The Candidates and The World

Transition 2012

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

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Foreign Policy Update: An Issue Waiting for Its Moment

by Newsteam Staff
May 29, 2012

A soldier carries ammunition on a naval ship during a war game near the Strait of Hormuz December 31, 2011. (Fars News/Courtesy Reuters)


The economy remains the biggest focus this election cycle, and will likely remain so, but some analysts suggest it takes just one big foreign policy/national security event to pivot the election debate and perhaps even decide the race.

In last week’s post for Foreign Policy’s “The List,” Uri Friedman looked at five potential events that could pull focus from the economy, including the classic “October surprise,” that thing no one can foresee.

“In others words, we have a ways to go until November, and anything from security in Afghanistan to violence in Syria to elections in Venezuela (ominously scheduled for October) could emerge as a potential game-changer,” he writes. “When the 2008 presidential election got underway, everyone assumed that foreign policy — specifically the war in Iraq — would be the dominant issue in the campaign. And then the global financial crisis hit, propelling the economy to the top of the agenda. It’s too early to rule out the reverse happening in 2012.”

Other analysts are looking more broadly at how foreign policy is playing out in the U.S. race.

At Foreign Policy, Aaron David Miller says there is a reason beyond the economy for why foreign policy as not figure prominently in campaign 2012: While there might be differences between President Barack Obama and his likely GOP challenger Mitt Romney on the issue, what’s really happened is that a “post 9/11 consensus is emerging that has bridged the ideological divide of the Bush forty-three years.”

Miller looks at four consensus issues that seem to resonate with voters of both parties: fix what’s wrong with the United States; defend the country; end wars not start them; and contract out– which he says means letting others get their hands dirty. He also looks at four specific areas where this new consensus,  he says, would make it tough to tell the difference between Obama and Romney.

“The new divide on foreign policy is clear — and I, for one, am ecstatic about it,” he writes. “It’s not between left and right, liberal or conservative, or Republican or Democrat. It’s between making decisions that are smart, on the one hand, or dumb on the other. And I’m hoping that the next president — whoever he is — knows exactly which side America wants to be on.”

For more on the candidates’ stances on major foreign policy issues, check out all of CFR’s Issue Trackers.

At his blog the Water’s Edge in April, CFR’s James Lindsay noted that barring “a major international crisis, the economy and jobs will drive voting decisions in 2012. Foreign policy will play second fiddle, and if so, who the public thinks would handle it better might not matter a whit.”

At The National Interest, Benjamin H. Friedman looks at why U.S. politicians are reliably more hawkish on foreign policy and national security issues than the voters who elect them.

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

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