Checking out how presidential elections play on the front pages of U.S. newspapers -- and stowing away those papers for posterity -- is a favorite pastime of American politics (and a reminder of why some news is still best conveyed in old-fashioned newsprint). But news outlets in other countries also produce some gems. Take the Venezuelan paper shown above, which has the president roaring over the headline, "Obama: I won!"
Courtesy of the Newseum and other sources, here are 10 front pages today from around the world that you won't want to miss. Below, Belgium's De Standaard splices the faces of Obama and Mitt Romney together to highlight America's partisan divisions, under the headline, "The Torn Country" (a Czech paper mashed up the candidates' faces as well -- and the result is significantly more disturbing).
Here's some fodder for American declinists. The Danish newspaper Politiken notes that the United States elected a new president but asks whether China's heir apparent Xi Jinping is the "world's new leader."
Feeling a bit disoriented from a long night of watching election results? Lebanon's Daily Star captures the feeling well:
Newseum/The Daily Star
In a review of the steep economic challenges facing the next U.S. president, Austria's Die Presse asks a simple question: "And what now, Mr. President?"
The Jamaica Observer wins the award for the most unflattering picture of a triumphant Obama:
Germany's Die Welt leads with a think piece entitled "What A Great Country" that criticizes Europeans for indulging in "premature schadenfreude" about America's decline as a superpower, and argues that the United States is still a "land of opportunity."
Wondering how Obama is feeling after his resounding victory? Canada's Calgary Sun suggests he may have some swagger in his step:
Britain's the Guardian arguably has the most artistic front page (oddly enough, and perhaps in an effort to make Obama look particularly formidable, papers in Panama and Spain also show Obama's breath lingering in the cold air) :
India's Deccan Chronicle made some odd artistic choices in framing the race on Election Day. Why the photograph of Obama speaking alongside an awkward picture of Mitt and Ann Romney kissing?
JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images
Yes, this year's presidential election may have featured a fair amount of talk about America's defense spending, China's trade practices, Iran's nuclear program, and the Obama administration's response to the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. But when you crunch the numbers, the truth is that foreign policy didn't matter much in ushering Barack Obama to reelection in 2012.
When George W. Bush defeated John Kerry in the first U.S. presidential election since 9/11, exit polls showed that terrorism, moral values, and the economy were the most decisive issues in the campaign, with roughly one-fifth of voters citing each as their top concern in the race (the war in Iraq was not far behind). It's particularly difficult to defeat an incumbent "when the country's perceived to be in some level of a war," a Kerry strategist mused after Election Day.
In retrospect, the 2004 election was an outlier in recent political history -- a contest that revolved around foreign rather than domestic policy. This year's race, by contrast, was no such exception. A CNN exit poll on Tuesday found that 60 percent of voters cited the economy as the most important issue on their minds, compared with 4 percent who mentioned foreign policy. A Fox News exit poll arrived at a similar finding, with 59 percent of respondents selecting the economy, 18 percent choosing health care, 15 percent referencing the federal budget deficit, and just 5 percent citing foreign policy.
Sure, we vote on intangibles and personal qualities, not just issues. And sure, those who mentioned foreign policy as their top issue in the Fox poll voted for Obama by a 56-33 margin -- suggesting that the Democrats ultimately retained their rare foreign-policy advantage even though Mitt Romney managed to chip away at Obama's edge on international affairs in the campaign's final weeks. But as a pivotal campaign issue, foreign policy barely registered.
We've known for a long time that America's sluggish economic recovery would dominate the election. In January, the Pew Research Center reported that the American public was more concerned about domestic policy than at any point in the past 15 years. For months now, the percentage of voters citing foreign-policy topics as the most important issues in the campaign has hovered in the single digits. Voters in swing states like Ohio and Florida have expressed far more concern about the economy than about foreign policy and national security, as have all-important independent and undecided voters.
Two factors could have catapulted international affairs to greater prominence: the Libya attack and the foreign-policy debate. But polling suggests that Obama's strong performance in the foreign-policy debate did little to alter the tight race that materialized after the president's lackluster performance in the first, domestic policy-focused debate. And the Romney campaign adopted a hot-and-cold approach to Libya, criticizing the administration's handling of the violence and overall Mideast strategy one minute and clamming up on the subject the next.
In fact, as the dust settles after Romney's defeat, conservatives may criticize the campaign for not talking about Libya enough. During an appearance on Fox News last week, the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol urged the Republican candidate to raise Libya on the trail during the final days of the race. "I think if he doesn't talk about it, voters will say it's so complicated, it was a screw-up but everyone screws up," he noted.
"It's Libya where [Romney] went weak," the Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer told Bill O'Reilly on Fox News earlier this week. "He could have hit Obama on Libya in the third debate. He could have hit him after. He never touched him. And the media, therefore, had an excuse to stay away from it. That, I think, would have been devastation for Obama and destruction for Obama."
"And that, I think, would have sealed it," Krauthammer added. "But Romney played it safe."
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
16- and 17-year-olds won't be able to vote in Tuesday's election. But if they really don't want to wait until 2016 to vote for a president, Argentinian citizenship is always an option.
Argentina just lowered its voting age to 16 ahead of 2013's presidential election. It follows Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Cuba in making the move. (Though how much your vote counts at any age in Cuba is another question.) Austria became the first European country to lower the voting age to 16 in 2008.
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.
The latest from FP:
Frank Januzzi wonders why Chinese human rights were never discussed in the campaign.
Rosa Brooks says the Republican military voter is a myth.
Nick Schifrin on why both campaigns are afraid to talk about the eurocrisis.
David Rothkopf on why Sandy could be a political gamechanger.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Time and again, we've been told that the economy is the most important issue in this year's campaign. But political scientist Douglas Hibbs believes economic indicators aren't the sole predictors of election outcomes. His "Bread and Peace" model, which forecasts the winner of presidential races based on growth in personal, after-tax income and American fatalities in unprovoked wars, is the only forecasting model I've come across that takes foreign policy into account in divining whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will triumph next week.
And unlike several competing models that focus on economic measures, Hibbs's has Romney beating Obama -- by a comfortable margin of 53-47.
So, is it the Peace component that's tipping the scale for Romney? Not so much. "There's not much action, I don't think, from Afghanistan on Obama's vote share," Hibbs told Foreign Policy, adding that there have been roughly 1,500 U.S. military fatalities in Afghanistan under the president's watch. "Proportional to U.S. population, that's just way too small to have great electoral effect." It's paltry income growth and the sluggish economic recovery, he argues, that could dash Obama's quest for a second term.
Hibbs, who cites John Mueller's 1973 study War, Presidents, and Public Opinion as a major influence on his work, says that since World War II, troop fatalities have only played a decisive role in two elections: 1952 and 1968. In those instances, the bloody Korean and Vietnam wars torpedoed the campaigns of Adlai Stevenson and Hubert Humphrey despite favorable economic conditions.
"Absent America's interventions in the Korean and Vietnamese civil wars, the strong real income growth record prior to those elections (particularly in 1968) should easily have kept the Democrats in the White House," Hibbs wrote in a recent article for the journal PS: Political Science and Politics. His graph below shows the extent to which the 1952 and 1968 election results were outliers when you plot income growth against the incumbent party's share of the vote. As Hibbs sees it, the deeply unpopular wars raging during those two years produced the anomalous outcomes:
For some perspective on how today's post-draft, high-tech wars differ from Korea and Vietnam, consider this: There were 29,260 U.S. military deaths (190 per millions of U.S. population) in Korea at the time of the 1952 election and 28,900 (146 per millions of U.S. population) in Vietnam at the time of the 1968 election. The 1,500 fatalities under Obama, by contrast, amount to roughly five deaths per millions of U.S. population.
