition has run one attacking Obama's Israel policy, but there's been relatively little compared with the slug-fest over the economy and social issues.
The latest from FP:
In an interview with FP, former Secretary of State James Baker pushes back against the neoconservatives who have criticized the Zoellick pick and defends his work on the Mideast peace process.
The Cable also looked at some of the GOP foreign-policy hands jockeying for positions in a potential Romney administration.
Michael A. Cohen looks at the candidates' "budget-waving contest" about defense spending and American power.
George Lakoff says liberal pundits misunderstand "low information voters."
Sean Kay refutes the analysts that claim that Obama's forgotten about Europe.
Stephen Walt says the similarities between Obama and Romney on foreign policy outweigh the differences.
Former governor Haley Barbour invites overtaxed French millionaires to come and laissez les bon temps rouler in Mississippi.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
After last weekend's widely publicized, gaffe-filled trip to London, Mitt Romney caused another foreign policy controversy in Jerusalem with his suggestion that "culture" was the reason that Israel is more prosperous than the Palestinian Territories -- not to mention Ecuador -- a number of prominent scholars on economic growth including Jared Diamond and Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson took to the op-ed pages to refute his argument in what Foreign Policy's Dan Drezner called "every social scientist's worst nightmare. Romney defended the remarks in a blog post for the National Review, writing that "a culture that is based upon individual freedom and the rule of law" has created conditions that have "enabled innovators and entrepreneurs to make the desert bloom. In the face of improbable odds, Israel today is a world leader in fields ranging from medicine to information technology."
Romney also had praise for the Israeli healthcare system, which, as it happens, is an example of the very kind of government-directed efforts to control costs that the governor has criticized in the United States.
Romney's rocky foreign trip was capped off with a stop in Poland were, in response to reporters peppering the candidates with questions about his "gaffes" at a visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, campaign spokesman Rick Gorka responded with the now immortal line: "Kiss my ass, this is a holy site for the Polish people."
Spotlight on Senor
Romney's comments in the Middle East have focused attention on his senior foreign policy advisor Daniel Senor. Senor, a former Council on Foreign Relations fellow and former spokesman for the U.S. government in Iraq, has been described as Romney's "key emissary to Israel's intelligentsia." Michael Shear of the New York Times wrote this week that "In Mr. Senor, Mr. Romney turned to an advocate of neoconservative thinking that has sought to push presidents to the right for years on Middle East policy."
Romney's comments on Israel's business culture were likely influenced by Senor's 2009 book on the topic, Start-Up Nation. Though as noted on Passport yesterday, the book focused less on Israel's democracy than Israelis' informality and tolerance for failure.
Counterintuitive column of the week
Breaking from the overwhelming media narrative of the Romney trip abroad, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer described it as a "major substantive success." He wrote: "The Warsaw leg was a triumph. Romney's speech warmly embraced Poland's post-communist experiment as a stirring example of a nation committed to limited government at home and a close alliance with America abroad, even unto such godforsaken war zones as Afghanistan and Iraq, at great cost to itself and with little thanks."
Romney himself has also expressed exasperation with the media coverage of the trip, telling Carl Cameron of Fox News that reporters are more interested "in finding something to write about that is unrelated to the economy, to geopolitics, to the threat of war, to the reality of conflict in Afghanistan today, to a nuclearization of Iran."
Where's the beef?
One possible reason the media may be focusing on trivialities and gaffes rather than substantive differences between the candidates is that those differences can be somewhat hard to identify. As the New York Times' Peter Baker wrote last weekend "once the incendiary flourishes are stripped away, the actual foreign policy differences between the two seem more a matter of degree and tone than the articulation of a profound debate about the course of America in the world today." Both favor drawing down forces in Afghanistan.... Even in areas where Mr. Romney has been most critical, like Israel, Russia and China, it is not entirely clear what he would do differently."
On FP's Shadow Government blog Phil Levy counters that substantive foreign policy differences between presidents are always difficult to detect and that for that matter, Obama and George W. Bush don't look that different when you strip away the rhetoric.
The resignation of U.N. envoy Kofi Annan this week was another blow to the faltering international efforts to resolve the conflict in Syria. Before resigning, Annan blamed a lack of concerted international pressure for his inability to make headway in Damascus. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney took the opportunity to blast Russia and China for failing to support "meaningful [Security Council] resolutions against Assad that would have held Assad accountable for his failure to abide by his commitments under the Annan plan."
With action at the United Nations stalled, some within the administration are reportedly now pushing for Washington to take a more active role in supporting the anti-Assad rebels. The administration has set aside $25 million in "non-lethal" aid for the rebel forces.
Meanwhile, prominent Romney campaign advisors have come out in favor of providing direct aid -- including arms -- to the rebel forces.
The latest from FP:
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson on why Romney is misreading economic history.
Benjamin Weinthal on how Obama lost Poland.
Kevin Baron reports on Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's own trip to Israel.
Oren Kessler on the strange love affair between Mormons and Israel.
Peter Feaver on why Romney's trip won't make good attack ad fodder.
Josh Rogin reports that GOP senators are having trouble articulating Romney's qualifications to be commander-in-chief.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Mitt Romney may have hoped for a couple of days of softball coverage as he began his three-country international tour with a stop at the London Olympics, but he's run straight into the buzzsaw of the British media with a series of gaffes and unforced errors.
First, in a Wednesday night interview, the former Salt Lake City Olympics chief told NBC's Brian Williams, "There are a few things that were disconcerting, the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging." He also suggested that it wasn't yet clear whether Britons would "come together and celebrate the Olympic moment."
The comments earned rebukes from Prime Minister David Cameron, who seemed to mock Utah by suggesting that it's "easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere" and London mayor Boris Johnson, who openly mocked Romney in a public speech.
But Romney wasn't done with the awkward moments. He seemed to forget Labour leader Ed Miliband's name, calling him "Mr. Leader" in a private meeting; mentioned an appointment at MI6 -- the intelligence agency whose activities are rarely publicly discussed by politicians; referred to looking out the "backside" of 10 Downing Street, a word with somewhat different connotations in British English. Add to that an unnamed advisor's racially incendiary comment that Romney would restore "Anglo-Saxon" relations between the two countries and you have the makings of what the British twittersphere is referring to as the #romneyshambles -- a play on the term "omnishambles" from the popular political satire "The Thick of It." Even right-wing British newspapers were referring to the candidate as "worse than Sarah Palin."
The Romney campaign will be hoping for better luck as world tour continues with stops in Germany, Poland, and Israel.
Before Romney's trip began, he and President Barack Obama faced off with dueling national security speeches to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) conference in Reno, Nevada. Without mentioning him by name, Obama seemed to suggest that Romney's plans for Afghanistan were vague and undefined, saying, "When you're commander in chief, you owe the troops a plan. You owe the country a plan." Romney's speech accused the president of allowing U.S. military power and political leadership to wane, saying, "[W]hen it comes to national security and foreign policy, as with our economy, the last few years have been a time of declining influence and missed opportunity."
Romney also used the VFW speech to accuse the Obama administration of strategically leaking classified defense information to the press at a time when "Lives of American servicemen and women are at stake." The day after the speech, a top Romney advisor -- former George W. Bush envoy to Sudan Richard Williamson -- accused National Security Advisor Tom Donilon of being the source of recent leaks to the New York Times.
This week in Jerusalem:
Romney is likely hoping that he can make up for the not-so-graceful performance in London with a warmer welcome in Israel, where he will arrive on Saturday. In an interview with Haaretz in advance of his visit, Romney reaffirmed his willingness to use force to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and suggested he would refrain from publicly criticizing the Jewish state. "There will be, of course, times of disagreement and disparity in our respective interests... but those are best in keeping to ourselves, in private," he said.
In a bit of likely-not-so-coincidental timing, Obama signed a new bill into law on Friday, increasing U.S. military cooperation with Israel -- including $70 million for the country's "Iron Dome" missile defense system. Campaign advisors also suggested Obama will visit the country in his second term. The lack of a visit so far in his presidency has been a popular Republican talking point.
The Syrian equation:
The Obama administration appears to be moving toward greater assistance to the rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, including providing supplies and communications equipment and sharing intelligence. "I have to say that we are also increasing our efforts to assist the opposition," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday. Despite this increased participation, a lack of CIA assets on the ground may be hampering U.S. efforts to learn more about the opposition forces.
The latest from FP:
Alistair Burnett on how the U.S. presidential race looks from London.
Oren Kessler on Romney's opportunity to court the Jewish vote in Israel.
Aaron David Miller warns that a showdown with Benjamin Netanyahu is likely if Obama is elected.
Joshua Keating looks at the very recent "tradition" of U.S. presidential candidates heading abroad.
Michael Cohen takes a look at whether Obama has kept his campaign promises.
Daniel Altman argues that Republicans intentionally sabotaged the economic recovery.
Mark Leonard looks at how Europe fell out of love with Obama.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images
The gay marriage fallout
President Barack Obama made some history this week by becoming the first sitting president to support the legalization of same-sex marriage. Obama's announcement, made during an interview with ABC News, came a day after North Carolinians voted in favor of a constitutional amendment banning both gay marriage and civil unions. Mitt Romney reiterated his opposition, saying, "I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman."
