This week, the campaign was unexpectedly dominated by a debate over Russia policy. The back-and-forth was sparked by an embarrassing "hot mic" incident on Monday at a summit on Seoul, when President Barack Obama told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more "space" to tackle controversial issues such as missile defense after the election. "This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility," he told the outgoing Russian leader, who promised to "transmit this information to Vladimir."
Mitt Romney was quick to seize on the incident to bolster his argument that Obama has ignored the security threat posed by Russia. He went a bit over the top with the rhetoric, however, telling CNN's Wolf Blitzer that "this is without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe, they fight every cause for the world's worst actors, the idea that he has more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed."
Democrats -- and a few Republicans -- disputed the notion that Russia is the nation's primary foe. "You don't have to be a foreign policy expert to know that the Cold War ended 20 years ago and that the greatest threat that the president has been fighting on behalf of the American people is the threat posed by al Qaeda," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
Romney doubled down on his charge against the president with an op-ed in Foreign Policy, writing that "In his dealings with the Kremlin, as in his dealings with the rest of the world, President Obama has demonstrated breathtaking weakness -- and given the word ‘flexibility' a new and ominous meaning."
A group of Romney's senior advisors also published an open-letter on the website of the National Review detailing a list of the president's main foreign policy failings. The Obama campaign's senior foreign policy advisors pushed pushed back with a letter to Romney published in FP demanding that Romney "clarify exactly how and why you would depart from many of President Obama's policies."
Romney even got into it with Medvedev himself this week. The Russian president said the candidate's rhetoric "smacks of Hollywood" and advised him to "check his watch" to see that it's no longer the 1970s. The Romney campaign struck back with a press release calling him "President Medvedev (D-Russia)" and accusing him of "campaigning for Obama."
Santorum's Jelly Belly foreign policy
Rick Santorum chose an unusual venue on Thursday for a national security-focused address meant to reinvigorate his struggling campaign: The Jelly Belly headquarters in Fairfield, California. Attempting to associate himself with the foreign-policy acumen of GOP icon and famous jellybean fiend Ronald Reagan, Santorum made the case that "Of all of the failings of this administration, of all of the failings, perhaps the greatest is on national security."
Santorum also seized on the hot mic gaffe: "Ronald Reagan didn't whisper to Gorbachev, ‘Give me some flexibility.... He walked out of Iceland and said, ‘You either do this, or we have no deal.'"
H.W. goes all in
While Santorum while trying to channel the Gipper, his vice-president and successor George H.W. Bush officially endorsed Romney -- no surprise as he had publicly praised the candidate earlier in the race and his son Jeb endorsed last week. The 87-year-old (mis)quoted Kenny Rogers when asked about Romney's rivals, saying, ‘It's time when to hold ‘em and time when to fold ‘em."
The meeting raised questions as to when George W. Bush will make an endorsement in the race. "I haven't met with President George W. Bush. We speak from time to time," Romney said.
Newt loses his sugar daddy
The struggling campaign of Newt Gingrich, who has won only South Carolina and his home state of Georgia so far, has been kept afloat by the largesse of Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The staunch Israel hawk has donated over $20 million to Gingrich's Super PAC. It appears, however, that Adelson's generosity has its limits. Speaking at the Jewish Federations of North America's annual TribeFest conference in Las Vegas this week, the billionaire said this week that Gingrich may be "at the end of the line" since mathematically, "he can't get anywhere near the number" of delegates needed. Adelson has reportedly been reaching out to supporters of the Romney campaign.
Gingrich, the onetime frontrunner, laid off one-third of his staff this week.
Is Paul coming around to Romney?
Ron Paul, currently running in fourth place with a total of 50 delegates in the bag, has previously suggested that foreign policy might be an obstacle to him throwing his support behind Romney. This week, however, Paul paid the frontrunner the mildest of compliments in an interview with Bloomberg television: "I think Mitt Romney is more likely to be more willing to listen to his advisers.... If he decides he wants to go and bomb Iran, maybe he might listen to somebody else. I'm afraid the other [candidates] would just go do it anyway."
What to watch for:
Maryland, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia hold primaries on Tuesday. Romney is favored to win all three contests. (Santorum isn't on the ballot in D.C.)
After that, it's a long wait until a set of five northeastern primaries on April 23. Santorum's Gotterdämmerung may very well come in his home state of Pennsylvania, where the latest polls show him in a statistical dead heat with Romney.
The latest from FP:
Romney's Russia op-ed.
The Obama campaign's response.
Scott Clement says that Americans really don't think of Russia as an enemy anymore.
Daniel Drezner on the dirty, little secret of second-term presidents.
Michael Cohen argues the president's real constitutional overreach wasn't healthcare, it was Libya.
In honor of Santorum's Jelly Belly address, Uri Friedman recaps the year in political food fights.
Southern man don't need him around, anyhow
Frontrunner Mitt Romney's difficulties in the South continued this week with Rick Santorum picking up wins in Mississippi and Alabama on Tuesday. Despite strong evidence that the contest is becoming a two-man race, Newt Gingrich shows no signs that he's considering dropping out. Romney picked up victories in Hawaii and American Samoa and continues to hold a strong lead in delegates.
The Afghanistan clock
A poll taken in the days after a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan went on a killing spree, murdering 16 civilians, shows that more than half of Americans support speeding up the U.S. withdrawal from the country. President Barack Obama vowed this week to stick to the current withdrawal timetable, which has U.S. troops handing over security duties to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
Gingrich surprised many this week by suggesting that "it's very likely that we have lost, tragically lost, the lives and suffered injuries to a considerable number of young Americans on a mission that we're going to discover is not doable." He was immediately criticized for the comment by GOP Senator Lindsay Graham.
Romney cautioned against making a major change in strategy because of the incident. "You don't make an abrupt shift in policy because of the actions of one crazed, deranged person," he said.
Santorum: Foreign policy may be the dominant issue of the campaign?
The conventional wisdom so far in the campaign has been that foreign policy would take a back seat to concerns over the economy. But Santorum suggested this week that with the economic outlook improving somewhat, priorities may be shifting. "That may be the issue of the day come this fall -- a nuclear Iran. Or on the precipice of it [with] Israel potentially having to go to war to stop that development." He continued: "I may not have been a Wall Street private equities fund manager, but I served eight years on the [Senate] Armed Services Committee."