In his model, Hibbs distinguishes between "provoked" and "unprovoked" conflicts, with the implicit assumption that voters are more willing to stomach fatalities when the United States has been attacked. And he posits that when voters are unhappy about military casualties, they punish the party that initiated the deployment of U.S. forces. According to this logic, Americans won't hold fatalities in Iraq against Obama this year because he inherited the war from George W. Bush. But they will attribute fatalities in Afghanistan to the president, since Bush invaded Afghanistan in response to al Qaeda's provocation on 9/11 while Obama recast the conflict as a "war of necessity" and ordered a troop surge in the country.
It's unclear from polling whether voters make these distinctions and consider the Afghan conflict Obama's war, but Americans have clearly soured on the military engagement. According to a Pew Research Center poll last month, 60 percent of Americans want to remove troops from the country as soon as possible regardless of whether the situation there is stabile, and more than half think the military effort isn't going well. When pollsters ask voters what the most important issue facing the country is, the war in Afghanistan typically garners no more than 5 percent of responses.
I asked Hibbs whether military fatalities would have a more pronounced impact on the electorate if the media covered the Afghan war more extensively. "In an open and democratic society with quite a free and inquisitive and aggressive press, the press follows the reality, it doesn't create it," he responded. "If we had 1,000 guys coming home in body bags a month in Afghanistan like we did in Vietnam ... the press would be all over it."
MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images
When Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he'd vote for Barack Obama if he could, you knew it was only a matter of time until the president's opponents used the unwelcome endorsement against him. First there was the ad released by Gary Bauer's Campaign for American Values PAC on the "dictator vote" that Obama had secured from Chavez, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Now, as the Miami Herald reports, the Romney campaign itself has released a Spanish-language ad on Spanish-language TV in Florida that shows Chavez and Raul Castro's niece Mariela expressing support for Obama, and even tries to tie the president to Che Guevara by noting that the Environmental Protection Agency sent out an Hispanic Heritage Month email containing a picture with a mural of the Marxist revolutionary in the background. The Obama campaign has responded by emphasizing the administration's efforts to expand trade with Latin America and criticizing Romney for "giving Chavez the attention he thrives on and that he doesn't deserve."
Romney approved the message, but he isn't promoting the ad on his YouTube channel and the Miami Herald says the campaign has refused repeated requests to furnish the ad to the paper. Why? Perhaps because the spot stoops pretty low in sending out subliminal messages about Obama being a closet socialist. Poor email judgment on the part of the EPA does not make Obama a Marxist revolutionary, and superimposing Obama's face on a famous Che poster -- and then showing the poster again, this time with Che's face -- probably won't convince voters otherwise.
The ad also doesn't mention that Fidel Castro has said a robot would be a better president than Obama, or that Chavez once called the president a "clown" after Obama criticized Venezuela's ties to Cuba and Iran. During the 2008 election, Obama's aides had to tamp down controversy after a flag with an image of Che Guevara was spotted at a volunteer office unaffiliated with the campaign. Are we really doing this again?
Last week we noted Florida Rep. and Senate candidate Connie Mack's freakout over the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe -- which he seemed to confuse with the U.N. -- sending observers to monitor U.S. elections. Now, Politico reports, two states are not exactly rolling out the welcome mat for the observers:
Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz — like Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott last week — on Tuesday threatened Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe election observers with arrest if they came within 300 feet of a polling place’s entrance, in violation of state law. (In Texas, it’s 100 feet.)
“My office met with two delegation representatives last week to discuss Iowa’s election process, and it was explained to them that they are not permitted at the polls,” Schultz said in a statement. “Iowa law is very specific about who is permitted at polling places, and there is no exception for members of this group.”
Mitt Romney's latest ad in Ohio, which alleges that the president "sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China" has been torn apart by fact-checkers. The claim appears to be based largely on a misreading of the lede a recent Bloomberg news story, which reported that Chrysler "plans to return Jeep output to China and may eventually make all of its models in that country". Yes, the wording is slightly confusing, but if you read the whole story by Craig Trudell, you will soon find out that this refers to building Jeeps locally for the Chinese market "rather than shifting output from North America to China."
Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has also denied that the company has any plans to move U.S. plants to China and has in fact added new jobs at the Jeep plant in Michigan.
Behind the politics, Jeep in China is actually an interesting business case -- a brand with high name-recognition and popularity but little availability. Another Bloomberg story from last May explored the topic:
Jeep gear is so popular in China that there are more than 1,500 licensed clothing outlets in the country, where only 120 auto dealers sell the brand. While Jeep has a strong image connected to an adventurous lifestyle, three decades of changing ownership have left it without local production and missing out on surging demand for SUVs in the world’s largest vehicle market.
“Our brand awareness and consideration is running way ahead of where our actual volumes are,” Mike Manley, head of the Jeep brand, said in an interview in Beijing last month. “That’s why I can’t say strongly or often enough just what an opportunity China offers for us.”
Thanks to steep import tarrifs and the lack of a local manufacturing plant, a Jeep Grand Cherokee costs about $91,064, compared to $26,995 in the U.S. -- the primary motivation behind Chrysler looking to ramp up production in China.
As a recent BBC World Service poll suggested, Barack Obama would cruise to victory if countries ranging from France to Kenya to Canada could vote in the U.S. presidential election. But a new Peace Index poll reveals that Mitt Romney has a sizable advantage in at least one country: Israel.
The survey, which was conducted last week by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University, found that 57 percent of Jewish Israelis felt that it would be preferable for Romney to win the election from the perspective of Israeli interests, while 22 percent said the same about Obama. Seventy percent of self-identified right-wingers, 54 percent of centrists, and 30 percent of left-wingers surveyed expressed support for Romney. Meanwhile, a plurality of Arab Israelis in the poll preferred Obama (45 percent) to Romney (15 percent).
A Peace Index poll over the summer, when Romney traveled to Jerusalem, yielded similar -- if less pronounced -- results, with 40 percent of Jewish Israeli respondents supporting Romney and 19 percent backing Obama on a slightly different question: Which candidate would assign "more importance to defending Israel's national interests?"
In this month's Peace Index poll, which will be released in full on Monday, 69 percent of Israeli Jews said they do not believe the result of the U.S. election will influence the outcome of upcoming Israeli elections, while 51 percent of Israeli Arabs said they think the U.S. race will have an impact on the Israeli contest. I've written before about speculation in the Israeli press that Benjamin Netanyahu could be punished at the polls if Obama wins reelection and bilateral relations suffer because of the Israeli prime minister's aggressive efforts to establish "red lines" for Iran's nuclear program during the U.S. campaign.
One surprising result of the BBC World Service poll last week was that the only country where more respondents favored Romney than Obama was Pakistan, where drone strikes and the Osama bin Laden raid have inflamed anti-American sentiment. But the real story there was that most Pakistani respondents were, well, undecided: a whopping 75 percent had no opinion about the candidates. In Israel, at least among Israeli Jews, the preference for Romney appears to be far more resounding.
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
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.
The latest from FP
The dumbest foreign-policy ads of 2012.
Quiz: Can you tell Obama's foreign policy statements from Romney's?
Rosa Brooks on why she's still supporting Obama.
Peter W. Singer on why the next president needs to figure out their policy on robots.
Can't we all just not get along, asks John A. Gans Jr.
Christian Caryl says apathetic Americans get a bad rap.
Micah Zenko lists the five lies we tell ourselves about U.S. foreign policy.
Joshua Keating on the five biggest issues that didn't come up in the debates.
Will Marshall wonders if Romney's rope-a-dope will actually work.
David Hoffman looks at Obama's nuke spending.
Five foreign policy experts weigh in on the real takeaways from Monday's debate.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
With the outcome of the U.S. election so uncertain, foreign heads of state have generally refrained from expressing support for either presidential candidate. But as my colleague Josh Keating has noted, leaders like France's Francois Hollande, Russia's Vladimir Putin, and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez have suggested that they're partial to Barack Obama. Now, it seems, we can add Ecuador's Rafael Correa to the list.