Obama's statement has shifted the campaign rhetoric away from the economy and foreign policy to domestic social issues, but it may also have international ramifications. A number of world leaders responded to Obama's announcement. Germany's openly gay foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, said "I welcome this not just personally but also in the name of the German government." Following Obama's statement, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said for the first time that he was not opposed to gay marriage. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she remains opposed. Newly elected French President Francois Hollande plans to push for the legalization of gay marriage, to which his predecessor was opposed.
The Vatican has not yet responded to Obama's change of heart, but two months ago, Pope Benedict XVI warned U.S. bishops not to surrender to "powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage." Last December, the Obama administration announced that it would tie U.S. foreign aid and diplomacy to the promotion of gay rights around the world, a move that provoked anger from some foreign leaders.
Romney on the attack
Romney continued to dial up his criticism of the Obama administration for trying to "make friends with some of the world's worst actors" in an interview with Sean Hannity on Tuesday. Romney has been hesitant to call for U.S. military intervention in Syria, but in the interview described it as "one of the great opportunities for America, and for the world, right now" and said he believes the United States should take the lead in efforts to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power.
Obama courts the establishment
The president held an off-the-record meeting on foreign policy this week with nine prominent editors and columnists. Though mostly on the liberal side of the political spectrum, the group included Newsweek's Peter Beinart and The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, who have staked out starkly differing positions on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Following the meeting, attendee David Ignatius of the Washington Post wrote that the president is campaigning with "a sense of success and political advantage in the foreign-policy areas that have often spelled trouble for Democrats." He also suggested that climate change, nuclear weapons reduction, development assistance to Africa, and the Mideast peace process might be priorities for Obama's second term if he is reelected.
It will be a big week of summitry for the Obama administration with the G-8 meeting at Camp David on May 18 and 19, than the NATO summit in Chicago beginning on May 20. The week has not gotten off to a particularly auspicious start, however, with newly elected Russian President Vladimir Putin announcing that he will not be attending, instead sending Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in his place. Many are reading Putin's decision as a slap-in-the-face to the Obama administration, particularly as the conference had been moved away from Chicago, where the NATO meeting is being held, partly in deference to Putin's opposition to NATO missile defense plans.
Plans for the transition out of Afghanistan will be on the agenda for NATO, but much of the coverage will likely focused by planned protests by the Occupy movement.
The latest from FP:
Jacob Heilbrunn on the decline and fall of departing Senator Richard Lugar.
Uri Friedman on the countries were gay marriage is already legal.
David Rothkopf on why the Chen Guangchen episode will ultimately be seen as a victory for U.S. foreign policy.
William Tobey on why Vice President Joe Biden is "isolated from reality" on Iran.
Pete Souza/White House Photo via Getty Images
"Spiking the football"
As expected, President Barack Obama's campaign is fully capitalizing on the killing of Osama bin Laden in his reelection pitch. An ad released on the one-year anniversary of the Abbottabad raid features former President Bill Clinton praising Obama for having the courage to order the raid and suggesting that Mitt Romney would not have made the same call. Romney pushed back on Monday, saying "Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order." The ad's release preceded a surprise trip to Afghanistan, during which the president signed a new strategic partnership agreement with the Afghan government and addressed the U.S. public from Bagram air base.
Others criticized the Obama campaign for politicizing the issue and "spiking the football" as he had promised not to do in the waking of the killing.. "Shame on Barack Obama for diminishing the memory of September 11th and the killing of Osama bin Laden by turning it into a cheap political attack ad," said Sen. John McCain. The group Veterans for a Strong America released a response ad, "throwing the penalty flag up on President Obama for excessive celebration." The ad made the case that "Heroes Don't Politicize Their Acts of Valor."
Other commentators have pointed out that Obama is hardly the first president to politicize military success.
The battle over Chen
This week saw a high-stakes standoff in Beijing over the fate of human rights activist Chen Guangcheng on the eve of a major U.S.-China summit. In addition to his iconic status in China, Chen enjoys widespread support in the United States, including among prominent anti-abortion members of Congress. After Chen suggested to the media that he had been pressured to leave the U.S. Embassy and had been abandoned by U.S. officials, Romney was quick to respond. "If these reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom. And it's a day of shame for the Obama administration," Romney said during an event with Virginia where he was endorsed by former candidate Michele Bachmann.
Romney was criticized for his response by Weekly Standard editor and prominent neoconservative commentator Bill Kristol, who told Fox News, "To inject yourself into the middle of this way with a fast-moving target I think is foolish."
The United States and China reached a tentative deal on Friday that will allow Chen to leave China.
Romney spokesman steps down
The Romney campaign's newly appointed foreign policy and national security spokesman Richard Grenell stepped down this week. It wasn't Grenell's foreign-policy views that led to his downfall as much as the fact that he's openly gay and supports gay marriage. The appointment of Grenell, who had served as spokesman for former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, came under attack from religious conservatives from the beginning. He also faced criticism from liberals over tweets attacking major democratic political figures.
"While I welcomed the challenge to confront President Obama's foreign policy failures and weak leadership on the world stage, my ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign," Grenell said in a statement.
Newt Gingrich officially suspended his campaign this week, but if the Romney camp was hoping for a strong endorsement, they came away disappointed. "As for the presidency, I'm asked sometimes, is Mitt Romney conservative?" Gingrich said in his concession speech at the Arlington Hilton. "And my answer is simple. Compared to Barack Obama? You know, this is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan. This is a choice between Mitt Romney and the most radical leftist president in American history."
Though he acknowledged that his staunch support for establishing a colony on the moon may not have done wonders for his campaign, he promised to "cheerfully" recommit himself to the cause. Referring to his grandchildren, he said "I'm not totally certain I will get to the moon colony," he said. "I am certain Maggie and Robert will have that opportunity to go and take it. I think it's almost inevitable on just the sheer scale of technological change."
The latest from FP:
Michael Scheuer makes the case for why Ron Paul would be a great foreign-policy president.
Colum Lynch looks at the guilty schadenfreude at the U.N. over of Grenell's fate.
With Obama attacking Romney over his overseas wealth, Uri Friedman asks whether poor people can open Swiss bank accounts.
Stephen Walt wonders if the Kabul trip will be Obama's "mission accomplished" moment.
Scott Clement says voters are fine with presidential chest-thumping, as long as it's their candidate who's doing the thumping.
Michael Cohen argues that the Bin Laden killing is "the core of [Obama's] reelection prospects."
Biden goes on the attack, but doesn't ‘stick' the landing
Vice President Joe Biden continued to step into his role as the Obama campaign's leading national-security attack dog with a speech at New York University on Thursday that questioned Mitt Romney's credentials to serve as commander-in-chief and accused him of distorting the president's record. "If you're looking for a bumper sticker to sum up how President Obama has handled what we inherited, it's pretty simple: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive," Biden said. He also again mocked Romney's suggestion that Russia is America's primary geopolitical foe and defended the administration's handling of the Iranian nuclear program, saying, "The only step we could take that we aren't already taking is to launch a war against Iran. If that's what Gov. Romney means by a 'very different policy,' he should tell the American people."
Unfortunately for Biden, the line of the speech that got by far the most coverage was his confident assertion that "the president has a big stick."
Rubio grabs the spotlight
The day before Biden's speech, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio made a "major foreign policy address" of his own at the Brookings Institution. The speech generated quite a bit of buzz thanks to suggestions that Rubio may be on the shortlist for Romney's running mate. (For the record, Rubio has repeatedly denied that he's interested in being vice president.)
But despite the expectation that Rubio would use the speech as an audition for a spot on the ticket, Rubio differed from Romney on topics including foreign aid, the use of force in Syria and Libya, and negotiating with Iran. Saying that he often feels more affinity with hawkish democrats than isolationist republicans in the Senate, Rubio joked that "on foreign policy, if you go far enough to the right, you wind up on the left."
The Syria debate
Sure enough, the very next day Rubio found himself in a tussle with fellow Senate Republicans over a resolution he had co-sponsored condemning the Bashar al-Assad regime's violence in Syria. GOP Senators including Richard Lugar and Bob Corker objected to language calling on Assad to step down. The debate highlighted a split in opinion within the party on Syria. House GOP members demanded assurances this week that the White House would notify Congress in accordance with the war powers act should military action be taken in Syria.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called his week for the U.N. Security Council to impose an arms embargo and other tough measures on Syria. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey also told Congress that the Pentagon would be ready to provide military options in Syria should it be required.
Romney has advocated support for the anti-Assad opposition, but stopped short of supporting military involvement -- breaking with more aggressive members of his party such as Sen. John McCain. Romney campaign foreign policy director Alex Wong said this week that the Obama administration has been "shamefully absent from this crisis" in Syria.
After five devastating primary losses to Romney, Newt Gingrich's campaign announced on Wednesday that the candidate is finally dropping out ... though not until next Tuesday. A spokesman said Gingrich is "laying out plans now how as a citizen he can best help stop [an] Obama second term and win congressional majorities." It's thought that he will most likely endorse Romney.
The former speaker of the House ends his campaign having won two states and 137 delegates -- but he leaves behind a legacy of out-of-the-box ideas on topics ranging from the virtues of janitorial work to algae fuels to conquering the moon.
Just like Condi
A CNN poll this week found that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is a narrow favorite among Republicans for Romney's VP pick. (Now teaching at Stanford, she has said repeatedly that she's not interested in the job.) Rice, at 26 percent, is followed by Rick Santorum, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio. Interesting, despite the Florida senator's moderate views on immigration and internationalist foreign policy, he's still the favorite among self-described Tea Party supporters.