With no state victories and only 48 delegates to his name, Ron Paul is beginning to feel like an afterthought in this race. But with the increasingly possibility that this race goes to the convention in Tampa without a clear victor, Paul's support could become a sought-after commodity. There has been rumor and speculation that Paul is tacitly supporting Romney by focusing most of his attacks on Santorum and Gingrich, but the Texas congressman suggested this week that he may not be able to support Romney because of their differences on foreign policy. "I'd talk to him and see what kind of a foreign policy he is going to have," Paul said. "Mitt's a friend and we talk a lot. We just disagree on the issues." Paul also argued that the "Republicans are going to be in trouble unless they come our way and decide they want a president who's more for peace than for war."
With Puerto Rico's primary coming on Sunday, the issue of English as a national language has bubbled up in the campaign. On Wednesday, Santorum suggested that he might be in favor of Puerto Rican statehood, as long as the territory was willing to adopt English as its official language. "Like any other state, there needs to be compliance with this and any other federal law.... And that is that English needs to be the principal language. There are other states with more than one language, like Hawaii, but to be a state of the United States, English must be the principal language."
At least one of Santorum's Puerto Rican delegates withdrew his support over the comment, which Santorum continued to defend on Friday. The Romney campaign issued a mild rebuke, saying, "Governor Romney believes that English is the language of opportunity and supports efforts to expand English proficiency in Puerto Rico and across America. However, he would not, as a prerequisite for statehood, require that the people of Puerto Rico cease using Spanish."
As a point of fact, English is taught in schools in Puerto Rico. The U.S. federal government does not require states to make English the official language, though a number of states have passed laws to that effect.
In recent weeks, Gingrich has reframed his campaign around the issue of gas prices, pledging $2.50-per-gallon gas if he is elected, and repeatedly mocking President Obama for suggesting algae as a potential replacement for fossil fuels. The president fired back this week, accusing GOP candidates of dismissing scientific innovations: "If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail, they must have been founding members of the Flat Earth Society -- they would not have believed that the world was round."
Gingrich responded, saying "The president maligned me, suggesting I don't like biofuels. That's baloney. I am in favor of science and technology." However, Gingrich said, "no serious study" had suggested that algae could serve as a replacement for oil in the short run.
White House spokesman Jay Carney also suggested this week that any candidate promising $2.50 gas was "lying." He later backed off the comment -- sort of -- saying "I shouldn't have gone to motivations, I should have said that anybody who said that doesn't know what he's talking about."
What to watch for:
Following Missouri's official caucus on Saturday (voters chose Santorum in an unofficial primary back in February) and Puerto Rico's primary on Sunday, Illinois will hold its closely watched primary on Tuesday. Polls show Romney with a slight lead.
The latest from FP:
Michael A. Cohen says that the war in Afghanistan could become a major political liability for the president in November.
David Rothkopf looks at Obama's "cool diplomacy."
Alex Massie argues that the GOP have a lot to learn from David Cameron's Tories.
Oliver Kamm says Cameron is betting on Obama's reelection.
Aaron David Miller has a suggestion for why the GOP has such a hard time attacking Obama on foreign policy.
Scott Clement says the public generally support Obama's wait-and-see approach on Iran.
Stephen Walt argues that if Santorum is serious about becoming president, he must convince Gingrich to drop out.
Michael Peck plays a new game that simulates the twits-and-turns of the 2008 campaign trail.
Joshua Keating looks at Santorum's faith-based approach to Dutch medical statistics.
Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Super Tuesday shakeout
Mitt Romney solidified his front-runner status in the all-important Super Tuesday contests this week, narrowly eking out a crucial win in Ohio, as well as Alaska, Idaho, Vermont, his home state of Massachusetts, and Virginia -- where Ron Paul was the only other candidate on the ballot. Rick Santorum took North Dakota, Idaho, and Tennessee, while Newt Gingrich won his home state of Georgia. Despite a near-tie in Ohio, Romney will take nearly all of the state's delegates because of the Santorum campaign's failure to meet the state's eligibility requirements months ago. Despite the lack of a clear referendum backing Romney, there now appears to be little chance of any other candidate closing the delegate gap.
The GOP candidates took the opportunity at this week's meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to again attack President Barack Obama's stance on Israel. "The current administration has distanced itself from Israel and visibly warmed to the Palestinian cause. It has emboldened the Palestinians.... As president, I will treat our allies and friends like friends and allies," Romney said.
"As I've sat and watched this play out on the world stage, I have seen a president who has been reticent," said Santorum. "He says he has Israel's back; from everything I've seen from the conduct of this administration, he has turned his back on the people of Israel,"
Santorum was referring to Obama's earlier speech to AIPAC on Sunday, during which he said, "There should not be a shred of doubt by now: when the chips are down, I have Israel's back." Speaking shortly before a White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama said, "When it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say."
Gingrich, for his part, seemed a bit unprepared for his speech. Video released by ABC News showed him nodding off slightly before he was due to deliver his remarks by satellite. He also seemed to be under the impression he was participating in a panel discussion rather than giving a speech.
As usual, Iran was the major foreign-policy topic of discussion on the campaign trail this week. In a Washington Post op-ed published on Monday, Romney compared Obama's handling of the Islamic Republic's nuclear program to Jimmy Carter's failure to secure the release of U.S. hostages in 1979. Romney pledged to "take every measure necessary to check the evil regime of the ayatollahs. Until Iran ceases its nuclear-bomb program, I will press for ever-tightening sanctions, acting with other countries if we can but alone if we must. I will speak out on behalf of the cause of democracy in Iran and support Iranian dissidents who are fighting for their freedom."
At a White House press conference the following day, Obama rebuked his critics in the GOP field and in Congress for their hawkish rhetoric on Iran. "This is not a game," he added. "And there's nothing casual about it.... If some of these folks think that it's time to launch a war, they should say so, and they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be."
A Sarkozy endorsement?
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, currently locked in his own tough election battle, seemed to endorse Obama's reelection effort during a speech on Mideast policy this week. "President Obama, who is a very great president, won't take the initiative [on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations] before he's re-elected -- and I hope he will be -- but there's a place for France and a place for Europe," Sarkozy said.
World leaders generally refrain from publicly taking sides in other countries' elections, though the practice has recently become more common in Europe.
What to watch for:
The week ahead could be a tough one for the Romney campaign with contests in Kansas on Saturday, and Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday, all of which are friendly territory for Santorum. While victories for the former Pennsylvania senator wouldn't change the delegate math much, they would add to concerns about Romney's ability to rally southern and socially conservative voters.