During an interview with a Chilean radio station on Friday, Correa noted that he didn't want to "interfere in the internal matters of other countries." But what he said afterward sounded a whole lot like an endorsement of Obama.
"I wish the best of luck to President Obama," the leftist leader declared, according to the news agency EFE. "I am personally fond of President Obama, I think he is a great person." Republican administrations, he added, "have always had a much more unfamiliar, a much more simplistic and primitive foreign policy toward Latin America."
In the presidential debate on foreign policy this week, Mitt Romney criticized Obama for pledging in 2008 to sit down with Latin American leaders like Chavez, who is an ally of Correa's. But the GOP candidate also called for more trade with countries in the region.
Correa's comments might not sit well with conservatives like evangelical leader and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, whose Campaign for American Values PAC released an ad this week proclaiming that Obama had secured the "dictator vote" from Chavez, Putin, and Fidel Castro:
Obama actually has a complicated relationship with Correa. The U.S. president phoned the Ecuadorean leader in 2009 to mend strained relations between the two countries, but Correa, a U.S.-trained economist, has since expelled the U.S. ambassador to Ecuador over a WikiLeaks cable and offered asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
However Correa feels about Obama's policies, he appears to think Romney's would be worse.
YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images
As Election Day nears, the Romney campaign is busy publicizing the newspaper endorsements that the former governor is racking up. But the Republican candidate also received support from two unlikely figures on Thursday -- rock legend Meat Loaf and New York City icon the Naked Cowboy. And just like Clint Eastwood, who lectured Invisible Obama about counterterrorism and the war in Afghanistan, both cited foreign policy as a reason why they decided to endorse Mitt Romney.
During an appearance with Romney at a rally in Ohio last night, Meat Loaf, who rose to prominence during the Cold War, issued a full-throated defense of Romney's aggressive positions on Russia, adopting storm language that fit with the song he performed, "Stand in the Storm." (The song notes that "this world is tough as a splinter" and urges people to grow a "backbone" -- lyrics that fit nicely with Romney's pledge to show "more backbone" to Russian President Vladimir Putin.) Here's what Meat Loaf told the crowd, per the New York Times:
There has storm clouds come over the United States. There is thunderstorms over Europe. There are hailstorms, and I mean major hailstorms, in the Middle East. There are storms brewing through China, through Asia, through everywhere, and there's only one man that on the other night when President Barack Obama, God bless him, said to Mitt Romney, ‘The Cold War is over.' I have never heard such a thing in my life. The man needs to understand Putin and Russia, so I want you to know that there is one man who will stand tall in this country and fight the storm and bring the United States back to what it should be ... Gov. Mitt Romney!
Also on Thursday, the Naked Cowboy, a fixture in Times Square, told a CBS affiliate in New York that he had already voted for Romney by absentee ballot in the critical swing state of Ohio. And he explained why, echoing the pitch he made when considering a presidential run back in 2010 and backing Romney's bullish position on defense spending:
I believe in a small, decentralized, fiscally responsible federal government. I believe in an economy with free market principals, and I believe in the strongest national defense on earth. And those are the antithesis of all three things Obama is doing.
With endorsements like these, who needs Colin Powell?
I see the Obama campaign has a new YouTube ad featuring Girls star (and fellow Oberlin alum!) Lena Dunham:
"Your first time shouldn't be with just anybody. You want to do it with a great guy," she says, referring to casting your first ballot for Obama. (What were you thinking?)
It's a clever conceit, but feels a bit familiar. Perhaps because the same joke was used in an ad for Vladimir Putin's presidential campaign earlier this year:
A suggestive ad rallying support for Putin's presidential campaign shows a young woman seeking a fortune-teller's advice. "Let's find out, cutie, who is intended to you by destiny," the mystic says. The girl replies, "You know. I wish it to be for love -- It is my first time."
Here's that one:
Another ad from the same campaign featured a doctor telling a young woman, "The main thing is to be sure it's safe. Especially the first time."
Let's just hope the campaign doesn't delve further into the Putin catalog.
Update: Looks like Reagan may have beaten Putin to this joke by a few years.
Also, whether you like the Dunham commercial or not, describing it as "further proof we live in a fallen world destined for hell fire" is um... going a bit far.
There's an old line that the foreign-policy debate in Washington is like a football game played between the 40-yard-lines. You might think that last night's third-party debate, hosted by the Free and Equal Elections Foundation in Chicago, would feature more disagreement, pitting left-wing candidates Jill Stein of the Green Party and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party against Virgil Goode of the right-wing Constitution party, and Libertarian Gary Johnson.
But the four candidates did find quite a bit of common ground in the Larry King-hosted debate, over limiting the ability of the president to authorize the use of force, cutting back on U.S. military commitments -- particularly an early end to the war in Afghanistan -- and expressing concern over the use of drones. Watching it after Monday night's debate between Obama and Romney was a bit like watching a parallel football game being played between the 10- and 30-yard lines.
Here's Stein on drones:
A foreign policy based on militarism and brute military force and wars for oil is making us less secure, not more secure. We need to cut the budget and bring the troops home, and we need to end the drone wars, not bring the drones home, because they're already coming home. We need to end the use of drones and not lead the development of a new arms race, but lead the development of a new treaty -- a convention to permanently ban the use of drones as a weapon of war and as a means of spying on the American public.
Here's Goode on use of force:
I would not be in Syria unless congress makes a declartion of war. We will not stay in Afghanistan if I am elected president unless Congress makes a declaration of war. Only by going through that constitutional process can we ensure that the will of the American people is addressed when we have issues like Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran.
Here's Johnson on military spending:
The biggest threat to our national security is the fact that we're bankrupt -- that we're borrowing and we're printing money to the tune of 43 cents out of every dollar that we spend. So I'm promising to submit a balanced budget to Congress in the year 2013, that would include a 43 percent reduction in military spending. How does that go down? Well a 43 percent reduction in military spending takes us back to 2003 spending levels. It's getting ourselves out of all the military engagements that we're currently involved in. Stop with the military interventions.
During the Bush and the Obama years, our Constitution has been shredded while the imperial presidency has expanded, with presidents who think they can unilaterally take us to war, often on a pack of lies, with presidents who think the federal government should have the authority to round anyone up, including U.S. citizens, and imprison them up to the rest of their lives without charges, without trial, without legal representation, and without the right of habeas corpus. And our elected officials are sound asleep while the Pentagon is warning the climate change is a greater long-term security risk to the United States than terrorism.
As Slate's Will Oremus notes, that last claim might not pass muster with fact-checkers. But it should still be noted that a number of important issues that were notable by the absence from the Obama-Romney debates -- including civil liberties, the war on drugs, and climate change -- were prominently featured.
Johnson, the former New Mexico governor who has been campaigning since the GOP primary, probably had the most polished performance and his closing pitch, asking the audience to "waste your vote on me," was probably the night's most memorable moment. Johnson also discussed his past marijuana use and suggested that Obama and Romney should have to wear “NASCAR-like jackets” showing their corporate sponsors.
There will be another third-party debate hosted by the Free and Equal Elections Foundation next week, featuring the two candidates who win an online poll. (Johnson and Stein, with the biggest national followings, are probably the favorites.)
Whether or not you agree their overall limited-government, small-footprint take on foreign policy, it's certainly a perspective that's missing in the general election. Just as Ron Paul was often the only one actually arguing with anyone during the foreign-policy sections of the GOP debates, dropping at least one of these candidates into a matchup with Obama and Romney might have made the discussion more interesting.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Last night I tallied up the number of times various countries were mentioned in Monday's foreign-policy debate. And today, not surprisingly, many of the most-mentioned countries are adding their two cents to the discussion. In China, the Global Times notes that President Barack Obama "surprised China and his own people by labeling China an 'adversary" while Xinhua cautiously observes that the candidates offered a "speck of belated comfort" by also referring to Beijing as a partner. Israeli columnists are discussing Obama's anecdote about visiting Yad Vashem and Sderot as Pakistani news outlets highlight Romney's pledge to continue drone strikes and attach conditions to Pakistani aid.
