The Candidates and The World

Transition 2012

A guide to foreign policy and the 2012 U.S. presidential transition.

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Tracking the Issues: Foreign Policy Slowly Coming Into Play

by Newsteam Staff
April 6, 2012

Harry S. Truman building, circa 1939. (Courtesy Library of Congress)


GOP presidential candidates are honing their foreign policy messages as  Republicans get closer to picking a nominee and moving to the general election. Though voters have so far largely focused on bread-and-butter issues because of a sluggish economy, a number of foreign policy issues have made their way to the forefront, notably China, Russia, Iran, and Afghanistan.

Co-director of the Foreign Policy in Focus project John Feffer argues most voters are not that interested in foreign policy, especially at a time when the economy weighs so heavily on their minds, and if they do care President Obama’s foreign affairs record is “not a record that the Republicans can easily challenge” (HuffPost).

“President Obama, according to conventional wisdom, has effectively removed foreign policy as a campaign issue by knocking off Osama bin Laden, drawing down the war in Iraq, escalating drone attacks in Pakistan and elsewhere, talking tough with Iran, executing a Pacific pivot, winning a Nobel Peace Prize, pushing the reset button with Russia, and so on,” writes Feffer.

Republican strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, in an opinion piece (FP), disagree with that notion, saying Obama is vulnerable on foreign policy issues and suggest the GOP highlight 2008 campaign promises from Obama that have gone unfulfilled.

They say the GOP nominee should make the case that victory against “radical Islam” must be America’s national goal; condemn the president’s “precipitous drawdown in Afghanistan and his deep, dangerous defense-budget cuts”; focus on the dangers of rogue states, especially Iran and North Korea; and make the case for promoting trade and greater international economic engagement.

Much has also been made of GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney’s foreign policy stances, including getting into some early conflicts with Russia on Obama’s remarks to President Dmitry Medvedev and China over his statements about declaring the country a currency manipulator if elected.

In The National Interest, Paul Pillar warns as president, Romney would adopt whatever foreign policies are inclined to win him a second term. Robert W. Merry counters that it is more likely that Romney’s own impulses would push him to “toward imprudent foreign-policy adventurism,” not the will of the voters.

Romney, who released a foreign policy white paper last October, is said to be preparing for a foreign policy speech (WashPost) this spring.

For more on the candidates’ stances, check out CFR’s Issue Trackers for the 2012 campaign season.

Suggested Other Reading:

Whomever is the victor in the fall will face an array of foreign policy issues every bit as daunting as those of the Cold War era, says columnist John Hughes (CSMonitor).

As they build their message, presidential candidates will face a largely skeptical U.S. electorate, increasingly wary of how the United States and the rest of the world interact, says Christopher A. Preble (NationalInterest). “Voters reject isolationism, but they wish to remain engaged in the world without having to be in charge of it.”

Thus far, the overall GOP foreign policy and national security message for the post-George W. Bush era is largely “to be determined,” write Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman (Politico).

–Contributing Editor Gayle S. Putrich and Senior Editor Toni Johnson

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