Leaving nothing to chance, Romney has even dispatched his son Matt to visit the Pacific territories of Guam and Northern Mariana, which also hold primaries this weekend.
The latest from FP:
Ruy Teixeira says the real winner of Super Tuesday was Obama.
Uri Friedman finds six international newspaper columnists who actually like Romney.
Michael Cohen argues that the GOP candidates are mischaracterizing Ronald Reagan's foreign policy.
Tom Ricks thinks Romney has effectively endorsed Obama's Iran policy.
Josh Rogin reports on Sen. John Kerry's response to Romney's Iran op-ed.
Joshua Keating looks at presidential "first trip" etiquette.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Nail-biter in Michigan
Mitt Romney easily won the Arizona primary on Tuesday and eked out a victory against a surging Rick Santorum in Michigan, where Romney was born and his father was a popular governor. While Santorum cast the close contest as a victory of sorts ("a month ago, they didn't know who we are," he told supporters), the results solidified Romney's status as the frontrunner in the topsy-turvy Republican race. The former Massachusetts governor, who now has roughly double the number of delegates as Santorum, is leading the pack of remaining GOP candidates comfortably in most national polls.
Iran and gas prices
Last month, Newt Gingrich shifted the focus of his campaign to energy in a bet that owning the issue of rising gas prices could help him claw back into the race. Gingrich has pledged to lower gas prices to $2.50 per gallon by increasing domestic energy production through initiatives such as the Keystone XL pipeline. Now, as tensions mount with Iran over its nuclear program and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to visit Washington, the other candidates are following suit. Romney accused President Barack Obama of stifling fracking -- a controversial technique to unlock oil and gas in underground rock formations -- through excessive regulations, Santorum went so far as to brandish a piece of oil-rich shale rock during his Michigan concession speech to demonstrate his support for the energy industry. (In another nod to stage props this week, Ron Paul waved a silver coin at Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to argue for returning to the gold and silver standard.)
Obama has been talking energy too, calling for an end to $4 billion in annual tax breaks and subsidies for oil and gas companies. A Pew survey released on Thursday found that voters are spreading the blame for rising gas prices among the administration, oil companies, and Iran -- though Republicans are much more likely to blame Obama.
Obama: "I don't bluff"
In an interview with the Atlantic's Jeffrey
Goldberg on Iran ahead of a meeting with Netanyahu, Obama declared that the
United States would consider taking military action to destroy Iran's nuclear
program if economic sanctions fail to compel it to comply with international
inspections, but added that now is not the right time for a preemptive Israeli
strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. "I think that the Israeli government
recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff," he noted.
"I also don't, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly
what our intentions are." On Twitter, former Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann shot back:
"Obama doesn't ‘go around advertising exactly what our [foreign policy]
intentions are?' What about
As he launches his reelection campaign, Obama has been trumpeting foreign policy successes such as ending the war in Iraq and killing Osama bin Laden. While "the other side traditionally seems to feel that the Democrats are somehow weak on defense," he recently told supporters, "they're having a little trouble making that argument this year" (a poll last month found that voters trust Obama more than Romney to handle international affairs). Yet Bloomberg's Terry Atlas points out that, in an election dominated by economic concerns, "foreign policy barely registers as an issue in public opinion polls," though an "arc of crises from Libya to Afghanistan" may yet change all that.
Read what George W. Bush advisors Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie have to say on the matter in the latest issue of Foreign Policy -- and a spirited rebuttal by Democratic pollsters Stanley Greenberg and Jeremy Rosner.
Apologizing in Afghanistan
The Republican candidates have long accused Obama of apologizing for America's actions abroad, and this week the refrain came in the context of the president apologizing to Afghans for the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan even as U.S. soldiers were killed in retaliation. Gingrich called the apology "astonishing" and suggested that the United States tell Afghans, "You're going to have to figure out how to live your own miserable life." Santorum accused Obama of "weakness" while Romney also criticized the decision.
In a larger piece about the Republicans and Afghanistan, Dominic Tierney at the Atlantic argues that the Republican Party is deeply divided about Afghanistan. The fundamental question facing the GOP, he writes, is whether the "end of defeating radical Islam [is] worth the means of big government nation-building."
Santorum's ‘snob' snafu
Santorum stirred controversy this week by suggesting that Obama was a "snob" for wanting "everybody in America to go to college." Obama "wants to remake you in his image," the former Pennsylvania senator argued. "I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his." Santorum appeared to subsequently backtrack from the comments, noting in his Michigan concession speech that his mother was an "unusual person for her time" by getting a college education in the 1930s, but the comment nevertheless touched off a debate about U.S. education. News outlets pointed out that Obama also supports the type of vocational training that Santorum champions, and that the former Pennsylvania senator backed increasing grants for college students during his reelection campaign in 2006.
What to watch for
All eyes now turn to Super Tuesday on March 6, when ten states will vote and more than 400 delegates will be up for grabs. The biggest battleground is the delegate-rich swing state of Ohio, where Romney has steadily been cutting into Santorum's lead. "For Romney," the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza notes, "it's uniquely possible that winning the Buckeye State on Tuesday would effectively clinch the presidential nomination for him."
The latest from FP
Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie offer a primer to the GOP candidates on how to beat Barack Obama on foreign policy.
Jeremy Rosner and Stanley Greenberg respond by pointing out that Americans have confidence in Obama as commander in chief.
Michael Cohen adds that Rove and Gillespie are "stuck in a 9/12 mindset."
Reza Aslan presents readers with a quiz: Who said it, Rick Santorum or Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei?
Gal Luft wonders whether Obama will remake himself into a war president when faced with a choice between high gas prices and a nuclear Iran.
Michael Levi argues that Obama's record on energy is stronger than his Republican rivals claim.
Vaclav Smil explains why Mitt Romney is right to focus on the importance of Canadian energy.
Scott Clement points out that while Americans may not like North Korea, few want to go to war over its nuclear weapons.
Jack Chow makes the case for why a President Santorum would be great news for the AIDS fight in Africa.
Susan Glasser connects the dots on the nasty rhetoric in the U.S. and Russian elections.
Daniel Drezner maintains that Santorum's views on manufacturing are antiquated.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
A Wednesday-night debate in Arizona was the first time the candidates discussed the deteriorating situation in Syria at any length, though mostly in the context of what it would mean for Iran's nuclear program and global energy prices. Mitt Romney did suggest that the United States work "with Saudi Arabia and with Turkey to ... provide the kind of weaponry that's needed to help the rebels inside Syria." Newt Gingrich, as he often does, suggesting a policy of having "our allies covertly helping destroy the Assad regime."
