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Transition 2012

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

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Midday Update: Foreign Policy’s Domestic Moment

by Newsteam Staff
October 23, 2012

Photo of the Day: A security officer stands outside the debate hall prior to the final U.S. presidential debate October 22, 2012. (Scott Audette/Courtesy Reuters) Photo of the Day: A security officer stands outside the debate hall prior to the final U.S. presidential debate October 22, 2012. (Scott Audette/Courtesy Reuters)

President Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney debated foreign policy last night. CFR President Richard N. Haass writes that it wasn’t really about foreign policy and it wasn’t really a debate:

Both candidates had a lot to say about “domestic” concerns: education, deficits, infrastructure, energy, and economic competitiveness. To many watching the debate, it might have seemed to have gone off course. But the emphasis on these stateside concerns served to underscore an important point: the United States can only be as strong abroad as it is at home. American influence in the world depends on the ability to act with real capacity and set an example that others will want to follow. This all takes resources.

There was also a surprising degree of agreement between the two candidates: the wisdom of pushing Hosni Mubarak out of the president’s office as the protesters gathered in Tahrir Square; the need to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons; concern for Pakistan’s future stability; the utility of drone strikes as a tool of counter-terrorism; the desirability of challenging China on areas of disagreement in a way that did not rule out selective cooperation; and the importance of helping the Syrian opposition by doing all that was possible to see that any weapons supplied did not end up in the “wrong,” i.e. radical, hands.

Even in areas where they disagreed, the candidates “found different paths to the same goal of not using the military unless absolutely needed,” notes Thomas Burr for the Salt Lake Tribune.

On the economy, Obama used a question about China as an entry to criticism over Romney’s position on the auto bailout (Politico).

Read the full transcript of the debate here.

Read what Obama and Romney are proposing for a number of major foreign policy topics in these CFR Issue Trackers.


In Monday night’s debate, President Obama said that sequestration “will not happen,” (WSJ) in reply to GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s criticism of the cuts to the defense budget that would occur if the fiscal cliff is not avoided.

Obama clarified that Congress, not he, proposed (DailyCaller) the sequestration plan (CNN), and that he is not cutting the defense budget, but maintaining it.

Others in Washington were surprised by the president’s statement. Politico reports that it may weaken his bargaining power during the budget negotiations that will take place after the election.

Obama has vowed to veto any budget agreement that doesn’t include letting tax cuts for the wealthy expire (WaPo), but Politico’s Josh Gerstein and Darren Samuelsohn note that it is unclear if his comment during the debate meant he “was taking his veto threat off the table or expressing confidence that lawmakers could reach an agreement when they return next month.”

Read more about the candidates’ positions on the economy in this CFR Issue Tracker.


Even as President Obama and Mitt Romney continue to compete for the title of who will be the toughest on China and protect American workers, “the more immediate threat to American workers may actually be the slowing of sales to China, which has bid up the price of much of what the United States sent overseas in recent years,” reports the New York Times.

Obama says exports from the United States to China have doubled during his presidency, but the trade gap between the countries has not gotten any smaller (NPR).

In last night’s debate, Romney cited this trade gap as the reason that his plans to crack down on China won’t incite a trade war:

Well, they sell us about this much stuff every year. And we sell them about this much stuff every year. So it’s pretty clear who doesn’t want a trade war. And there’s one going on right now that we don’t know about. It’s a silent one and they’re winning. We have an enormous trade imbalance with China.

This CFR Issue Tracker details both candidates’ stances on U.S.-China policy.

–Contributing Editor Kirsti Itameri

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