But it's the countries that didn't get mentioned last night that are issuing some of the most interesting commentary today. Blogging for the French newspaper Liberation, for example, Lorraine Millot notes that Europe was in the running with Australia for the most forgotten continent last night but adds that the silence may not be so bad, since Europe is a perennial scapegoat on the campaign trail. Palestinian political leader Hanan Ashrawi has called the lack of discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process a "sin of omission" and "clearly the elephant in the room."
Indian news outlets in particular have been wrestling with the meaning of their country's absence from the debate.
The Times of India, for its part, isn't surprised. "As expected, India did not come up even once during the 90-minute debate, not even obliquely or tangentially ... or in reference to China or Pakistan," the paper observes. But other outlets appear to be more taken aback. In an article for The Hindu entitled "Obama scores, but did the world lose?" Narayan Lakshman laments the narrow worldview that the candidates articulated on Monday night:
[B]oth men appeared keen to limit the debate to their respective talking points, which not only resulted in the debate often being pulled back into arguments over domestic issues such as the economy, it also led to a vast swathe of nations, allies and foes of U.S. alike, being entirely ignored. India and sub-Saharan Africa, for example, did not feature in the debate at all, and the European Union and Latin America were only given passing mentions.
In a far more pessimistic take at Business Line, J. Srinivasan accuses India's leaders of inviting the slight by scuttling the country's relationship with the United States and global ambitions:
Some years back, with 9 per cent-plus growth, India was the toast of the world, and the US. Obama had called India the ‘risen nation'. Washington and New Delhi finally seemed getting closer, overcoming the peculiar legacy of an uneasy relationship between the two largest democracies. Suddenly, all that bonhomie seems over.
Principally, the blame may lie with India. The US has been backing India in its anti-terror efforts at all fora. But the quid pro quo has not come. Washington must be most disappointed with New Delhi's waffling on serious foreign investments. Actually, the loser is India as it now gets only some portfolio investment that is notoriously fickle to boot. And, when the government has made some glacial moves, they have been politically stymied. India is still to open its banking and insurance sectors. Then, the off-putting corruption revelations.
Really, can the US, or any other country, be blamed for ignoring India? For all the big talk of our political class, the sad truth is forget a chair, we don't get a stool at the world high table. We, the aam aadmi [common man], must also wake up to the reality that if our political class continues in its ways, we cannot catch up with China warts and all.
At First Post, Venky Vembu has a little more fun with the omission:
What's the point of our "stealing" so many middle-class American jobs through the outsourcing route if we can't even find one measly mention in the US presidential debate? What price our status as a "risen power" (to quote Obama, during his visit to India in November 2010) if we cannot colonise the mindspace of even one of the two men who are vying to be the next president of the US?
Even lowly Pakistan came in for mention, uncharitable though it was....
But while Vembu, like J. Srinivasan, argues that India's political, economic, and diplomatic problems may contribute to the country's irrelevance in the current U.S. foreign-policy debate, he adds that America's increasing isolationism is also to blame:
[America's] foreign policy horizons are shrinking, as an economically enfeebled America increasingly focuses inwards.
India and the US, it has been famously said, are "estranged democracies" that ought to have gotten along a lot better than the vicissitudes of geopolitics have allowed. History, of course, comes with its own baggage, but today, as both India and the US retreat into the recesses of their minds, the capacity for India to inject itself into American foreign polity thinking stands vastly diminished.
If it's any consolation, Obama did mention India once in the second debate. The context? Condemning Romney for supporting tax breaks that would create jobs in countries like India.
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
On Friday, FP reached out to readers, contributors, and outside experts to brainstorm questions for Bob Schieffer as he prepared to moderate the foreign-policy debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. We came up with 55 -- just enough for Schieffer to ask in the fastest and most substantive lightning round in debate history. So how many of our questions -- broadly defined -- did Schieffer end up asking last night?
By my count, seven out of 55:
Not bad! Sadly, however, Schieffer decided to pass on Joseph Nye's question about how Romney could champion American soft power while attacking Big Bird. Too bad there are no more debates.
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One of the odder moments of last night's debate was Mitt Romney's reference to America's 42 allies:
We need to have strong allies. Our association and — and connection with our allies is essential to America’s strength. We’re the — the great nation that has allies, 42 allies and friends around the world.
Spokeswoman Andrea Saul told the Daily Caller that Romney was referring to "NATO Allies, Major Non-NATO Allies, and NATO contact countries” and provided a list. It's still a strangely limited definition.
I suspect most Americans would be surprised by a list of allies that includes Pakistan, but not Mexico. The exclusion of China is certainly arguable, though it's America's second-largest trading partner, but what about India? The United States, apparently, has no allies in sub-Saharan Africa, which is probably news to those U.S. troops helping to train the Ugandan military. The only U.S. ally in Latin America is Argentina. (So much for that whole Plan Colombia thing.) Bahrain is a U.S. ally, but non-NATO member Sweden -- which has sent troops to Afghanistan -- is not. We may all be Georgians, as John McCain famously put it, but the Georgians are not U.S. allies.
Romney's list is actually smaller than the 49 countries than the Bush administration listed as part of the Coalition of the Willing. A symptom of American decline, perhaps?
For evidence that the United States is still disproportionately focused on the Middle East despite all the talk about the pivot (or should I say "strategic rebalancing?") toward the Asia-Pacific region, look no further than the country mentions at tonight's foreign-policy debate:
The surprise of the night? Romney's four references to Mali (in the context of al Qaeda's resurgence), a country he hasn't mentioned in his major foreign-policy addresses or even in his campaign website's Africa section. The Republican candidate clearly studied up on al Qaeda's new franchises.
Update: Thanks to our readers for spotting a few other country mentions. The candidates and moderator also referenced Japan, Poland, and Tunisia -- one time each.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
To put the agenda for tonight's foreign-policy debate topics in some context, it's helpful to go back to a time before the Arab Spring, the European debt crisis, and the death of Osama bin Laden.
When Barack Obama and John McCain met for their first debate in September 2008, the U.S. troop surge in Iraq was less than two years old, Benjamin Netanyahu was an opposition leader in Israel, Japan had a larger economy than China, and hostilities had recently erupted between Russia and Georgia. Lehman Brothers had just collapsed and Congress was considering a $700 billion bank bailout, spurring moderator Jim Lehrer to devote the first 40 minutes of what was supposed to be a debate on foreign policy and national security to the economy.
When Lehrer finally steered the debate to international affairs (an area in which McCain had the advantage), he asked about the lessons of the war in Iraq, the wisdom of sending more troops to Afghanistan, the threat Iran posed to the United States, the future of U.S.-Russian relations, and the likelihood of another 9/11 attack.
Tonight's face-off will likely look very different than the last presidential debate on foreign policy. Topics such as the Afghan war and the Iranian nuclear program will resurface in new ways, while others -- the rise of China, America's role in the world, the changing Middle East and terrorist threat -- will achieve newfound prominence.
For a sense of how dramatically the foreign-policy conversation has changed in the space of four years, just look at some of the most memorable lines from the 2008 debate. In one of the most heated exchanges, for example, the candidates debated the success of the surge in Iraq.
OBAMA: [Our troops] have done a brilliant job, and General Petraeus has done a brilliant job. But understand, that was a tactic designed to contain the damage of the previous four years of mismanagement of this war.
And so John likes -- John, you like to pretend like the war started in 2007. You talk about the surge. The war started in 2003, and at the time when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy. You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong.
You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shiite and Sunni. And you were wrong....
MCCAIN: I'm afraid Senator Obama doesn't understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy.... Senator Obama refuses to acknowledge that we are winning in Iraq.