The debate was widely covered as a test for the surging Rick Santorum, who was attacked repeatedly, often by Ron Paul, on his credentials as a fiscal conservative. On national security issues, Santorum touted his long record of urging aggressive polices against Iran and criticized the Obama administration for standing with "radicals" against "a friend of ours in Egypt" -- ousted president Hosni Mubarak. He also seemed to pivot away from his previous concerns about women serving in more combat roles in the military, though he did warn against "social engineering."
Gingrich on the attack
Seemingly eclipsed by Santorum's rise, onetime poll leader Gingrich has repeatedly made news this week for strident attacks against Barack Obama's foreign policy. Gingrich referred to Obama as the "most dangerous president in modern American history" during a speech in Oklahoma, accusing him of putting political correctness above U.S. national security in his administration's response to Islamist terrorism. Appearing on CBS's "This Morning," Gingrich called Obama's energy policies "outrageously anti-American'' and ridiculed the idea that the electric car "is going to liberate us from Saudi Arabia."
On Thursday, Gingrich again lashed out at Obama following the president's apology to Afghan authorities for the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base. "He is consistently apologizing to people who do not deserve the apology of the United States," Gingrich said. The candidate went on to demand that the Afghan government apologize to the United States for the killing of two American soldiers in the riots that followed the burning.
Romney against the world
The AP's Steven Hurst examined Romney's foreign-policy rhetoric in a news analysis this week, writing that "It often appears that Romney is targeting the rest of the world as fiercely as he does his rivals for the party nomination and President Barack Obama." Referring to Romney's attacks on European socialism, Chinese currency manipulation and Russian duplicitousness, the article asks whether the tone of Romney's rhetoric will hurt him in the general election, or with the governments in question should he become president.
"Other governments are not naive, and they understand the rough-and-tumble of U.S. politics just as we understand the rough-and-tumble of politics in other countries," responded Amb. Richard Williamson, a top Romney foreign-policy advisor.
Obama: I'll get to immigration next term
The president came into office promising comprehensive immigration reform, but the issue has largely fallen by the wayside during congressional battles over health care and the economy. In an interview with Univision Radio this week, the president promised to make the issue a priority if he is reelected for a second term. "I've got another five years coming up. We're going to get this done," he said.
At Wednesday night's debate, both Santorum and Romney held up Arizona's tough immigration policies and the harsh tactics employed by controversial Maricopa Country Sherriff Joe Arpaio as models for how to address the issue.
Santorum's Dutch disease
Santorum has left many scratching their heads with comments made several weeks ago in which he suggested that 1 in 20 deaths in the Netherlands result from forced euthanasia. Santorum continued to claim that elderly people in the Netherlands often wear bracelets that say "do not euthanize me" and "don't go to the hospital, they go to another country, because they're afraid because of budget purposes that they will not come out of that hospital if they go into it with sickness." The Dutch government declined to comment on the claim this week, but provided the New York Times with documents showing that there is no provision in Dutch law for forced euthanasia. Voluntary euthanasia has been legal there since 2002 and accounts for around 2 percent of deaths in the country.
The Netherlands wasn't the only European country Santorum has taken a shot at this week. At a national security focused speech in Ohio, he took aim at the president's relationship with France: "He actually went to France a year or so ago and was with Nicolas Sarkozy and said that, 'Here I am with the French prime minister, our best ally in the world.' Now think about this. Name one time in the last 20 years that the French stood by us with anything."
The remark was given a "pants-on-fire" rating by Politifact.
What to watch for
Arizona and Michigan voters head to the polls on Tuesday. RealClearPolitics's latest poll average shows Romney with a 9-point advantage in Arizona. He also seems to have retaken the lead in his birthplace state of Michigan, but still leads Santorum by less than two points.
Tuesday's victor will have little time to rest on his laurels. The 10 Super Tuesday contests are right around the corner on March 6. The biggest delegate prizes of the day will be Ohio, where Santorum currently leads, and Georgia, where native son Gingrich has the advantage.
The latest from FP
Scott Clement looks at why polls are so all over the map when it comes to attacking Iran.
Joshua Keating rounds up the foreign-policy highlights from Wednesday's debate.
Uri Friedman examines Gingrich's not-so-covert love of covert ops.
Michael Cohen argues that campaign-trail rhetoric touting American exceptionalism is obscuring the real causes of decline.
Last night's debate in Arizona featured the usual rhetoric in the economy, more conversation than usual about contraception, and more evidence for the theory that Ron Paul is essentially running as a blocking tight-end for Mitt Romney at this point, repeatedly hammering at Rick Santorum's credentials as a fiscal conservative. We also got the first extended conversation about the situation in Syria, though everyone seemed anxious to pivot back to the comparatively more comfortable topic of Iran. To the highlights:
We kicked off our national-security discussion with the question of women in combat. Santorum had made some waves a few weeks ago by suggesting that he has reservations about opening more front-line duties to women since "men have emotions when you see a woman in harm’s way." He also made some inaccurate statements about Israel's stance on this issue. The other candidates proceeded to hang Santorum out to dry on this one.
I would look to the people who are serving in the military to give the best assessment of where women can serve. We've had over 100 women lose their lives in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I was with Governor Bob McDonnell. His daughter has served as a platoon leader in Afghanistan. He said that she doesn't get emotional when she faces risk, he's the one that gets emotional as she faces that kind of risk. And I believe women have the capacity to serve in our military in positions of significance and responsibility, as we do throughout our society.
He then transitioned to a discussion of defense cuts and national security more broadly.
Gingrich -- surprise, surprise -- thought it was a "misleading question":
You live in a world of total warfare. Anybody serving our country in uniform virtually anywhere in the world could be in danger at virtually any minute. A truck driver can get blown up by a bomb as readily as the infantrymen. So I would say that you ought to ask the combat leaders what they think is an appropriate step, as opposed to the social engineers of the Obama administration.
Paul's answer doesn't "want even the men to be over there."
I still have those concerns, but I would defer to at least hearing the recommendations of those involved. But I think we have civilian control of the military, and these are things that should be decided not just by the generals, but we should not have social engineering, as I think we've seen from this president. We should have sober minds looking at what is in fact the best proper -- proper roles for everybody in combat.