The latest from FP:
Paul Miller makes the case for Gen. David Petraeus as vice president.
Responding to Biden's speech, Michael A. Cohen says the Democrats need to decide if Romney is George W. Bush or Michael Dukakis.
Romney campaign advisor Richard Williamson says the recent North Korean nuclear test was Obama's Jimmy Carter moment.
Aaron David Miller offers 5 reasons why he believes Obama has the election in the bag.
Joshua E. Keating thinks Rubio's speech was pitched more toward 2016 than 2012.
Scott Clement looks at whether Americans still hate the United Nations.
From Passport, the difference between a slip of the tongue and genuine ignorance.
Santorum drops out
Rick Santorum, the last credible rival for the GOP nomination, dropped out of the race on Wednesday leaving a clear path for front-runner and presumptive nominee Mitt Romney. "This game is a long, long, long way from over," Santorum told supporters. "We are going to continue to go out there and fight to make sure that we defeat President Barack Obama." Notably, Santorum did not mention Romney in his concession.
With 651 delegates, Romney may have the contest all wrapped up, but nobody appears to have told Newt Gingrich, who still vows to stay in the race until Romney collects the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination. "I want to do what I do best, which is talk about big solutions and big approaches," Gingrich told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "I want to keep campaigning." But $4.5 million in debt, Gingrich's campaign suffered a further indignity this week when its $500 check for the filing fee to appear on the Utah primary ballot bounced.
On Thursday night (EDT), North Korea attempted -- but failed -- in an attempt to launch a satellite into orbit. Though the botched launch of the long-range missile, which broke apart before entering orbit, was a humiliation for North Korea's young leader Kim Jong Un, it also essentially scuttled a year of diplomatic outreach by the Obama administration, which culminated in a now-nullified deal on Feb. 29 under which Pyongyang agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment program in exchange for food aid.
The Romney campaign was quick to respond with a statement saying that the launch demonstrated the "incompetence" and weakness of the Obama administration's foreign policy. "Instead of approaching Pyongyang from a position of strength, President Obama sought to appease the regime with a food-aid deal that proved to be as naive as it was short-lived," he said.
A cold shoulder to Brazil
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was in Washington on Monday for a White House meeting with Barack Obama. But in contrast to her fellow BRICS leaders Hu Jintao and Manmohan Singh, arguably the second most powerful leader in the Western hemisphere got only a 2-hour meeting with the president on a day dominated by the White House lawn Easter Egg roll. The Brazilian government has repeatedly criticized Washington for monetary and interest rate policies that they say unfairly advantage U.S. exports and for visa requirements for Brazilian travelers that take up to 35 days to process.
The two leaders will meet again this weekend at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia.
Public support for the war in Afghanistan has fallen to an all-time low according to a new Washington Post-ABC poll, with only 30 percent of respondents saying it has been worth the effort and expenditure. For the first time, a majority of Republicans do not approve of the war. As to the president's leadership, 48 percent of those polled approve of Obama's handling of the war, while 43 percent disapprove. In a sign of an accelerated effort to transfer responsibility to Afghan forces, the United States agreed this week to hand over control of the controversial nighttime raids that were once seen as critical to winning the war.
Romney may have a steep hill to climb if he aims to win the foreign-policy fight in the campaign. New polling shows that voters trust Obama over the GOP frontrunner by a 15 percent margin. Writing for Foreign Policy, Washington Post polling analyst Scott Clement notes that "Romney's weakness on foreign policy doesn't appear to result from Obama's strengths. Americans give Obama middling ratings on international affairs overall: 47 percent approve while 44 percent disapprove."
After the bruising primary, Romney appears to have sketched out a decidedly hawkish platform on foreign policy. Moving into the general election, with Americans increasingly skeptical of military action abroad, it remains to be seen whether the candidate will moderate his views to appear to undecided voters.
What to watch for:
Latin American summits are typically a good showcase for some outlandish behavior. Obama's opponents will likely be on the lookout to see how the president interacts with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. He was criticized for embracing the leftist leader in 2009.
The latest from Foreign Policy:
Aaron David Miller says the notion that presidents have more "flexibility" to act in their second terms is a myth.
Will Imboden gives six reasons we should hope Obama's not more flexible.
Daniel Drezner questions Romney's seriousness on foreign policy.
Michael A. Cohen looks at who's leading on the big international issues that will define the contest between Romney and Obama.Joshua E. Keating looks back at the highlights of the Santorum campaign.
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
The Presumptive Nominee
After pulling off a hat trick on Tuesday night, winning the primaries in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Wisconsin, Mitt Romney now boasts an unassailable lead in delegates. Barring major unforeseen circumstances, he seems virtually guaranteed to be the Republican candidate in November. (Though second-place contender Rick Santorum -- not to mention Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul -- has given little indication that he plans to drop out.)
His new position as the presumptive nominee may give Romney more latitude to broaden his pitch to moderates and independents and focus his attacks more directly on President Barack Obama. The president certainly assumes that Romney is the opponent he will face in the fall, taking time during a speech this week to mock the former governor's support for a GOP budget he described as right-wing "social Darwinism."
Obama's hidden agenda
The Romney campaign has continued to take advantage of Obama's "hot mic" moment during a conversation with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Last Friday, spokesperson Andrea Saul suggested that the president "should release the notes and transcripts of all his meetings with world leaders so the American people can be satisfied that he's not promising to sell out the country's interests after the election is over."
The notion that the president has a hidden agenda on foreign policy may emerge as a central campaign talking point. In a speech Wednesday to the Newspaper Association of America, Romney suggested that the incident "raises all kinds of serious questions: What exactly does President Obama intend to do differently once he is no longer accountable to the voters? Why does ‘flexibility' with foreign leaders require less accountability to the American people? And on what other issues will he state his true position only after the election is over?"
Release the Biden
Vice President Joe Biden has been relatively quiet during this primary season. But in an appearance on Face The Nation last Sunday, the VP came out swinging, questioning Romney's qualifications on foreign policy. Referring to Romney's description of Russia as America's No. 1 geopolitical foe, Biden said, "He just seems to be uninformed or stuck in a Cold War mentality." He went on to say that Russia is "united with us on Iran."
The Romney campaign responded: "Vice President Biden appears to have forgotten the Russian government's opposition to crippling sanctions on Iran, its obstructionism on Syria, and its own backsliding into authoritarianism."
Good for the Jews?
Heading into Passover weekend, a new poll shows that fears that Obama's tensions with the Israeli government would erode his support among Jewish voters may be unfounded. The poll, by the Public Religion Research Institute, showed 62 percent of Jews supporting Obama's reelection, with little evidence of change in support for the president since 2008. While Jews tend to hold more hawkish views on Iran than other American voters, according to the poll only 2 percent listed it as their top voting priority. Just 4 percent listed Israel.
In a Passover message this week, Obama referred to the recent anti-Semitic killings in France, saying that the Exodus story was a reminder that "Throughout our history, there are those who have targeted the Jewish people for harm, a fact we were so painfully reminded of just a few weeks ago in Toulouse."
Guess who's back? In an appearance on Laura Ingraham's radio show on Tuesday, real estate mogul, reality-show star, and onetime primary candidate Donald Trump suggested that Obama will start a war with Iran to bolster his reelection chances. "If you remember Bush, Bush was unbeatable for about two months, and then all of the sudden the world set in when he attacked Iraq. And he went from very popular to not popular at all. But I think that Obama will start in some form a war with Iran, and I think that will make him very popular for a short period of time. That will make him hard to beat also."
The comment was somewhat overshadowed the next day when the Donald offered to show his genitals to attorney Gloria Allred.
What to watch for:
There are no primaries this week, but Romney is looking ahead to the April 24 contest in Pennsylvania, trying to put the final nail in Santorum's coffin by winning his home state.
The latest from FP:
Joshua Keating lists 7 foreign-policy flip-flops Romney needs to make now.
Heleen Mees says Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke might be the greatest obstacle to Obama's reelection.
Uri Friedman looks at the foreign-policy views of Rep. Paul Ryan, whose buzz as a possible VP contender has been growing.
Daniel Drezner asks readers to take the Trump Foreign Policy Challenge.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
This week, the campaign was unexpectedly dominated by a debate over Russia policy. The back-and-forth was sparked by an embarrassing "hot mic" incident on Monday at a summit on Seoul, when President Barack Obama told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more "space" to tackle controversial issues such as missile defense after the election. "This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility," he told the outgoing Russian leader, who promised to "transmit this information to Vladimir."
Mitt Romney was quick to seize on the incident to bolster his argument that Obama has ignored the security threat posed by Russia. He went a bit over the top with the rhetoric, however, telling CNN's Wolf Blitzer that "this is without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe, they fight every cause for the world's worst actors, the idea that he has more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed."
Democrats -- and a few Republicans -- disputed the notion that Russia is the nation's primary foe. "You don't have to be a foreign policy expert to know that the Cold War ended 20 years ago and that the greatest threat that the president has been fighting on behalf of the American people is the threat posed by al Qaeda," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
Romney doubled down on his charge against the president with an op-ed in Foreign Policy, writing that "In his dealings with the Kremlin, as in his dealings with the rest of the world, President Obama has demonstrated breathtaking weakness -- and given the word ‘flexibility' a new and ominous meaning."