McCain also attacked Obama's willingness to pursue terrorists in Pakistan (the GOP candidate later had to rein in Sarah Palin when she appeared to agree with Obama's position):
MCCAIN: He said that he would launch military strikes into Pakistan.
Now, you don't do that. You don't say that out loud. If you have to do things, you have to do things, and you work with the Pakistani government....
OBAMA: Nobody talked about attacking Pakistan. Here's what I said.
And if John wants to disagree with this, he can let me know, that, if the United States has al Qaeda, bin Laden, top-level lieutenants in our sights, and Pakistan is unable or unwilling to act, then we should take them out.
MCCAIN: Senator Obama twice said in debates he would sit down with Ahmadinejad, Chavez and Raul Castro without precondition. Without precondition. Here is Ahmadinenene [mispronunciation], Ahmadinejad, who is, Ahmadinejad, who is now in New York, talking about the extermination of the State of Israel, of wiping Israel off the map....
OBAMA: So let's talk about this. First of all, Ahmadinejad is not the most powerful person in Iran. So he may not be the right person to talk to. But I reserve the right, as president of the United States to meet with anybody at a time and place of my choosing if I think it's going to keep America safe.
Now, understand what this means "without preconditions." It doesn't mean that you invite them over for tea one day. What it means is that we don't do what we've been doing, which is to say, "Until you agree to do exactly what we say, we won't have direct contacts with you."
While both candidates condemned Russia's actions against Georgia, McCain also accused Obama of being soft on Moscow and too inexperienced to be commander-in-chief, playing off of George W. Bush's bizarre remark in 2001 about looking into Putin's eyes and getting a "sense of his soul."
OBAMA: [W]e have to have a president who is clear that you don't deal with Russia based on staring into his eyes and seeing his soul. You deal with Russia based on, what are your -- what are the national security interests of the United States of America?
And we have to recognize that the way they've been behaving lately demands a sharp response from the international community and our allies....
MCCAIN: Well, I was interested in Senator Obama's reaction to the Russian aggression against Georgia. His first statement was, "Both sides ought to show restraint."
Again, a little bit of naivete there. He doesn't understand that Russia committed serious aggression against Georgia. And Russia has now become a nation fueled by petro-dollars that is basically a KGB apparatchik-run government.
I looked into Mr. Putin's eyes, and I saw three letters, a "K," a "G," and a "B." And their aggression in Georgia is not acceptable behavior.
All this isn't to say we won't see shades of the previous foreign-policy debate tonight. In light of the New York Times report over the weekend about possible direct talks between Iran and the United States, Mitt Romney might argue that Barack Obama is naively sitting down with Iranian officials who won't be negotiating in good faith. And you never know: Romney, who's no fan of Vladimir Putin, could always borrow McCain's KGB zinger.
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
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.
The latest from FP:
Rosa Brooks makes the case that Obama's foreign policy team is dysfunctional and gives some suggestions on how to fix it.
Shen Dingli on why China might prefer a Romney presidency.
Former candidate Jon Hunstman gives FP his take on how the race is shaping up.
Joshua E. Keating explains what would actually happen if Romney labeled China a currency manipulator.
David Roberts lays out what the two candidates aren't telling voters about the future of coal.
Christopher Stephen reports from Benghazi on a situation that looks very different from how the U.S. political spin cycle is portraying it.
Douglas Feith and Seth Cropsey argue that the Russian "reset" exemplifies the flaws of Obama's foreign policy.
Mark Bowden on the six biggest myths around the Osama bin Laden raid.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
Just over a month ago, I wrote a post with the headline, "Dems haven't had this much national-security swagger since LBJ." At the time, the Democrats were concluding their convention and President Obama was enjoying rare and resounding double-digit leads over his Republican challenger on foreign policy, national security, and counterterrorism. That was before the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Obama's lackluster performance in the first debate, and Mitt Romney's sustained post-debate bounce.
Fast-forward several weeks, and Romney appears to have made dramatic strides on foreign policy and national security. The wording of questions and types of respondents vary in the national polls below, so what follows is not an apples-to-apples analysis (sadly, there's no daily tracking poll for foreign policy). The most recent polls also don't reflect Obama's stronger outing in his second debate. But the general trend should be clear:
The Pew poll released this week also shows Obama losing some support for his response to the Libya attack, Obama and Romney running neck-and-neck on dealing with Iran's nuclear program, and Romney leading Obama by nine points on handling China's trade policies.
As I mentioned before, it's important to emphasize that these polls do not capture Obama's performance in the second debate. But when CNN polled Americans who watched this week's town hall and asked them which candidate would do a better job handling foreign policy, Obama emerged with a mere 49-47 advantage over Romney.
Obama clearly still has the overall edge on foreign policy. But his dominance appears to be waning -- just in time for a debate on foreign policy next week.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
BuzzFeed has called it the "moment where Barack Obama won the debate." MSNBC's Rachel Maddow dubbed it a "political disaster" for Mitt Romney. National Review's Jim Geraghty described it as "one of the most egregious misjudgments of any moderator in the history of presidential debates."
During Tuesday night's presidential debate, moderator Candy Crowley corrected Romney when he pounced on Obama for claiming that he'd cdescribed the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi as an act of terror. "He did call it an act of terror," Crowley noted to applause and Obama's delight. Romney retorted that it had taken a long time for the administration to describe the assault as a terrorist attack rather than a spontaneous reaction to an inflammatory film.
Within hours, political observers were characterizing the exchange as a pivotal moment in the campaign -- a gaffe for the history books. Romney "was even held accountable by Candy Crowley for not telling the truth about the president acknowledging an act of terror," Senator John Kerry (D-MA) noted. "I think tonight Mitt Romney's campaign fell away."
Political Wire's Taegan Goddard, meanwhile, compared Romney's misstep to Gerald Ford's famous declaration during a 1976 debate with Jimmy Carter that "there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration." Here's Goddard:
[Romney] scored many points. But he lost most of them by not knowing his facts on what President Obama said the morning after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. Obama acted like a president in the exchange while Romney was much less. It was Romney's Gerald Ford moment.
Over at the New York Times, Andrew Rosenthal went a step further, likening Romney not just to Ford but to George H.W. Bush:
When George H.W. Bush looked at his watch in a 1992 debate with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot and absolutely bungled a question about how the national debt had affected him personally, he cemented the impression that he was out of touch with real Americans' lives.
When Gerald Ford denied in 1976 that there was any "Soviet domination" of Eastern Europe, he cemented the impression that he was out of touch with pretty much everything....
Tonight, Mitt Romney may have had a similar moment, during a back-and-forth about the attack on the Benghazi Consulate.
There's ample reason to be skeptical of these damning assessments, however. For starters, the controversy surrounding the candidate's remarks involves semantics -- act of terror or terrorist attack? -- and won't deter Republicans from continuing to criticize the administration's response to the assault and overall Mideast policy.
What's more, Americans were deeply concerned about the Soviet Union at the time of Gerald Ford's gaffe -- something that can't be said for the public's attitude toward Libya at the moment. In a national survey conducted by the Foreign Policy Initiative in mid-September, just over 2 percent of respondents cited Libya in response to an open-ended question about the country that presents the most danger to American national security interests.
Rosenthal concedes that Romney's Libya remarks "likely won't have the same impact as Mr. Ford's Soviet domination gaffe or Mr. Bush's watch episode, which "may have cost them their elections." But even here, there's not much evidence that the Ford and Bush blunders had any such effect.
A 2008 Gallup study, for example, found that the 1992 presidential debates didn't affect the standing of Bush or challenger Bill Clinton, though they may have boosted support for third-party candidate Ross Perot. The polling firm concluded that the 1976 presidential debates may have made the race "more competitive" but did not change the contest's "fundamentals," since Carter was leading before the debates. "After Ford's statement about the lack of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe -- widely perceived as a gaffe - Carter's lead expanded slightly to 6 points and remained at about that level after the third and final debate," Gallup noted.