Then it was on to Iran, where Gingrich is no longer so enthusiastic about asking generals for their input:
General Dempsey went on to say that he thought Iran was a rational actor. I can't imagine why he would say that. And I just cannot imagine why he would have said it. The fact is, this is a dictator, Ahmadinejad, who has said he doesn't believe the Holocaust existed. This is a dictator who said he wants to eliminate Israel from the face of the earth. This is a dictator who said he wants to drive the United States out of the Middle East. I'm inclined to believe dictators. Now I -- I think that it's dangerous not to.
If -- if an Israeli prime minister, haunted by the history of the Holocaust, recognizing that three nuclear weapons is a holocaust in Israel, if an Israeli prime minister calls me and says, I believe in the defense of my country. This goes back to a point that Congressman Paul raised that we probably disagree on. I do believe there are moments when you preempt. If you think a madman is about to have nuclear weapons and you think that madman is going to use those nuclear weapons, then you have an absolute moral obligation to defend the lives of your people by eliminating the capacity to get nuclear weapons.
Romney pounded home his talking points:
Ahmadinejad having fissile material that he can give to Hezbollah and Hamas and that they can bring into Latin America and potentially bring across the border into the United States to let off dirty bombs here. I mean -- or -- or more sophisticated bombs here, this -- we simply cannot allow Iran to have nuclear weaponry. And -- and -- and this president has a lot of failures. It's hard -- it's hard to think of -- economically his failures, his -- his policies in a whole host of areas have been troubling.
But nothing in my view is as serious a failure as his failure to deal with Iran appropriately. This president -- this president should have put in place crippling sanctions against Iran, he did not. He decided to give Russia -- he decided to give Russia their number one foreign policy objective, removal of our missile defense sites from Eastern Europe and got nothing in return. He could have gotten crippling sanctions against Iran. He did not. When dissident voices took to the street in Iran to protest a stolen election there, instead of standing with them, he bowed to the election. This is a president... who has made it clear through his administration in almost every communication we've had so far, that he does not want Israel to take action. That he opposes military action. This is a president who should have instead communicated to Iran that we are prepared, that we are considering military options. They're not just on the table. They are in our hand. We must now allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. If they do, the world changes. America will be at risk. And some day, nuclear weaponry will be used. If I am president, that will not happen. If we reelect Barack Obama, it will happen.
Santorum took the opportunity to remind the crowd of his long record on Iran, take a shot at the vice president, and stand resolutely behind.... Hosni Mubarak:
I would say that if you're looking for a president to be elected in this country that will send that very clear message to Iran as to the seriousness of the American public to stop them from getting a nuclear weapon, there would be no better candidate than me because I have been on the trail of Iran and trying to advocate for stopping them getting a nuclear weapon for about eight years now.
I was the author of a bill back in 2008 that talked about sanctions on a nuclear program that our intelligence community said didn't exist and had the President of the United States, president bush oppose me for two years.
And, by the way, so did Joe Biden on the floor of the Senate, and Barack Obama. I always say if you want to know what foreign policy position to take, find out what Joe Biden's position is and take the opposite opinion and you'll be right 100 percent of the time.
But they opposed me. He actively opposed me. We did pass that bill eventually at the end of 2006, and it was to fund the pro- democracy movement, $100 million a year. Here's what I said -- we need to get this -- these pro-American Iranians who are there, who want freedom, want democracy, and want somebody to help them and support them.
Well, we put -- we put some money out there and guess what? Barack Obama cut it when he came into office. And when the Green Revolution rose, the pro-democracy prose, we had nothing. We had no connection, no correlation and we did absolutely nothing to help them.
In the meantime, when the radicals in Egypt and the radicals in Libya, the Muslim Brotherhood, when they rise against either a feckless leader or a friend of ours in Egypt, the president is more than happy to help them out.
When they're going up against a dangerous theocratic regime that wants to wipe out the state of Israel, that wants to dominate the radical Islamic world and take on the great Satan, the United States, we do nothing. That is a president that must go. And you want a leader who will take them on? I'll do that.
Paul, ignoring the boos, said there's no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapon, and went on to plea for a return to declarations of war:
Now, if they are so determined to go to war, the only thing I plead with you for, if this is the case, is do it properly. Ask the people and ask the Congress for a declaration of war. This is war and people are going to die. And you have got to get a declaration of war.
And just to go and start fighting -- but the sanctions are already backfiring. And all that we do is literally doing the opposite. When we've been -- were attacked, we all came together. When we attacked the -- when we -- when we put them under attack, they get together and it neutralizes that. They rally around their leaders.
So what we're doing is literally enhancing their power. Think of the sanctions we dealt with Castro. Fifty years and Castro is still there. It doesn't work. So I would say a different approach. We need to at least -- we talked -- we talked to the Soviets during the Cuban crisis. We at least can talk to somebody who does not -- we do not have proof that he has a weapon. Why go to war so carelessly?
Then came what Chuck Todd called the " first news of the debate", an extended discussion on Syria. However, when asked if he would support intervention against the Assad regime, Santorum seemed anxious to bring the discussion back to Iran:
Syria is a puppet state of Iran. They are a threat not just to Israel, but they have been a complete destabilizing force within Lebanon, which is another problem for Israel and Hezbollah. They are a country that we can do no worse than the leadership in Syria today, which is not the case, and some of the other countries that we readily got ourselves involved in.
So it's sort of remarkable to me we would have -- here again, it's -- I think it's the timidness (sic) of this president in dealing with the Iranian threat, because Syria and Iran is an axis. And the president -- while he couldn't reach out deliberately to Iran but did reach out immediately to Syria and established an embassy there. And the only reason he removed that embassy was because it was threatened of being -- of being overtaken, not because he was objecting to what was going on in Syria.
This president has -- has obviously a very big problem in standing up to the Iranians in any form. If this would have been any other country, given what was going on and the mass murders that we're seeing there, this president would have quickly and -- joined the international community, which is calling for his ouster and the stop of this, but he's not. He's not. Because he's afraid to stand up to Iran.
He opposed the sanctions in Iran against the -- against the central banks until his own party finally said, "You're killing us. Please support these sanctions."
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a president who isn't going to stop them. He isn't going to stop them from getting a nuclear weapon. We need a new president or we are going to have a cataclysmic situation with a -- a power that is the most prolific proliferator of terror in the world that will be able to do so with impunity because they will have a nuclear weapon to protect -- protect them for whatever they do. It has to be stopped, and this president is not in a position to do that.
Gingrich used the Syria question to pivot to his energy plan:
Well, the first thing I'd do, across the board for the entire region, is create a very dramatic American energy policy of opening up federal lands and opening up offshore drilling, replacing the EPA.