A group of Romney's senior advisors also published an open-letter on the website of the National Review detailing a list of the president's main foreign policy failings. The Obama campaign's senior foreign policy advisors pushed pushed back with a letter to Romney published in FP demanding that Romney "clarify exactly how and why you would depart from many of President Obama's policies."
Romney even got into it with Medvedev himself this week. The Russian president said the candidate's rhetoric "smacks of Hollywood" and advised him to "check his watch" to see that it's no longer the 1970s. The Romney campaign struck back with a press release calling him "President Medvedev (D-Russia)" and accusing him of "campaigning for Obama."
Santorum's Jelly Belly foreign policy
Rick Santorum chose an unusual venue on Thursday for a national security-focused address meant to reinvigorate his struggling campaign: The Jelly Belly headquarters in Fairfield, California. Attempting to associate himself with the foreign-policy acumen of GOP icon and famous jellybean fiend Ronald Reagan, Santorum made the case that "Of all of the failings of this administration, of all of the failings, perhaps the greatest is on national security."
Santorum also seized on the hot mic gaffe: "Ronald Reagan didn't whisper to Gorbachev, ‘Give me some flexibility.... He walked out of Iceland and said, ‘You either do this, or we have no deal.'"
H.W. goes all in
While Santorum while trying to channel the Gipper, his vice-president and successor George H.W. Bush officially endorsed Romney -- no surprise as he had publicly praised the candidate earlier in the race and his son Jeb endorsed last week. The 87-year-old (mis)quoted Kenny Rogers when asked about Romney's rivals, saying, ‘It's time when to hold ‘em and time when to fold ‘em."
The meeting raised questions as to when George W. Bush will make an endorsement in the race. "I haven't met with President George W. Bush. We speak from time to time," Romney said.
Newt loses his sugar daddy
The struggling campaign of Newt Gingrich, who has won only South Carolina and his home state of Georgia so far, has been kept afloat by the largesse of Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The staunch Israel hawk has donated over $20 million to Gingrich's Super PAC. It appears, however, that Adelson's generosity has its limits. Speaking at the Jewish Federations of North America's annual TribeFest conference in Las Vegas this week, the billionaire said this week that Gingrich may be "at the end of the line" since mathematically, "he can't get anywhere near the number" of delegates needed. Adelson has reportedly been reaching out to supporters of the Romney campaign.
Gingrich, the onetime frontrunner, laid off one-third of his staff this week.
Is Paul coming around to Romney?
Ron Paul, currently running in fourth place with a total of 50 delegates in the bag, has previously suggested that foreign policy might be an obstacle to him throwing his support behind Romney. This week, however, Paul paid the frontrunner the mildest of compliments in an interview with Bloomberg television: "I think Mitt Romney is more likely to be more willing to listen to his advisers.... If he decides he wants to go and bomb Iran, maybe he might listen to somebody else. I'm afraid the other [candidates] would just go do it anyway."
What to watch for:
Maryland, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia hold primaries on Tuesday. Romney is favored to win all three contests. (Santorum isn't on the ballot in D.C.)
After that, it's a long wait until a set of five northeastern primaries on April 23. Santorum's Gotterdämmerung may very well come in his home state of Pennsylvania, where the latest polls show him in a statistical dead heat with Romney.
The latest from FP:
Romney's Russia op-ed.
The Obama campaign's response.
Scott Clement says that Americans really don't think of Russia as an enemy anymore.
Daniel Drezner on the dirty, little secret of second-term presidents.
Michael Cohen argues the president's real constitutional overreach wasn't healthcare, it was Libya.
In honor of Santorum's Jelly Belly address, Uri Friedman recaps the year in political food fights.
Romney, the sketchy frontrunner
Mitt Romney commandingly won the Illinois primary this week, picking up at least 41 delegates to Rick Santorum's 10 and bolstering his argument that he is now, essentially, the presumptive GOP nominee. Santorum's strategy now hinges on convincing delegates in states where they are selected at party conventions to switch to his side, thus preventing Romney from reaching the 1,144 delegates he needs to secure the nomination. But, right now, it looks unlikely that he'll be able to force a contested convention in Tampa.
Romney didn't have much time to enjoy his front-runner status this week, with an embarrassing gaffe by his spokesman Eric Fehrnstom on Tuesday morning, who described Romney's ability to pivot to a general election campaign as being "almost like an Etch-A-Sketch.... You can shake it up, and we start all over again." The Etch-A-Sketch children's toy -- and the illusion to Romney as a blank-slate flip-flopper -- has already become a staple prop of Santorum's stump speech.
It's the foreign policy, stupid
Both Romney and Santorum continued their attacks on the administration's foreign policy this week, lending more credibility to the emerging narrative that national security, rather than the economy, may become the dominant issue of the campaign.
Santorum criticized the Obama administration's Afghanistan policy in an appearance on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "If the game plan is, we're leaving, irrespective of whether we're going to succeed or not, then why are we still there? Let's either commit to winning or let's get out," he said.
Romney once again deferred to "better judgment." Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Romney conceded that "I think it's very plain to see that the conditions are not going very well" in Afghanistan, but said "the timing of withdrawal is going to be dependent about what you hear from the conditions on the ground" and the advice of military commanders.
Obama to Seoul
The president is traveling to South Korea this weekend for a 50-nation nuclear summit that will likely be overshadowed by North Korea's recently announced plans to launch a rocket next month. The administration has condemned the move as a violation of Pyongyang's recent agreement to halt weapons tests and return to nuclear talks.
North Korea's nuclear program has gotten less attention on the campaign trail than Iran, though Romney has called for the United States to pursue regime change in North Korea following the death of former leader Kim Jong Il.
With the campaign now moving to Louisiana, rising gas prices and offshore drilling are very much on the agenda this week. At a speech in Cushing, Oklahoma -- a major pipeline hub -- Obama defended his administration's energy policy, emphasizing the U.S. crude production has increased under his presidency and that the number of operating oil rigs is at an all-time high.
GOP candidates have hammered the president's decision to delay construction of the northern half of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from Canada. Newt Gingrich, in particular, has reframed his struggling campaign almost entirely around the issue of gas prices. "He doesn't have a green energy policy, he has a greenback energy policy. He keeps shoveling out greenbacks to failing ideas and propping them up with our tax money and with our children's money," Gingrich told Fox this week.
Romney has also blamed the "gas-hike trio" -- Obama's Energy secretary, EPA administrator, and Interior secretary - for high fuel prices, though as critics have pointed out, Romney actually suggested high energy prices could be a good thing when he was promoting "smart growth" policies as governor of Massachusetts.
The GOP attacks on Obama's energy policies have bewildered many environmentalists, who haven't exactly seen eye-to-eye with him throughout his presidency. "The president is very much in the center -- far too much in the center for many environmentalists," global warming activist Bill McKibben told the AP.
What to watch for:
Louisiana holds its primary on Saturday, with polls showing a strong lead for Santorum. Then, it's a rare week off before Maryland, Wisconsin, and Washington D.C. hold their contests on April 3.
The latest from FP
Stephen Walt argues that the drawn-out U.S. election system prevents presidents from conducting a coherent foreign policy.
Scott Clement looks at whether Afghan's still support the U.S. war in their country.
Aaron David Miller debunks the biggest myths about Israel's clout in Washington.
Global Times editor Hu Xijin doubts Romney would back up his aggressive rhetoric on China if he makes it to the White House.
Steve Levine sees the Obama administration's decision to slap tariffs on Chinese solar panels as election year politics.
Uri Friedman finds one place where the president still has overwhelming support: Sweden.
Can you tell 1980s Libertarian Ron Paul from today's Republican Ron Paul? Take our quiz to find out.
Southern man don't need him around, anyhow
Frontrunner Mitt Romney's difficulties in the South continued this week with Rick Santorum picking up wins in Mississippi and Alabama on Tuesday. Despite strong evidence that the contest is becoming a two-man race, Newt Gingrich shows no signs that he's considering dropping out. Romney picked up victories in Hawaii and American Samoa and continues to hold a strong lead in delegates.
The Afghanistan clock
A poll taken in the days after a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan went on a killing spree, murdering 16 civilians, shows that more than half of Americans support speeding up the U.S. withdrawal from the country. President Barack Obama vowed this week to stick to the current withdrawal timetable, which has U.S. troops handing over security duties to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
Gingrich surprised many this week by suggesting that "it's very likely that we have lost, tragically lost, the lives and suffered injuries to a considerable number of young Americans on a mission that we're going to discover is not doable." He was immediately criticized for the comment by GOP Senator Lindsay Graham.
Romney cautioned against making a major change in strategy because of the incident. "You don't make an abrupt shift in policy because of the actions of one crazed, deranged person," he said.
Santorum: Foreign policy may be the dominant issue of the campaign?
The conventional wisdom so far in the campaign has been that foreign policy would take a back seat to concerns over the economy. But Santorum suggested this week that with the economic outlook improving somewhat, priorities may be shifting. "That may be the issue of the day come this fall -- a nuclear Iran. Or on the precipice of it [with] Israel potentially having to go to war to stop that development." He continued: "I may not have been a Wall Street private equities fund manager, but I served eight years on the [Senate] Armed Services Committee."