The emerging Romney-equals-Ford narrative, in other words, doesn't really work. Still, Ford's experience does offer some cautionary tales for Romney. Ford campaign staffer Doug Bailey once recalled that while the Eastern Europe gaffe didn't sway the election, it did halt the steady gains Ford had been making against Carter in the polls:
Our own polling data would suggest that really in the end we did not lose any people because of the Eastern European statement. That, by and large, people were shocked by it; dumbfounded by it, and some people close to that issue were offended by it.... But over time, almost all of those people came back to us. What it did cost us was momentum because we were just caught dead in our tracks for a week to ten days. And the progress of closing those gaps with about a half point per day stopped, at the same rate, after that ten day gap where everything just stood still.
And news outlets may have played a significant role in creating that dynamic that Bailey described. As the political scientist John Sides recently noted, debate viewers didn't mention the Eastern Europe remarks in a poll conducted on the night of the Ford-Carter matchup. "Only for viewers interviewed the next day did this gaffe become more salient -- evidence that the public needed the news media to point out that Ford had made a mistake," Sides observes. Indeed, the president was subsequently assailed by headlines such as "The Blooper Heard Round the World" and "Jerry Ford Drops a Brick."
These days, the media's judgment is near-instantaneous. If the press hype over the Libya exchange keeps building, it could be bad news for Mitt-mentum.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Anyone who watched the Democratic convention knows that the Obama campaign is championing the killing of Osama bin Laden as one of the administration's signature achievements -- a strategy best summed up by Vice President Joe Biden's reminder that "Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive."
But it hasn't been easy for the president to mention the al Qaeda leader's death during the first two presidential debates, which have focused largely on domestic policy, and that's made for some odd moments. During Tuesday night's town hall, for example, an audience member complained about the rising cost of living:
QUESTION: Mr. President, I voted for you in 2008. What have you done or accomplished to earn my vote in 2012? I'm not that optimistic as I was in 2012. Most things I need for everyday living are very expensive.
OBAMA: Well, we've gone through a tough four years. There's no doubt about it. But four years ago, I told the American people and I told you I would cut taxes for middle class families. And I did. I told you I'd cut taxes for small businesses, and I have.
I said that I'd end the war in Iraq, and I did. I said we'd refocus attention on those who actually attacked us on 9/11, and we have gone after Al Qaeda's leadership like never before and Osama bin Laden is dead.
After listing several other successes on the domestic front, Obama conceded that people are still struggling despite his achievements and circled back to the original prompt about accomplishments by stating that "the commitments I've made, I've kept." But the mentions of Iraq, al Qaeda, and bin Laden still seemed out of place in response to a question about economic struggles.
Obama made an even more bizarre reference to bin Laden in the first debate, when he fielded a question about partisan gridlock. The president appeared to suggest that he'd pursued bin Laden because it would strengthen the middle class:
But look, my philosophy has been I will take ideas from anybody, Democrat or Republican, as long as they're advancing the cause of making middle-class families stronger and giving ladders of opportunity into the middle class. That's how we cut taxes for middle-class families and small businesses. That's how we cut a trillion dollars of spending that wasn't advancing that cause. 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-Qaida and bin Laden.
As my colleague Josh Rogin notes, this language about ending the war in Iraq, weakening al Qaeda, and killing bin Laden is part of Obama's stump speech. But the past two debates suggest that the president reflexively invokes the wording whenever there's an opening -- however far afield -- to discuss his accomplishments. Luckily for Obama, the third and final presidential debate will focus on foreign policy. That should provide more than enough opportunities to work in a bin Laden reference or two.
In one of the most interesting exchanges of Tuesday night's presidential debate, a town hall participant asked Mitt Romney what distinguished him from George W. Bush. The GOP candidate returned to his five-point plan for the economy, noting that, unlike the previous Republican president, he would balance the budget, champion small business, expand trade with Latin America, crack down aggressively on Chinese trade practices, and secure energy independence for North America:
We can now, by virtue of new technology actually get all the energy we need in North America without having to go to the the Arabs or the Venezuelans or anyone else. That wasn't true in [Bush's] time, that's why my policy starts with a very robust policy to get all that energy in North America -- become energy secure.
Never mind that, as Gregg Carlstom pointed out, the criticisms of Bush didn't really revolve around his failure to strike Latin American free trade agreements or get tough on Beijing. When it came to energy policy, Romney expanded on his plan elsewhere in the debate, promising to increase manufacturing jobs and achieve energy independence "within eight years" by approving the Keystone XL Pipeline, increasing offshore drilling, granting more licenses and permits for drilling on federal lands and in federals waters, and embracing a mix of energy sources including oil, coal, nuclear, natural gas, and renewables.
The issue is, Bush echoed Romney's overarching theme -- reducing America's dependence on OPEC by a date certain through technology and a variety of promising energy sources -- in his 2006 State of the Union address, which came two years before Bush lifted an executive ban on offshore oil drilling:
Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable alternative energy sources. And we are on the threshold of incredible advances.
So tonight I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative-a 22-percent increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy-to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy.
We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We'll also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips and stalks or switchgrass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within 6 years.
Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.
Romney's plan, which promises North American energy independence in less than a decade and builds on research such as Citi's Energy 2020 report, is certainly more ambitious than Bush's. But is the Republican candidate really advocating a clean break with Bush on energy policy? Or did he simply dodge a tough question by pivoting back to his five-point plan?
John Moore/Getty Images
A growing body of research may suggest that there are very few truly undecided voters still out there, and that their role in deciding elections is exaggerated. But the Gallup polling firm apparently believes it's tracked down 80 politically uncommitted Long Islanders to compose the audience at tonight's town hall-style presidential debate, which will touch on a mix of foreign and domestic policy issues. All this raises the question: What's the foreign policy of undecided voters?
I haven't come across a study on this topic specifically, but a national poll released by the Foreign Policy Initiative late last month offers some clues. Here's a quick look at the ways self-identified independents responded to the organization's questions:
Independents, of course, are not necessarily synonymous with undecided voters (according to the FPI poll, more than 40 percent of independents report that they're either voting for Obama or leaning toward doing so, and just under 40 percent say the same about Romney).
But if you track another, significantly smaller group in the survey -- those who identify as "firm undecideds" when it comes to the election -- on the issues listed above, you'll find the same broad trends. The portrait of the independent voter that emerges -- focused primarily on the economy, wary of tinkering with defense spending, relatively hawkish on Iran and Syria, concerned about the rise of China, ambivalent on Afghanistan, skeptical of foreign aid, pessimistic about the direction of the country but bullish on America's global leadership -- is worth keeping in mind as you watch tonight's debate.
Andrew Burton/Getty Images
With the U.S. presidential election now closer than ever, the press is brimming with speculation about whether Barack Obama, after turning in a lackluster performance in the first debate, can reverse Mitt Romney's momentum during his second outing tonight. And not just the U.S. media. News outlets from India to Israel are busy dissecting Obama's setback, Romney's comeback, and what the new state of play in the race means for their countries. Here's a snapshot of some of the most colorful coverage in recent days:
The British press has at times been rather brutal in assessing the shifting dynamics in the presidential race (sample Daily Mail headline this week: "Preparing for a new job already? Obama delivers pizzas to campaign workers as he gets ready for make-or-break TV debate at golf resort"). But commentators have also speculated about what a Romney win would mean for Britain. Over at the Telegraph, Tim Stanley argues that David Cameron and his Conservative Party have expressed their preference for Obama too openly. "By airing these views in public the Tories have gambled too much on Obama winning the election," he maintains. "And if he doesn't, then they'll have a President on their hands who they have routinely insulted. That can't be good for the Atlantic alliance." (Stanley, for the record, thinks tonight's debate will end in a draw or Romney win.)