The Iranians have been practicing closing the Straits of Hormuz, which has one out of every five barrels of oil in the world going through it. We have enough energy in the United States that we would be the largest producer of oil in the world by the end of this decade. We would be capable of saying to the Middle East, "We frankly don't care what you do. The Chinese have a big problem because you ain't going to have any oil."
Second, we clearly should have our allies -- this is an old- fashioned word -- we have have our allies covertly helping destroy the Assad regime. There are plenty of Arab-speaking groups that would be quite happy. There are lots of weapons available in the Middle East.
And I agree with -- with Senator Santorum's point. This is an administration which, as long as you're America's enemy, you're safe.
You know, the only people you've got to worry about is if you're an American ally.
Not sure if "allies" or "covertly" was the old-fashioned word Gingrich was referring to.
Romney was the only one who actually advocated a position on intervention in Syria, and showed off his briefing on Syria's political ethnography:
We have very bad news that's come from the Middle East over the past several months, a lot of it in part because of the feckless leadership of our president. But one little piece of good news, and that is the key ally of Iran, Syria, is -- has a leader that's in real trouble. And we ought to grab a hold of that like it's the best thing we've ever seen.
There's things that are -- we're having a hard time getting our hands around, like, what's happening in Egypt. But in Syria, with Assad in trouble, we need to communicate to the Alawites, his friends, his ethnic group, to say, look, you have a future if you'll abandon that guy Assad.
We need to work with -- with Saudi Arabia and with Turkey to say, you guys provide the kind of weaponry that's needed to help the rebels inside Syria. This is a critical time for us.
If we can turn Syria and Lebanon away from Iran, we finally have the capacity to get Iran to pull back. And we could, at that point, with crippling sanctions and a very clear statement that military action is an action that will be taken if they pursue nuclear weaponry, that could change the course of world history.
An exasperated Ron Paul tried again:
I've tried the moral argument. I've tried the constitutional argument on these issues. And they don't -- they don't go so well. But there -- there's an economic argument, as well.
As a matter of fact, Al Qaida has had a plan to bog us down in the Middle East and bankrupt this country. That's exactly what they're doing. We've spent $4 trillion of debt in the last 10 years being bogged down in the Middle East.
The neoconservatives who now want us to be in Syria, want us to go to Iran, have another war, and we don't have the money. We're already -- today gasoline hit $6 a gallon in Florida. And we don't have the money.
So there you have it. The first time Syria has come up in a presidential debate, it was taken as an opportunity by the candidates to talk about the Iranian nuclear program, offshore drilling, and the national debt. I won't claim these issues are unrelated, but surely it might be possible to actually talk about potential U.S. policy responses to the situation in Syria for a few minutes?
The war in Afghanistan wasn't discussed. Neither was trade or the eurozone crisis.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Mr. Xi comes to Washington
This week's Washington foreign-policy agenda was dominated by the visit of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, the country's presumptive next leader. Xi's meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama was fairly cordial, but it fell to his direct counterpart -- Vice President Joe Biden -- to register a few complaints about China's trade practices and human rights record. "As Americans, we welcome competition," Biden said. "But cooperation, as you and I have spoken about, can only be mutually beneficial if the game is fair."
Mitt Romney took aim at the administration's China policy in a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week, saying that the president had come into office as a "near supplicant to Beijing" and had since "demurred from raising issues of human rights for fear it would compromise agreement on the global economic crisis or even ‘the global climate-change crisis.' Such weakness has only encouraged Chinese assertiveness and made our allies question our staying power in East Asia." Romney promised to label China a currency manipulator on "day one of my presidency."
Onetime candidate Jon Huntsman, a former ambassador to China who now has endorsed Romney, addressed the anti-China rhetoric that has appeared in both the presidential race and congressional races throughout the country. "It's much easier to talk about China in terms of the fear factor than the opportunity factor," Huntsman told MSNBC." When it comes to China, I think it's wrongheaded when you talk about slapping a tariff on Day One. That pushes aside the reality, the complexity of the relationship."
Motor City Mayhem
The next primaries will take place on Feb. 28 in Arizona and Michigan. The Wolverine State is considered home turf for Romney -- he was born in Detroit, his father was a popular governor, and Mitt won big over John McCain there in 2008 -- but the Michigan native trails Rick Santorum by 9 points in the current RealClearPolitics poll average.
Romney has defended his opposition to the Obama administration's auto industry bailouts -- a somewhat controversial position during a week when General Motors reported record profits. Romney has emphasized his deep roots in the state and nostalgia for the days of U.S. auto dominance, telling a crowd, "I love cars. I grew up totally in love with cars. It used to be, in the '50s and '60s, if you showed me 1 square foot of almost any part of the car, I could tell you what brand it was -- the model and so forth.... Now, with all the Japanese cars, I'm not quite so good at it. But I still know American cars pretty well." (Never mind that the candidate drives a Canadian-made Chrysler in a new ad.)
Santorum, meanwhile, has promised to revitalize the U.S. manufacturing sector by giving tax incentives to companies that move production back from overseas and cutting away at Obama-era regulations.
Meanwhile, Romney still leads Santorum in Arizona, but the gap is narrowing, despite the fact that the former Pennsylvania senator has virtually no ground organization in the state. The Arizona contest may push the candidates back to the right on immigration, after some more conciliatory rhetoric in Florida. Romney has been touting the support of Kris Kobach, the attorney and Kansas secretary of state who played a critical role in drafting Arizona's controversial SB 1070 immigration law.
Arizona has gone Republican in every presidential election but one since 1952, but Democrats may be hoping that the state will be in play in the fall, thanks to a backlash from the state's growing Hispanic population. Senior Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod has visited the state in recent months and the Democratic National Committee has begun running ads targeting Latino voters.
An Iranian attack on North Dakota?
Santorum's longtime fixation on the threat posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions has been well-documented. But the rhetoric reached a new level this week when the candidate warned an audience in North Dakota that they might be a potential target for Iranian-sponsored terrorism. "Folks, you've got energy here. They're going to bother you. They'll bother you, because you are a very key and strategic resource for this country," he said. "No one is safe. No one is safe from asymmetric threats of terrorism.... That's what Iran will be all about unless we stop them from getting that nuclear weapon."
As the National Review pointed out, Santorum's security concerns have dampened his enthusiasm for building a massive new oil pipeline through the state.
Adelson re-ups on Gingrich
Onetime frontrunner Newt Gingrich is sitting out the current contests in Michigan and Arizona, focusing on the ten March 6 "Super Tuesday" primaries, which include his home state of Georgia. Gingrich spent the majority of this week fundraising in California.