With no state victories and only 48 delegates to his name, Ron Paul is beginning to feel like an afterthought in this race. But with the increasingly possibility that this race goes to the convention in Tampa without a clear victor, Paul's support could become a sought-after commodity. There has been rumor and speculation that Paul is tacitly supporting Romney by focusing most of his attacks on Santorum and Gingrich, but the Texas congressman suggested this week that he may not be able to support Romney because of their differences on foreign policy. "I'd talk to him and see what kind of a foreign policy he is going to have," Paul said. "Mitt's a friend and we talk a lot. We just disagree on the issues." Paul also argued that the "Republicans are going to be in trouble unless they come our way and decide they want a president who's more for peace than for war."
With Puerto Rico's primary coming on Sunday, the issue of English as a national language has bubbled up in the campaign. On Wednesday, Santorum suggested that he might be in favor of Puerto Rican statehood, as long as the territory was willing to adopt English as its official language. "Like any other state, there needs to be compliance with this and any other federal law.... And that is that English needs to be the principal language. There are other states with more than one language, like Hawaii, but to be a state of the United States, English must be the principal language."
At least one of Santorum's Puerto Rican delegates withdrew his support over the comment, which Santorum continued to defend on Friday. The Romney campaign issued a mild rebuke, saying, "Governor Romney believes that English is the language of opportunity and supports efforts to expand English proficiency in Puerto Rico and across America. However, he would not, as a prerequisite for statehood, require that the people of Puerto Rico cease using Spanish."
As a point of fact, English is taught in schools in Puerto Rico. The U.S. federal government does not require states to make English the official language, though a number of states have passed laws to that effect.
In recent weeks, Gingrich has reframed his campaign around the issue of gas prices, pledging $2.50-per-gallon gas if he is elected, and repeatedly mocking President Obama for suggesting algae as a potential replacement for fossil fuels. The president fired back this week, accusing GOP candidates of dismissing scientific innovations: "If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail, they must have been founding members of the Flat Earth Society -- they would not have believed that the world was round."
Gingrich responded, saying "The president maligned me, suggesting I don't like biofuels. That's baloney. I am in favor of science and technology." However, Gingrich said, "no serious study" had suggested that algae could serve as a replacement for oil in the short run.
White House spokesman Jay Carney also suggested this week that any candidate promising $2.50 gas was "lying." He later backed off the comment -- sort of -- saying "I shouldn't have gone to motivations, I should have said that anybody who said that doesn't know what he's talking about."
What to watch for:
Following Missouri's official caucus on Saturday (voters chose Santorum in an unofficial primary back in February) and Puerto Rico's primary on Sunday, Illinois will hold its closely watched primary on Tuesday. Polls show Romney with a slight lead.
The latest from FP:
Michael A. Cohen says that the war in Afghanistan could become a major political liability for the president in November.
David Rothkopf looks at Obama's "cool diplomacy."
Alex Massie argues that the GOP have a lot to learn from David Cameron's Tories.
Oliver Kamm says Cameron is betting on Obama's reelection.
Aaron David Miller has a suggestion for why the GOP has such a hard time attacking Obama on foreign policy.
Scott Clement says the public generally support Obama's wait-and-see approach on Iran.
Stephen Walt argues that if Santorum is serious about becoming president, he must convince Gingrich to drop out.
Michael Peck plays a new game that simulates the twits-and-turns of the 2008 campaign trail.
Joshua Keating looks at Santorum's faith-based approach to Dutch medical statistics.
Sean Gardner/Getty Images
A few weeks ago, a video circulated online of Rick Santorum claiming that 1 in 20 deaths in the Netherlands are caused by involuntary euthanasia. According to Santorum, elderly Dutch wear bracelets that say "do not euthanize me" and "don't go to the hospital, they go to another country, because they're afraid because of budget purposes that they will not come out of that hospital if they go into it with sickness."
"It's a matter of what's in his heart. He's a strong pro-life person," press secretary Alice Stewart replies.
After all, like the origin of the universe or the existence of a supreme being, Dutch medical statistics are ultimately unknowable -- just another of the unresolvable mysteries that have confronted us since the dawn of mankind. Who are we? Why are we here? What are the laws in the Netherlands concerning doctor-assisted suicide? We all have our own beliefs.
Santorum knows in his heart that elderly Dutch people are routinely euthanized against their will by doctors. He believes this to be true, no matter what the elite media tries to tell him.
It's the same way I know that one in four Laotians are born with an extra finger and that the most common name in Chad is Chad. It's just what I believe.
Super Tuesday shakeout
Mitt Romney solidified his front-runner status in the all-important Super Tuesday contests this week, narrowly eking out a crucial win in Ohio, as well as Alaska, Idaho, Vermont, his home state of Massachusetts, and Virginia -- where Ron Paul was the only other candidate on the ballot. Rick Santorum took North Dakota, Idaho, and Tennessee, while Newt Gingrich won his home state of Georgia. Despite a near-tie in Ohio, Romney will take nearly all of the state's delegates because of the Santorum campaign's failure to meet the state's eligibility requirements months ago. Despite the lack of a clear referendum backing Romney, there now appears to be little chance of any other candidate closing the delegate gap.
The GOP candidates took the opportunity at this week's meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to again attack President Barack Obama's stance on Israel. "The current administration has distanced itself from Israel and visibly warmed to the Palestinian cause. It has emboldened the Palestinians.... As president, I will treat our allies and friends like friends and allies," Romney said.
"As I've sat and watched this play out on the world stage, I have seen a president who has been reticent," said Santorum. "He says he has Israel's back; from everything I've seen from the conduct of this administration, he has turned his back on the people of Israel,"
Santorum was referring to Obama's earlier speech to AIPAC on Sunday, during which he said, "There should not be a shred of doubt by now: when the chips are down, I have Israel's back." Speaking shortly before a White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama said, "When it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say."
Gingrich, for his part, seemed a bit unprepared for his speech. Video released by ABC News showed him nodding off slightly before he was due to deliver his remarks by satellite. He also seemed to be under the impression he was participating in a panel discussion rather than giving a speech.
As usual, Iran was the major foreign-policy topic of discussion on the campaign trail this week. In a Washington Post op-ed published on Monday, Romney compared Obama's handling of the Islamic Republic's nuclear program to Jimmy Carter's failure to secure the release of U.S. hostages in 1979. Romney pledged to "take every measure necessary to check the evil regime of the ayatollahs. Until Iran ceases its nuclear-bomb program, I will press for ever-tightening sanctions, acting with other countries if we can but alone if we must. I will speak out on behalf of the cause of democracy in Iran and support Iranian dissidents who are fighting for their freedom."
At a White House press conference the following day, Obama rebuked his critics in the GOP field and in Congress for their hawkish rhetoric on Iran. "This is not a game," he added. "And there's nothing casual about it.... If some of these folks think that it's time to launch a war, they should say so, and they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be."
A Sarkozy endorsement?
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, currently locked in his own tough election battle, seemed to endorse Obama's reelection effort during a speech on Mideast policy this week. "President Obama, who is a very great president, won't take the initiative [on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations] before he's re-elected -- and I hope he will be -- but there's a place for France and a place for Europe," Sarkozy said.
World leaders generally refrain from publicly taking sides in other countries' elections, though the practice has recently become more common in Europe.
What to watch for:
The week ahead could be a tough one for the Romney campaign with contests in Kansas on Saturday, and Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday, all of which are friendly territory for Santorum. While victories for the former Pennsylvania senator wouldn't change the delegate math much, they would add to concerns about Romney's ability to rally southern and socially conservative voters.
Leaving nothing to chance, Romney has even dispatched his son Matt to visit the Pacific territories of Guam and Northern Mariana, which also hold primaries this weekend.
The latest from FP:
Ruy Teixeira says the real winner of Super Tuesday was Obama.
Uri Friedman finds six international newspaper columnists who actually like Romney.
Michael Cohen argues that the GOP candidates are mischaracterizing Ronald Reagan's foreign policy.
Tom Ricks thinks Romney has effectively endorsed Obama's Iran policy.
Josh Rogin reports on Sen. John Kerry's response to Romney's Iran op-ed.
Joshua Keating looks at presidential "first trip" etiquette.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Nail-biter in Michigan
Mitt Romney easily won the Arizona primary on Tuesday and eked out a victory against a surging Rick Santorum in Michigan, where Romney was born and his father was a popular governor. While Santorum cast the close contest as a victory of sorts ("a month ago, they didn't know who we are," he told supporters), the results solidified Romney's status as the frontrunner in the topsy-turvy Republican race. The former Massachusetts governor, who now has roughly double the number of delegates as Santorum, is leading the pack of remaining GOP candidates comfortably in most national polls.
Iran and gas prices
Last month, Newt Gingrich shifted the focus of his campaign to energy in a bet that owning the issue of rising gas prices could help him claw back into the race. Gingrich has pledged to lower gas prices to $2.50 per gallon by increasing domestic energy production through initiatives such as the Keystone XL pipeline. Now, as tensions mount with Iran over its nuclear program and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to visit Washington, the other candidates are following suit. Romney accused President Barack Obama of stifling fracking -- a controversial technique to unlock oil and gas in underground rock formations -- through excessive regulations, Santorum went so far as to brandish a piece of oil-rich shale rock during his Michigan concession speech to demonstrate his support for the energy industry. (In another nod to stage props this week, Ron Paul waved a silver coin at Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to argue for returning to the gold and silver standard.)