Meanwhile, Sir Christopher Meyer, a former British ambassador to the United States, writes in the London Evening Standard that an Obama victory would be best for Britain:
Romney could turn out to be an excellent foreign policy president, yet right now, his foreign policy team is split between neo-con hawks and those of a more pragmatic, "realist" world view, similar to our own. We don't know which faction will come out on top. In the circumstances, we're better off with the devil we know - and that's Obama.
The state-run news agency Xinhua has a warning today for the presidential candidates: "[I]t would be both politically shortsighted and detrimental to China-US relations if they turned the town-hall-style meeting into a China-bashing competition" (the news outlet appears to be confusing tonight's debate with the third and final debate on foreign policy, which will touch on topics such as "the rise of China and tomorrow's world"). Sure, both candidates' tough talk on China may be nothing more than campaign bluster, Xinhua observes. But "these chameleonic politicians should not always expect that the wounds they have inflicted to the China-US ties would heal automatically" once they assume office.
In an article on the possibility that India could be dealing with several new world leaders in a matter of months, the Times of India marvels that "from being a candidate who could barely control his own Republican Party, Mitt Romney has surged forward to be a surprisingly competent debater and a more than credible opponent." Still, the paper adds, the outcome of the U.S. election may not have a major impact on bilateral relations. "The Indo-US relationship has now become institutionalized and isn't actually dependent on a president," the article notes.
In a debate preview at the Hindustan Times, the U.S.-based journalist Rashmee Roshan Lall argues that Romney is unlikely to endear himself to India or the world during Tuesday night's event. True, she notes, the "New Delhi punditocracy has always thought Republican presidents suit India much better than Democratic ones." But Romney doesn't mention India on the campaign trail and wants to "reinstate the US as globocop, albeit with a makeover that borrows heavily from some of the darker manifestations of Lord Voldemort." She concludes with a question: "Is it better to be steamrollered or simply ignored or might the best option for India and everyone else be four more years of Obama?"
As the U.S. race has tightened -- "The presidential race has begun anew," one Israel Hayom headline proclaims -- the editorial boards at Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post have published explanations for why they'll be remaining neutral during the election. Haaretz notes, in rather vivid language, that "Romney would stick with Israel's prime minister and they would become flesh of one flesh" but adds that the substantive differences between the candidates are minor. Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev, meanwhile, muses about the various leadership permutations that could result from elections in Israel and the United States.
As for the upcoming debate, Israel Hayom's Abraham Ben-Avi thinks it is "Obama's last window of opportunity to rehabilitate his status as a leader" while Haaretz's Adar Primor argues that the world will still favor Obama over Romney even if the candidates sharpen the distinctions between them on foreign policy tonight. "Those [around the world] who have shaken off their Obama fixation have done so largely because in certain areas of policy he is seen as having adopted the Republican agenda," Primor writes.
Russia's RT didn't buy the widespread verdict that Romney trounced Obama in the first debate, noting that the "tepid" forum had shown the candidates to be "two sides of the same coin." But Romney's post-debate bounce has spurred the Russian press to give the GOP candidate a closer look. News outlets covered Romney's Russia comments during his recent foreign-policy address in Virginia but cautioned against reading too much into the aggressive rhetoric (the state-run Voice of Russia did note that "a serious politician should avoid making that kind of remarks with respect to another leading country"). One Russian lawmaker, meanwhile, accused Romney of embracing George W. Bush's failed policies and presiding over the "last convulsion of the American-style world."
In the most creative commentary, the Voice of Russia compares the debates to chess matches and quotes the chess player Vladislav Tkachev:
"Very often the real moves, such as the candidate's plan of actions and package of reforms, remain in the background and the psychological factor comes to the fore. Suffice it to look at the footage of the confrontation between Karpov and Kasparov to see that the duel of the eyes, a springy step and an overall aggressive look were of paramount importance. It is common knowledge how difficult it is to give the right answer when exposed to the rival's glare. The response of the audience can also either pep one up or completely demoralize. Barack Obama with downcast eyes did not look his best this time, side by side with his opponent who radiated confidence."
However, there are more debates ahead and the results could change. After all, Obama is leading in public opinion polls. The main thing for him now is to get rid of the image of a serious, thoughtful and humane but not very determined leader because this is the wrong style for the time of change. However, chess practice shows that the style of playing games cannot change overnight.
The German press has adopted the Mitt-mentum narrative -- as U.S.-based journalist Gregor Peter Schmitz wrote in Der Spiegel, Joe Biden's vice presidential debate performance "almost single-handedly revived the Obama campaign, which was in danger of being put on life support after the president's disastrous debate performance in Denver." But news outlets have also pointed out that the race would look very different if it were held in Germany (or many other European countries, for that matter), where more than eight in ten people would support the Democrats. "Obama has assured victory -- among Germans," a headline in Die Welt declares (an article in Berliner Morgenpost suggests that Obama's overwhelming popularity in the country helps explain why Romney didn't visit Germany during his overseas trip this summer).
The Pakistani press has covered the narrowing race. "Even the New York Times, which favours Mr Obama, concedes that Mr Romney has continued to surge since the debate," an article in Dawn observes. But in an op-ed for the same newspaper, Muhammad Ali Siddiqi argues that the weeks since the first debate have shown Obama to be the true victor. "Mr Obama was consistent, without flamboyance, and stood his ground" while "Mr Romney played to the gallery," Siddiqi notes. He adds that "Mr Romney would like to conduct his foreign policy in Cold War fashion" but admits that, contrary to the impression in Pakistan, foreign policy has "taken a back seat in the campaign."
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
CNN's Elise Labott, traveling with Hillary Clinton in Peru, got the secretary of state to make news by stating the obvious: that she is ultimately responsible for the safety of U.S. diplomats.
There's a bit of editorial sleight of hand going on, because the headline quotes her saying "I take responsibility" and then throws in "... for Benghazi" without quotes. So there may be less to this story than meets the eye. Without the full context of her remarks, it's hard to say whether she was really taking the hit for the whole fiasco or not. (The AP has a slightly different version, as does Fox News.)
But hey, it's close enough, and Clinton's comments are obviously going to get wide play and will of course be instantly politicized -- regardless of whether she's merely doing the right thing, or whether she's actually just shielding Obama from scrutiny ahead of Tuesday night's debate, as some are already suggesting, or whether, as the conspiracy-minded would have it, she's pulling some Machiavellian maneuver to appear like she's taking responsibility only to make the president look bad and set herself up for 2016. (Clinton may have unintentionally set Obama up to be more directly attacked, by the way: Three Repubublican senators already have issued a press release saying that the president himself needs to take responsibility.)
Whatever the case, I want to make a couple points about how this Benghazi story is going down.
1) It's a bit rich for all these people to suddenly be arguing that Libya is the most important story in the world after ignoring it for months. It reeks of political opportunism. Did Daryl Issa show any sign that he cared one iota about Libya before the morning of Sept. 12, 2012? Did Mitt Romney?
2) I don't think anyone has a good understanding of what is actually going on in Benghazi. It seems the politics of the place are pretty Byzantine, and the United States has a hard time telling friend from foe. Something doesn't smell right about the February 17 Brigade, the Libyan militia that was responsible for external security at the U.S. consulate. I have my theories, but nothing that's fit to print just yet. One thing I'm sure of: Nobody is telling us the whole story.
3) The Benghazi attack was arguably more of an intelligence failure than it was a security failure. What were all those intelligence folks doing in that annex? Were they so focused on tracking down loose MANPADs that they weren't paying enough attention to the militants next door?
Relatedly: It probably isn't wise for officials like Susan Rice to be pointing fingers at the spooks for handing her talking points that weren't fully accurate, even though it may be fully warranted. Some in the intelligence community are evidently upset, and have been leaking damaging information. Surely there's more where that came from?
4) What about the media's mistakes? Reputable media outlets, including Reuters and the New York Times, initially reported that there was a demonstration, and the Times at least is sticking by its story even though the State Department now says there was no protest at the consulate and footage recovered from that evening shows no such thing.