Gingrich's slumping campaign may get a significant shot in the arm with news that billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson -- his principal financier -- will give an additional $10 million to the Super PAC backing Gingrich. Adelson, known for his hawkish views on Israel and opposition to a Palestinian state, has given $11 million so far to the "Winning the Future" Super PAC.
What to watch for
Last week's Maine caucus may not actually be over yet. Romney was declared the winner -- by less than 200 votes over Ron Paul -- on Saturday, Feb. 11. despite the fact that one county had delayed its caucus due to weather and numerous irregularities were reported at other stations. The state GOP has announced that it will release a new vote total in March -- after Super Tuesday. Maine is a small state and its caucus is what's known as a "beauty contest" (it doesn't actually award any delegates), but it won't do wonders for the credibility of the early caucus system, if yet another victory -- remember Iowa? -- is posthumously taken away from Romney.
Evidently, the candidates seem to have tired of debates. A planned CNN debate scheduled for March 1 in Georgia has been canceled after Romney and Paul declined to participate.
On the Election Channel
Uri Friedman looks at a new poll that shows a majority of Americans support the use of force to prevent a nuclear Iran.
Scott Clement says despite the recent dust-up over contraceptive-covering insurance, religion may not actually matter that much to voters.
Daniel Drezner says Romney's China policy "reads like it was composed by the Hulk."
Stephen Walt says hawks should vote for Obama.
Michael A. Cohen looks at why, with Obama in office, liberals came to support the secret war on terror.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Santorum's big night
It ain't over yet. Rick Santorum pulled off an unlikely hat-trick on Tuesday night, winning caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado as well as a non-binding primary in Missouri -- a troubling development for frontrunner Mitt Romney, who received lower vote totals in all three states than he did in 2008.
"I don't stand here and claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.... I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama," Santorum said in a speech to supporters in St. Louis. Once seen as the presumptive challenger to Romney, Newt Gingrich wasn't even on the ballot in Missouri and had disappointing third and fourth-place finishes in the other contests. His campaign is now focused on the Super Tuesday contests on March 6, which will award more than 400 delegates.
Santorum's surprising success is likely to focus more media scrutiny on his foreign-policy views, which have so far received less attention than his socially conservative domestic policies. In particular, Santorum has a long record of hawkish views on Iran and Islam.
Women in combat
The announcement this week that the Pentagon is easing some restrictions on women in combat is already resonating in the campaign. Santorum expressed concerns about the policy change this week, telling NBC's Ann Curry, "When you have men and women together in combat, I think men have emotions when you see a woman in harm's way.... I think it's something that's natural that's very much in our culture to be protective. That was my concern, and I think that's a concern with all the military.''
Polls, however, show strong support -- even among those describing themselves as "very conservative" -- for allowing women to serve in combat roles.
Release the Bachmann
The Conservative Political Action Conference is meeting this week in Washington, D.C. and while there is reportedly little enthusiasm for Romney's candidacy at the event, former candidate Michele Bachmann fired up the crowd with a withering assault on Barack Obama's foreign-policy record. "After a decade of sacrifice to defeat global jihad, Obama has chosen to hand Iraq to Iran," Bachmann said. "Before Obama was elected, no one had ever heard a United States president say to the world that we are anything but an exceptional nation," she continued. "And before President Obama was elected, we never had a president go around apologizing to the world."
Romney will address CPAC on Friday in what's being seen as a critical opportunity to defend his conservative credentials.
While he may be a long way from finishing off his Republican rivals, Romney is apparently already prepping for a foreign-policy debate with Obama. RealClearPolitics reports that for the past three weeks, the Romney campaign has been holding a weekly conference call with the more than 40 experts who are advising the campaign on foreign policy. Romney's campaign argues that despite Obama's generally high approval ratings on foreign affairs, he will be vulnerable on defense spending, tension with Israel, the "reset" policy with Russia, and his inability to halt the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon.
Liberals learn to stop worrying and
love drones and Gitmo
Obama may have fired up the base in 2008 by attacking the Bush administration's harsh counterterrorism policies, but with a Democrat in office, these same voters seem to be becoming more comfortable with the war on terror. A new CBS-Washington Post poll finds that 70 percent of voters -- including 53 percent of self-identified liberal democrats -- approve of keeping the detention center at Guantanamo Bay open. Obama signed an executive order closing the prison in the first week of his presidency, but that promise has now been largely abandoned in the face of strong congressional opposition. The poll also found that 77 percent of liberal democrats support drone strikes against suspected terrorists and a majority also support the use of drones U.S. citizens who are suspected of terrorism overseas.
What to watch for
Maine will announce the results of its week-long caucuses on Saturday. The independent-leaning northeast state may be Ron Paul's best chance for a win, as neither Gingrich nor Santorum have campaigned in the low-turnout contest.
On the Election Channel
Uri Friedman reads Santorum's 40+ op-eds on Iran so you don't have to.
Charles Kupchan says Romney should get real and admit it's not going to be an American century. Shadow Government's Will Inboden counters.
David Hoffman lists 5 pressing national security threats that haven't been mentioned in the campaign.
Scott Clement, from the Washington Post's Behind the Numbers team, finds little voter support for a U.S. intervention in Syria.
Joshua E. Keating profiles America's weirdest Super PAC.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Romney pulls away
Mitt Romney decisively won Florida's primacy on Tuesday with 46 percent of the vote. Newt Gingrich came in second with a disappointing 32 percent. Trailing far behind were Rick Santorum with 13 percent and Ron Paul with 7 percent. But Gingrich in a concession speech that often felt more like a victory speech, vowed to continue fighting in what he described as a "two-person race" between himself and the "Massachusetts moderate." Santorum and Paul are also staying in the hunt.
Several of the foreign-policy issues that had been billed as potential game changers this season appeared not to be major factors in Florida. Candidates have been highly vocal on Israel in hopes of peeling Jewish votes away from President Barack Obama, who has publicly clashed with the Israeli government on several occasions. But if a significant number of Jews are changing their voter registration to Republican, they've been quiet so far. Poll analyst Nate Silver of the New York Times noted that only 1 percent of the voters in this year's Florida primary identified as Jewish, down from 3 percent in 2008.
Despite the heavy emphasis on immigration reform in campaign rhetoric, very few Florida voters called undocumented immigrants their top concern. Romney, who has been somewhat more hawkish than other candidates on the topic of immigration, took a majority of the Latino vote -- as well as nearly six of ten Cuban-American voters.