Obama has been talking energy too, calling for an end to $4 billion in annual tax breaks and subsidies for oil and gas companies. A Pew survey released on Thursday found that voters are spreading the blame for rising gas prices among the administration, oil companies, and Iran -- though Republicans are much more likely to blame Obama.
Obama: "I don't bluff"
In an interview with the Atlantic's Jeffrey
Goldberg on Iran ahead of a meeting with Netanyahu, Obama declared that the
United States would consider taking military action to destroy Iran's nuclear
program if economic sanctions fail to compel it to comply with international
inspections, but added that now is not the right time for a preemptive Israeli
strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. "I think that the Israeli government
recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff," he noted.
"I also don't, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly
what our intentions are." On Twitter, former Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann shot back:
"Obama doesn't ‘go around advertising exactly what our [foreign policy]
intentions are?' What about
As he launches his reelection campaign, Obama has been trumpeting foreign policy successes such as ending the war in Iraq and killing Osama bin Laden. While "the other side traditionally seems to feel that the Democrats are somehow weak on defense," he recently told supporters, "they're having a little trouble making that argument this year" (a poll last month found that voters trust Obama more than Romney to handle international affairs). Yet Bloomberg's Terry Atlas points out that, in an election dominated by economic concerns, "foreign policy barely registers as an issue in public opinion polls," though an "arc of crises from Libya to Afghanistan" may yet change all that.
Read what George W. Bush advisors Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie have to say on the matter in the latest issue of Foreign Policy -- and a spirited rebuttal by Democratic pollsters Stanley Greenberg and Jeremy Rosner.
Apologizing in Afghanistan
The Republican candidates have long accused Obama of apologizing for America's actions abroad, and this week the refrain came in the context of the president apologizing to Afghans for the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan even as U.S. soldiers were killed in retaliation. Gingrich called the apology "astonishing" and suggested that the United States tell Afghans, "You're going to have to figure out how to live your own miserable life." Santorum accused Obama of "weakness" while Romney also criticized the decision.
In a larger piece about the Republicans and Afghanistan, Dominic Tierney at the Atlantic argues that the Republican Party is deeply divided about Afghanistan. The fundamental question facing the GOP, he writes, is whether the "end of defeating radical Islam [is] worth the means of big government nation-building."
Santorum's ‘snob' snafu
Santorum stirred controversy this week by suggesting that Obama was a "snob" for wanting "everybody in America to go to college." Obama "wants to remake you in his image," the former Pennsylvania senator argued. "I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his." Santorum appeared to subsequently backtrack from the comments, noting in his Michigan concession speech that his mother was an "unusual person for her time" by getting a college education in the 1930s, but the comment nevertheless touched off a debate about U.S. education. News outlets pointed out that Obama also supports the type of vocational training that Santorum champions, and that the former Pennsylvania senator backed increasing grants for college students during his reelection campaign in 2006.
What to watch for
All eyes now turn to Super Tuesday on March 6, when ten states will vote and more than 400 delegates will be up for grabs. The biggest battleground is the delegate-rich swing state of Ohio, where Romney has steadily been cutting into Santorum's lead. "For Romney," the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza notes, "it's uniquely possible that winning the Buckeye State on Tuesday would effectively clinch the presidential nomination for him."
The latest from FP
Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie offer a primer to the GOP candidates on how to beat Barack Obama on foreign policy.
Jeremy Rosner and Stanley Greenberg respond by pointing out that Americans have confidence in Obama as commander in chief.
Michael Cohen adds that Rove and Gillespie are "stuck in a 9/12 mindset."
Reza Aslan presents readers with a quiz: Who said it, Rick Santorum or Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei?
Gal Luft wonders whether Obama will remake himself into a war president when faced with a choice between high gas prices and a nuclear Iran.
Michael Levi argues that Obama's record on energy is stronger than his Republican rivals claim.
Vaclav Smil explains why Mitt Romney is right to focus on the importance of Canadian energy.
Scott Clement points out that while Americans may not like North Korea, few want to go to war over its nuclear weapons.
Jack Chow makes the case for why a President Santorum would be great news for the AIDS fight in Africa.
Susan Glasser connects the dots on the nasty rhetoric in the U.S. and Russian elections.
Daniel Drezner maintains that Santorum's views on manufacturing are antiquated.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
A Wednesday-night debate in Arizona was the first time the candidates discussed the deteriorating situation in Syria at any length, though mostly in the context of what it would mean for Iran's nuclear program and global energy prices. Mitt Romney did suggest that the United States work "with Saudi Arabia and with Turkey to ... provide the kind of weaponry that's needed to help the rebels inside Syria." Newt Gingrich, as he often does, suggesting a policy of having "our allies covertly helping destroy the Assad regime."
The debate was widely covered as a test for the surging Rick Santorum, who was attacked repeatedly, often by Ron Paul, on his credentials as a fiscal conservative. On national security issues, Santorum touted his long record of urging aggressive polices against Iran and criticized the Obama administration for standing with "radicals" against "a friend of ours in Egypt" -- ousted president Hosni Mubarak. He also seemed to pivot away from his previous concerns about women serving in more combat roles in the military, though he did warn against "social engineering."
Gingrich on the attack
Seemingly eclipsed by Santorum's rise, onetime poll leader Gingrich has repeatedly made news this week for strident attacks against Barack Obama's foreign policy. Gingrich referred to Obama as the "most dangerous president in modern American history" during a speech in Oklahoma, accusing him of putting political correctness above U.S. national security in his administration's response to Islamist terrorism. Appearing on CBS's "This Morning," Gingrich called Obama's energy policies "outrageously anti-American'' and ridiculed the idea that the electric car "is going to liberate us from Saudi Arabia."
On Thursday, Gingrich again lashed out at Obama following the president's apology to Afghan authorities for the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base. "He is consistently apologizing to people who do not deserve the apology of the United States," Gingrich said. The candidate went on to demand that the Afghan government apologize to the United States for the killing of two American soldiers in the riots that followed the burning.
Romney against the world
The AP's Steven Hurst examined Romney's foreign-policy rhetoric in a news analysis this week, writing that "It often appears that Romney is targeting the rest of the world as fiercely as he does his rivals for the party nomination and President Barack Obama." Referring to Romney's attacks on European socialism, Chinese currency manipulation and Russian duplicitousness, the article asks whether the tone of Romney's rhetoric will hurt him in the general election, or with the governments in question should he become president.
"Other governments are not naive, and they understand the rough-and-tumble of U.S. politics just as we understand the rough-and-tumble of politics in other countries," responded Amb. Richard Williamson, a top Romney foreign-policy advisor.
Obama: I'll get to immigration next term
The president came into office promising comprehensive immigration reform, but the issue has largely fallen by the wayside during congressional battles over health care and the economy. In an interview with Univision Radio this week, the president promised to make the issue a priority if he is reelected for a second term. "I've got another five years coming up. We're going to get this done," he said.
At Wednesday night's debate, both Santorum and Romney held up Arizona's tough immigration policies and the harsh tactics employed by controversial Maricopa Country Sherriff Joe Arpaio as models for how to address the issue.
Santorum's Dutch disease
Santorum has left many scratching their heads with comments made several weeks ago in which he suggested that 1 in 20 deaths in the Netherlands result from forced euthanasia. Santorum continued to claim that elderly people in the Netherlands often wear bracelets that say "do not euthanize me" and "don't go to the hospital, they go to another country, because they're afraid because of budget purposes that they will not come out of that hospital if they go into it with sickness." The Dutch government declined to comment on the claim this week, but provided the New York Times with documents showing that there is no provision in Dutch law for forced euthanasia. Voluntary euthanasia has been legal there since 2002 and accounts for around 2 percent of deaths in the country.
The Netherlands wasn't the only European country Santorum has taken a shot at this week. At a national security focused speech in Ohio, he took aim at the president's relationship with France: "He actually went to France a year or so ago and was with Nicolas Sarkozy and said that, 'Here I am with the French prime minister, our best ally in the world.' Now think about this. Name one time in the last 20 years that the French stood by us with anything."
The remark was given a "pants-on-fire" rating by Politifact.
What to watch for
Arizona and Michigan voters head to the polls on Tuesday. RealClearPolitics's latest poll average shows Romney with a 9-point advantage in Arizona. He also seems to have retaken the lead in his birthplace state of Michigan, but still leads Santorum by less than two points.
Tuesday's victor will have little time to rest on his laurels. The 10 Super Tuesday contests are right around the corner on March 6. The biggest delegate prizes of the day will be Ohio, where Santorum currently leads, and Georgia, where native son Gingrich has the advantage.
The latest from FP
Scott Clement looks at why polls are so all over the map when it comes to attacking Iran.
Joshua Keating rounds up the foreign-policy highlights from Wednesday's debate.
Uri Friedman examines Gingrich's not-so-covert love of covert ops.
Michael Cohen argues that campaign-trail rhetoric touting American exceptionalism is obscuring the real causes of decline.
Mr. Xi comes to Washington
This week's Washington foreign-policy agenda was dominated by the visit of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, the country's presumptive next leader. Xi's meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama was fairly cordial, but it fell to his direct counterpart -- Vice President Joe Biden -- to register a few complaints about China's trade practices and human rights record. "As Americans, we welcome competition," Biden said. "But cooperation, as you and I have spoken about, can only be mutually beneficial if the game is fair."