5) So far, I haven't see any evidence that the Obama administration lied about what happened -- just confusion amid the usual fog of war and poor media management under pressure. Unless I'm missing something, the charge of a "coverup" seems vastly overblown to me. The White House doesn't get involved in security arrangements for U.S. embassies. Are people suggesting that it should?
6) Nobody wants to say it, but Amb. Chris Stevens was a big boy and he made his own decision to go to Benghazi despite the risks. If he thought it was too dangerous, he should not have gone.
7) This crisis could have been a lot worse. For now, it seems the moment has passed and Benghazi was the worst of it. That's a huge relief -- imagine what could happen in a place like Yemen or Pakistan. But further attacks may be in the works, and militant groups have now seen the awesome power of assymetric attacks on U.S. facilities. There will be fresh attempts.
8) The United States can't turn its diplomatic installations into armed camps. U.S. diplomats are going to need to take risks from time to time, and many of them are fully prepared to so. That said, it seems inevitable that this tragedy is going to have precisely the effect the State Department fears: more restrictions on diplomats' movements, more fortress-like facilities, and less interaction with the locals. American diplomacy will be the worse for it -- and that will ultimately make us less safe.
Here's the latest testament to the time warp that is today's political news cycle: the Obama and Romney campaigns are reportedly complaining about Candy Crowley's aggressive moderating style -- a day before she moderates the second presidential debate. The criticism centers on comments the CNN anchor has made about asking follow-ups during the town hall-style debate. But there's another flashpoint to watch tomorrow night: What balance will Crowley and debate organizers strike between domestic and foreign policy?
The question is particularly relevant since Martha Raddatz, a senior foreign affairs correspondent for ABC News, has been catching a lot of flak from the right over the past few days for focusing too much on international affairs while moderating the vice presidential debate last week. The critiques come -- interestingly enough -- as a new Public Opinion Strategies/Hart Research Associates poll shows that 47 percent of voters think the candidates aren't talking enough about foreign policy, and particularly about issues such as the endgame in Afghanistan, the state of U.S.-Israeli relations, and the best approach to Iran's nuclear program.
On Friday, for example, New York Times columnist David Brooks, argued that the prominence of foreign policy at the vice presidential debate did not square with voters' priorities (in poll after poll, jobs and the economy are listed as the top issues in the campaign):
This debate was excessive in its attention to foreign policy -- an arena that is a voting issue for very few. [Paul] Ryan demonstrated amazing fluency, given how little time he has spent working in these areas.
At Forbes, John Tamny made a similar point:
The shame about the debate was that Martha Raddatz perhaps focused too much on foreign policy. Sorry, but a country full of the war weary, not to mention the economically scared, seemingly wanted a more substantive debate that covered the economic issues more in depth.
In an interview with CNN, Red State's Erick Erickson got more personal, arguing that Raddatz bungled the debate by falling back on her professional expertise:
Her wheelhouse is foreign policy and she devoted probably two-thirds of the debate to foreign policy. When you're debating foreign policy in a vice presidential debate, I guess that's all well and good. But we have this unemployment number, we've gotten the jobs decline, and I just think moderators shouldn't make the focus of the debate their wheelhouse.
Over at The Transom, Ben Domenech asserted that Raddatz had not only marginalized key issues such as the economy and entitlements but also zeroed in on the Arab world while ignoring other regions and international issues:
[H]er apparent ignorance of domestic policy (she's a foreign correspondent for ABC) led to a remarkable tilt toward international topics. The irony was that this ended up being a surprisingly parochial in focus, confined to the Middle East - she asked no questions about the EU, no questions about China, no questions about trade. For his part, Dan Drezner apologized on behalf of the five percent. http://vlt.tc/icp
By my tabulation, Raddatz asked more questions about foreign policy, national security, and the Defense budget than all other subjects combined. She asked one question about Medicare but mushed it together with Social Security, the upshot being that most of the answers were focused on Social Security reforms neither candidate has endorsed or even brought up on the trail. She asked, effectively, just one question about the economy - one! - while asking separate questions on Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Koran burning, DOD and the sequester.
The Heartland Institute's Jim Lakely, meanwhile, saw outright favoritism in Raddatz's mix of questions:
Perhaps Raddatz focused more on foreign policy than in a typical VP debate because recent events warranted that, but that's hardly what VPs need to deal with - and it's hard to not think she focused on that because it's supposedly Biden's strength. If Raddatz really wanted to challenge Ryan, she should have gone after him on his budget - which Mitt Romney has only partly embraced. Maybe Raddatz avoided drilling down on this subject because Ryan would have knocked such questions out of the park.
At least one conservative pundit had an entirely different reaction to the vice presidential debate, however. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol observed that while the campaign sparring over the economy increasingly looks like a "draw," foreign policy could prove to be the "election tie-breaker," particularly in light of the Obama administration's response to the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. (Indeed, Barack Obama's advantages on foreign policy and national security have taken major hits in recent weeks.)
And voters on the right may agree with Kristol. Forty-seven percent of respondents in that Public Opinion Strategies/Hart Research Associates survey may have said the candidates aren't talking enough about foreign policy, but the partisan split wasn't even. Fifty-three percent of Republicans (and 49 percent of independents) felt they weren't hearing enough about international affairs, compared with 40 percent of Democrats. More discussion of foreign policy on Tuesday night might not be so bad for the GOP after all.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
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.
The latest from FP:
James Traub looks at Biden's role in shaping the Obama administration's foreign policy.
Jacob Heilbrun wonders when Republicans decided they had always loved Harry Truman.
Danielle Petka, Joshua Trevino, and Justin Logan debate who's winning the battle for Romney's national security soul.
Ty McCormick looks at Romney's history of declinism.
Uri Friedman runs down the best moments in vice-presidential debate history.
Rep. Paul Ryan asserted last night that if defense cuts mandated as part of a bipartisan budget deal go through, "our Navy will be "the smallest it has been since before World War I."
This echoes an even more dire warning on the Romney campaign's website: "The U.S. Navy has only 284 ships today, on track to hit the lowest level since 1916. Given current trends, the number will decline, and the additional contemplated cuts will cause it to decline even further."
Fact-checkers are dinging Ryan for the statement, noting that ship numbers have gone below 284 several times in the 20th century, but in his defense, he's only echoing a warning by Obama's own defense secretary. Leon Panetta wrote in a Nov., 2011 letter to Sen. John Mccain that, “Rough estimates suggest after ten years of these cuts, we would have the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history.”
Whether or not the cuts would actually be this dire, measuring naval strength in terms of number of ships is a bit misleading. Here are the numbers from the 1915 fleet of 231 total ships, according to the U.S. Navy website:
Here's the current fleet:
Even after a 19 percent cut, I think I'd take the navy with the aircraft carriers and the nuclear subs in a fight.
Moreover, the pre-World War I line gives the impression that the number of ships has steadily increased since that time and is in danger of staring to decline. The U.S. fleet actually hit its high point at the end of World War II with 6,768 ships. In the post-war era, it hit its high with 1,122 ships in 1953 and has been steadily declining ever since.
This isn't because of spending cuts, it's because of changes in military priorities. As Naval analyst and FP contributor Michael Peck points out:
In 1916, the largest navy in the world belonged to Great Britain (the U.S. devised plans for war with Britain as late as the 1930s), while Germany and France built powerful fleets. Fears of a German invasion of New York were improbable, if not utterly fantastic, but in a pre-nuclear weapon, pre-smart weapon age, the size of a navy really mattered.
There's certainly a legitimate case to be made that the U.S. should reinvest in Naval power as part of a shift in priorities to the Asia-Pacific region. (See Douglas Ollivant for the counterargument.) But the Defense Department and the Romney campaign's framing of this issue in terms of number of boats in the water is probably not the best starting point for the conversation.
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