Mitt Romney took aim at the administration's China policy in a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week, saying that the president had come into office as a "near supplicant to Beijing" and had since "demurred from raising issues of human rights for fear it would compromise agreement on the global economic crisis or even ‘the global climate-change crisis.' Such weakness has only encouraged Chinese assertiveness and made our allies question our staying power in East Asia." Romney promised to label China a currency manipulator on "day one of my presidency."
Onetime candidate Jon Huntsman, a former ambassador to China who now has endorsed Romney, addressed the anti-China rhetoric that has appeared in both the presidential race and congressional races throughout the country. "It's much easier to talk about China in terms of the fear factor than the opportunity factor," Huntsman told MSNBC." When it comes to China, I think it's wrongheaded when you talk about slapping a tariff on Day One. That pushes aside the reality, the complexity of the relationship."
Motor City Mayhem
The next primaries will take place on Feb. 28 in Arizona and Michigan. The Wolverine State is considered home turf for Romney -- he was born in Detroit, his father was a popular governor, and Mitt won big over John McCain there in 2008 -- but the Michigan native trails Rick Santorum by 9 points in the current RealClearPolitics poll average.
Romney has defended his opposition to the Obama administration's auto industry bailouts -- a somewhat controversial position during a week when General Motors reported record profits. Romney has emphasized his deep roots in the state and nostalgia for the days of U.S. auto dominance, telling a crowd, "I love cars. I grew up totally in love with cars. It used to be, in the '50s and '60s, if you showed me 1 square foot of almost any part of the car, I could tell you what brand it was -- the model and so forth.... Now, with all the Japanese cars, I'm not quite so good at it. But I still know American cars pretty well." (Never mind that the candidate drives a Canadian-made Chrysler in a new ad.)
Santorum, meanwhile, has promised to revitalize the U.S. manufacturing sector by giving tax incentives to companies that move production back from overseas and cutting away at Obama-era regulations.
Meanwhile, Romney still leads Santorum in Arizona, but the gap is narrowing, despite the fact that the former Pennsylvania senator has virtually no ground organization in the state. The Arizona contest may push the candidates back to the right on immigration, after some more conciliatory rhetoric in Florida. Romney has been touting the support of Kris Kobach, the attorney and Kansas secretary of state who played a critical role in drafting Arizona's controversial SB 1070 immigration law.
Arizona has gone Republican in every presidential election but one since 1952, but Democrats may be hoping that the state will be in play in the fall, thanks to a backlash from the state's growing Hispanic population. Senior Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod has visited the state in recent months and the Democratic National Committee has begun running ads targeting Latino voters.
An Iranian attack on North Dakota?
Santorum's longtime fixation on the threat posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions has been well-documented. But the rhetoric reached a new level this week when the candidate warned an audience in North Dakota that they might be a potential target for Iranian-sponsored terrorism. "Folks, you've got energy here. They're going to bother you. They'll bother you, because you are a very key and strategic resource for this country," he said. "No one is safe. No one is safe from asymmetric threats of terrorism.... That's what Iran will be all about unless we stop them from getting that nuclear weapon."
As the National Review pointed out, Santorum's security concerns have dampened his enthusiasm for building a massive new oil pipeline through the state.
Adelson re-ups on Gingrich
Onetime frontrunner Newt Gingrich is sitting out the current contests in Michigan and Arizona, focusing on the ten March 6 "Super Tuesday" primaries, which include his home state of Georgia. Gingrich spent the majority of this week fundraising in California.
Gingrich's slumping campaign may get a significant shot in the arm with news that billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson -- his principal financier -- will give an additional $10 million to the Super PAC backing Gingrich. Adelson, known for his hawkish views on Israel and opposition to a Palestinian state, has given $11 million so far to the "Winning the Future" Super PAC.
What to watch for
Last week's Maine caucus may not actually be over yet. Romney was declared the winner -- by less than 200 votes over Ron Paul -- on Saturday, Feb. 11. despite the fact that one county had delayed its caucus due to weather and numerous irregularities were reported at other stations. The state GOP has announced that it will release a new vote total in March -- after Super Tuesday. Maine is a small state and its caucus is what's known as a "beauty contest" (it doesn't actually award any delegates), but it won't do wonders for the credibility of the early caucus system, if yet another victory -- remember Iowa? -- is posthumously taken away from Romney.
Evidently, the candidates seem to have tired of debates. A planned CNN debate scheduled for March 1 in Georgia has been canceled after Romney and Paul declined to participate.
On the Election Channel
Uri Friedman looks at a new poll that shows a majority of Americans support the use of force to prevent a nuclear Iran.
Scott Clement says despite the recent dust-up over contraceptive-covering insurance, religion may not actually matter that much to voters.
Daniel Drezner says Romney's China policy "reads like it was composed by the Hulk."
Stephen Walt says hawks should vote for Obama.
Michael A. Cohen looks at why, with Obama in office, liberals came to support the secret war on terror.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Santorum's big night
It ain't over yet. Rick Santorum pulled off an unlikely hat-trick on Tuesday night, winning caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado as well as a non-binding primary in Missouri -- a troubling development for frontrunner Mitt Romney, who received lower vote totals in all three states than he did in 2008.
"I don't stand here and claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.... I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama," Santorum said in a speech to supporters in St. Louis. Once seen as the presumptive challenger to Romney, Newt Gingrich wasn't even on the ballot in Missouri and had disappointing third and fourth-place finishes in the other contests. His campaign is now focused on the Super Tuesday contests on March 6, which will award more than 400 delegates.
Santorum's surprising success is likely to focus more media scrutiny on his foreign-policy views, which have so far received less attention than his socially conservative domestic policies. In particular, Santorum has a long record of hawkish views on Iran and Islam.
Women in combat
The announcement this week that the Pentagon is easing some restrictions on women in combat is already resonating in the campaign. Santorum expressed concerns about the policy change this week, telling NBC's Ann Curry, "When you have men and women together in combat, I think men have emotions when you see a woman in harm's way.... I think it's something that's natural that's very much in our culture to be protective. That was my concern, and I think that's a concern with all the military.''
Polls, however, show strong support -- even among those describing themselves as "very conservative" -- for allowing women to serve in combat roles.
Release the Bachmann
The Conservative Political Action Conference is meeting this week in Washington, D.C. and while there is reportedly little enthusiasm for Romney's candidacy at the event, former candidate Michele Bachmann fired up the crowd with a withering assault on Barack Obama's foreign-policy record. "After a decade of sacrifice to defeat global jihad, Obama has chosen to hand Iraq to Iran," Bachmann said. "Before Obama was elected, no one had ever heard a United States president say to the world that we are anything but an exceptional nation," she continued. "And before President Obama was elected, we never had a president go around apologizing to the world."
Romney will address CPAC on Friday in what's being seen as a critical opportunity to defend his conservative credentials.
While he may be a long way from finishing off his Republican rivals, Romney is apparently already prepping for a foreign-policy debate with Obama. RealClearPolitics reports that for the past three weeks, the Romney campaign has been holding a weekly conference call with the more than 40 experts who are advising the campaign on foreign policy. Romney's campaign argues that despite Obama's generally high approval ratings on foreign affairs, he will be vulnerable on defense spending, tension with Israel, the "reset" policy with Russia, and his inability to halt the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon.
Liberals learn to stop worrying and
love drones and Gitmo
Obama may have fired up the base in 2008 by attacking the Bush administration's harsh counterterrorism policies, but with a Democrat in office, these same voters seem to be becoming more comfortable with the war on terror. A new CBS-Washington Post poll finds that 70 percent of voters -- including 53 percent of self-identified liberal democrats -- approve of keeping the detention center at Guantanamo Bay open. Obama signed an executive order closing the prison in the first week of his presidency, but that promise has now been largely abandoned in the face of strong congressional opposition. The poll also found that 77 percent of liberal democrats support drone strikes against suspected terrorists and a majority also support the use of drones U.S. citizens who are suspected of terrorism overseas.
What to watch for
Maine will announce the results of its week-long caucuses on Saturday. The independent-leaning northeast state may be Ron Paul's best chance for a win, as neither Gingrich nor Santorum have campaigned in the low-turnout contest.
On the Election Channel
Uri Friedman reads Santorum's 40+ op-eds on Iran so you don't have to.
Charles Kupchan says Romney should get real and admit it's not going to be an American century. Shadow Government's Will Inboden counters.
David Hoffman lists 5 pressing national security threats that haven't been mentioned in the campaign.
Scott Clement, from the Washington Post's Behind the Numbers team, finds little voter support for a U.S. intervention in Syria.
Joshua E. Keating profiles America's weirdest Super PAC.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Romney pulls away
Mitt Romney decisively won Florida's primacy on Tuesday with 46 percent of the vote. Newt Gingrich came in second with a disappointing 32 percent. Trailing far behind were Rick Santorum with 13 percent and Ron Paul with 7 percent. But Gingrich in a concession speech that often felt more like a victory speech, vowed to continue fighting in what he described as a "two-person race" between himself and the "Massachusetts moderate." Santorum and Paul are also staying in the hunt.
Several of the foreign-policy issues that had been billed as potential game changers this season appeared not to be major factors in Florida. Candidates have been highly vocal on Israel in hopes of peeling Jewish votes away from President Barack Obama, who has publicly clashed with the Israeli government on several occasions. But if a significant number of Jews are changing their voter registration to Republican, they've been quiet so far. Poll analyst Nate Silver of the New York Times noted that only 1 percent of the voters in this year's Florida primary identified as Jewish, down from 3 percent in 2008.
Despite the heavy emphasis on immigration reform in campaign rhetoric, very few Florida voters called undocumented immigrants their top concern. Romney, who has been somewhat more hawkish than other candidates on the topic of immigration, took a majority of the Latino vote -- as well as nearly six of ten Cuban-American voters.
But things haven't been going quite so well for Romney since his sweeping victory in Florida. He has been heavily criticized for remarks on Wednesday morning that he is "not concerned about the very poor" in a CNN interview. The candidate says he misspoke, but a highly publicized endorsement from Donald Trump on Thursday may not have been the best way to combat the perception that he's out of touch with economically struggling Americans.
Politics of the pullout
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta surprised many by saying that the United States hopes to end its combat mission in Afghanistan by mid-2013, up to 18 months sooner than expected. The Romney campaign was quick to pounce, with the candidate calling the administration's plans "naïve" and "misguided."
"Why in the world do you go to the people that you're fighting with and tell them the date you're pulling out your troops?" Romney said at a campaign stop in Las Vegas. "It makes absolutely no sense." Perhaps banking on low public support for continuing the war, Obama's press secretary Jay Carney countered Romney's criticism, saying troops "will not stay in Afghanistan any longer than is necessary to accomplish that mission."
The GOP front-runner has consistently criticized the administration's withdrawal plans, though earlier this year Romney himself announced his intention to "bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can."
The Iran factor
This week saw another round of speculation in Washington over whether Israel will attack Iran's nuclear facilities. According to the Washington Post's David Ignatius, Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood Israel will attack Iran this spring or summer, before Iran enters a "zone of immunity" to commence building a nuclear weapon.
Iran is likely to continue to dominate the campaign agenda with Gingrich warning recently that "If Iranians get nuclear weapons, they don't have to fire a missile. They can just drive a boat into Jacksonville. Drive a boat into New York harbor." Gingrich has said he would launch a U.S. strike on Iran "only as a last recourse, and only as a step towards replacing the regime."
Romney has also argued that "If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon."
Gates says to tone it down
Robert Gates, who served as secretary of defense to both George W. Bush and Obama, addressed the GOP field in an interview with CNN on Thursday, warning against overheated campaign rhetoric calling Obama weak-willed on Iran. "You know sometimes things get pretty heated in campaigns, but I think the reality is there is an acknowledgment on people's part around the world that this president is willing to use military force when our needs require it," he said.
Gates addressed both sides of the debate over Iran, saying, "Those who say we shouldn't attack, I think, underestimate the consequences of Iran having a nuclear weapon.... And those who say we should, underestimate the consequences of going to war."
What to watch for
Nevada voters will caucus on Saturday with Romney heavily favored to win. Maine will hold its caucuses throughout the week starting on Saturday. Colorado and Minnesota will both hold caucuses on Tuesday. The caucus format could provide an opening for Paul and Santorum, who both tend to inspire more enthusiasm in their (admittedly smaller) base of supporters than the two frontrunners. Paul has been campaigning heavily in Maine since last week.
The latest from FP
Scott Clement looks at why Obama shouldn't expect voters to flock to the polls to reward him for killing Osama bin Laden.
Michael Cohen says the decision to leave Afghanistan early will prove to be smart politics for the president.
Michael Shifter lays out the Latin America debate the candidates should have had in Florida, instead of just bashing Fidel Castro.
Robert Satloff channels his inner William Safire and explains why presidents should stop describing U.S. support for Israel as "ironclad."
Joseph Sarkisian asks whether a vote for Romney is a vote for war with Iran.
Peter Feaver argues that it's time for the GOP candidates to stop attacking each other and offer a sharp critique of Obama's foreign policy.
Josh Rogin reports on Romney's pledge to defend South Sudan.
Joshua Keating wonders whether Gingrich's campaign rhetoric will inspire a new generation to read the works of Saul Alinsky.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Newt Gingrich charged into Florida this week with a head of steam, hoping to capitalize on his victory in South Carolina and attack competitor Mitt Romney on immigration and his somewhat exotic personal finances. Gingrich attacked Romney's suggestion that "self-deportation" could be a solution to illegal immigration: "You have to live in a world of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts and automatic, you know, $20 million a year income with no work to have some fantasy this far from reality."
But Gingrich seemed to falter at a debate on Thursday night when pressed by both Romney and moderator Wolf Blitzer to defend his attacks. "Wouldn't it be nice if people didn't make accusations somewhere else that they weren't willing to defend here?" Romney said of the Swiss bank account jibe, continuing that he wouldn't apologize for his own success. (It remains to be seen how Romney will respond to new reports that he didn't fully disclose his income from the Swiss account.)
The other notable foreign-policy moment of the debate was a Palestinian-American Republican from Jacksonville informing the candidates that "we do exist." Both Gingrich and Santorum have questioned the validity of "Palestinian" as an identity duringthis year's campaign.
Thanks to his weak performances and some seemingly off-topic policy proposals -- more on that in a moment -- Gingrich is losing some momentum ahead of Tuesday's key Florida primary. The latest RealClearPolitics average has Romney back in the lead by 7 percent.
The Little Havana Primary
As it generally does during Sunshine State campaigning, U.S. policy toward Cuba became a major topic of discussion this week. When asked during an interview with the Spanish-language television network Univision whether he would be willing to employ military force to overthrow the Castro regime, Gingrich responded, "Well I think at the moment you don't need to ... in that case you had an uprising. I would say bluntly, because I find it fascinating that Obama is intrigued with Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, but doesn't quite notice Cuba." He promised to use "all the tools that Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Prime Minister [Margaret] Thatcher used to break the Soviet Empire."
Romney was similarly aggressive, saying, "I want to be the American president that is proud to be able to say that I was president at the time that we brought freedom back to the people of Cuba.... If I'm fortunate to become the next president of the United States it is my expectation that Fidel Castro will finally be taken off this planet." (In a bizarre exchange on Monday, the two candidates sparred over whether Fidel Castro would "meet his maker" or go to hell after he dies.)
Rick Santorum said the Obama administration's move to ease travel restriction on Cuba send "the exact wrong message at the exact wrong time" at Thursday's night's debate. Only Ron Paul criticized the decades-old embargo on Cuba, saying the country is no longer a threat to U.S. security.
Fidel Castro himself weighed in on the contest this week, writing in his regular newspaper column, "The selection of a Republican candidate for the presidency of this globalized and expansive empire is -- and I mean this seriously -- the greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance that has ever been."
State of the Union
As expected, Tuesday night's State of the Union address was something of kickoff for Barack Obama's reelection campaign. The president made frequent reference to the successful killing of Osama bin Laden and the U.S. drawdown in Iraq. He made the case for his Iran policy, saying the regime is "more isolated than ever" and vowed to take no option off the table for preventing Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. He also reiterated his "iron-clad commitment" to Israel's security and announced the creation of a new Trade Enforcement Unit to investigate unfair trade practices from countries like China.
Much of the speech seemed aimed at refuting the notion that he has embraced the reality of a diminished role for the United States in world affairs. "Anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn't know what they're talking about," he said to a standing ovation.
The Obama administration's recent decision to deny a permit for the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada is emerging as a major campaign issue. Rebutting charges that he is beholden to environmentalists, the president announced this week that his administration is opening up "around 38 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for additional exploration and development."
Nonetheless, the GOP candidates are seizing on Keystone, with Gingrich attacking the decision as "totally, utterly irrational," Santorum arguing that it is "absolutely essential that we have as much domestic supply of oil, that we build the Keystone pipeline," and Romney saying the president's calls for energy independence are meaningless without increased domestic supplies like Keystone.
Of all this week's political developments, the best remembered may be Newt Gingrich's space policy speech, which was aimed at workers in Florida's struggling space corridor, but received widespread mockery in the media. "By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon, and it will be American," Gingrich said, saying the facility could be used for science, commercial purposes, and tourism -- setting the stage for an eventual mission to Mars. Gingrich made no apologies for his "grandiose" vision, comparing it to President John F. Kennedy's 1961 pledge to put a man on the moon.
What to watch for
It's Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, Paul, in that order, in polls ahead of Tuesday's Florida primary, then only four days until caucuses in Nevada and Maine. Paul has been campaigning in Maine, hoping to capitalize on his support among more libertarian, less socially conservative New England voters.
TV viewers can safely turn back to developments on American Idol for the next few weeks, as there's only one debate scheduled for all of February. That could be bad news for Gingrich if he comes up short in Florida.
The latest from FP
FP had all your AstroNewt news covered. Charles Homans looked at why the Republican establishment is dismissive of space policy, Joshua Keating asked if there's anything actually worth mining on the moon, and Uri Friedman investigated whether anyone has ever actually had sex in space.
Josh Rogin reported on the president's unlikely new neoconservative foreign-policy muse.
Scott Clement discussed which foreign-policy issues are most likely to have an impact in the general election.
Rosa Brooks argued that Obama needs a grand strategy.
FP bloggers from across the political spectrum dissected the State of the Union.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
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