But things haven't been going quite so well for Romney since his sweeping victory in Florida. He has been heavily criticized for remarks on Wednesday morning that he is "not concerned about the very poor" in a CNN interview. The candidate says he misspoke, but a highly publicized endorsement from Donald Trump on Thursday may not have been the best way to combat the perception that he's out of touch with economically struggling Americans.
Politics of the pullout
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta surprised many by saying that the United States hopes to end its combat mission in Afghanistan by mid-2013, up to 18 months sooner than expected. The Romney campaign was quick to pounce, with the candidate calling the administration's plans "naïve" and "misguided."
"Why in the world do you go to the people that you're fighting with and tell them the date you're pulling out your troops?" Romney said at a campaign stop in Las Vegas. "It makes absolutely no sense." Perhaps banking on low public support for continuing the war, Obama's press secretary Jay Carney countered Romney's criticism, saying troops "will not stay in Afghanistan any longer than is necessary to accomplish that mission."
The GOP front-runner has consistently criticized the administration's withdrawal plans, though earlier this year Romney himself announced his intention to "bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can."
The Iran factor
This week saw another round of speculation in Washington over whether Israel will attack Iran's nuclear facilities. According to the Washington Post's David Ignatius, Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood Israel will attack Iran this spring or summer, before Iran enters a "zone of immunity" to commence building a nuclear weapon.
Iran is likely to continue to dominate the campaign agenda with Gingrich warning recently that "If Iranians get nuclear weapons, they don't have to fire a missile. They can just drive a boat into Jacksonville. Drive a boat into New York harbor." Gingrich has said he would launch a U.S. strike on Iran "only as a last recourse, and only as a step towards replacing the regime."
Romney has also argued that "If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon."
Gates says to tone it down
Robert Gates, who served as secretary of defense to both George W. Bush and Obama, addressed the GOP field in an interview with CNN on Thursday, warning against overheated campaign rhetoric calling Obama weak-willed on Iran. "You know sometimes things get pretty heated in campaigns, but I think the reality is there is an acknowledgment on people's part around the world that this president is willing to use military force when our needs require it," he said.
Gates addressed both sides of the debate over Iran, saying, "Those who say we shouldn't attack, I think, underestimate the consequences of Iran having a nuclear weapon.... And those who say we should, underestimate the consequences of going to war."
What to watch for
Nevada voters will caucus on Saturday with Romney heavily favored to win. Maine will hold its caucuses throughout the week starting on Saturday. Colorado and Minnesota will both hold caucuses on Tuesday. The caucus format could provide an opening for Paul and Santorum, who both tend to inspire more enthusiasm in their (admittedly smaller) base of supporters than the two frontrunners. Paul has been campaigning heavily in Maine since last week.
The latest from FP
Scott Clement looks at why Obama shouldn't expect voters to flock to the polls to reward him for killing Osama bin Laden.
Michael Cohen says the decision to leave Afghanistan early will prove to be smart politics for the president.
Michael Shifter lays out the Latin America debate the candidates should have had in Florida, instead of just bashing Fidel Castro.
Robert Satloff channels his inner William Safire and explains why presidents should stop describing U.S. support for Israel as "ironclad."
Joseph Sarkisian asks whether a vote for Romney is a vote for war with Iran.
Peter Feaver argues that it's time for the GOP candidates to stop attacking each other and offer a sharp critique of Obama's foreign policy.
Josh Rogin reports on Romney's pledge to defend South Sudan.
Joshua Keating wonders whether Gingrich's campaign rhetoric will inspire a new generation to read the works of Saul Alinsky.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Newt Gingrich charged into Florida this week with a head of steam, hoping to capitalize on his victory in South Carolina and attack competitor Mitt Romney on immigration and his somewhat exotic personal finances. Gingrich attacked Romney's suggestion that "self-deportation" could be a solution to illegal immigration: "You have to live in a world of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts and automatic, you know, $20 million a year income with no work to have some fantasy this far from reality."
But Gingrich seemed to falter at a debate on Thursday night when pressed by both Romney and moderator Wolf Blitzer to defend his attacks. "Wouldn't it be nice if people didn't make accusations somewhere else that they weren't willing to defend here?" Romney said of the Swiss bank account jibe, continuing that he wouldn't apologize for his own success. (It remains to be seen how Romney will respond to new reports that he didn't fully disclose his income from the Swiss account.)
The other notable foreign-policy moment of the debate was a Palestinian-American Republican from Jacksonville informing the candidates that "we do exist." Both Gingrich and Santorum have questioned the validity of "Palestinian" as an identity duringthis year's campaign.
Thanks to his weak performances and some seemingly off-topic policy proposals -- more on that in a moment -- Gingrich is losing some momentum ahead of Tuesday's key Florida primary. The latest RealClearPolitics average has Romney back in the lead by 7 percent.
The Little Havana Primary
As it generally does during Sunshine State campaigning, U.S. policy toward Cuba became a major topic of discussion this week. When asked during an interview with the Spanish-language television network Univision whether he would be willing to employ military force to overthrow the Castro regime, Gingrich responded, "Well I think at the moment you don't need to ... in that case you had an uprising. I would say bluntly, because I find it fascinating that Obama is intrigued with Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, but doesn't quite notice Cuba." He promised to use "all the tools that Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Prime Minister [Margaret] Thatcher used to break the Soviet Empire."
Romney was similarly aggressive, saying, "I want to be the American president that is proud to be able to say that I was president at the time that we brought freedom back to the people of Cuba.... If I'm fortunate to become the next president of the United States it is my expectation that Fidel Castro will finally be taken off this planet." (In a bizarre exchange on Monday, the two candidates sparred over whether Fidel Castro would "meet his maker" or go to hell after he dies.)
Rick Santorum said the Obama administration's move to ease travel restriction on Cuba send "the exact wrong message at the exact wrong time" at Thursday's night's debate. Only Ron Paul criticized the decades-old embargo on Cuba, saying the country is no longer a threat to U.S. security.
Fidel Castro himself weighed in on the contest this week, writing in his regular newspaper column, "The selection of a Republican candidate for the presidency of this globalized and expansive empire is -- and I mean this seriously -- the greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance that has ever been."
State of the Union
As expected, Tuesday night's State of the Union address was something of kickoff for Barack Obama's reelection campaign. The president made frequent reference to the successful killing of Osama bin Laden and the U.S. drawdown in Iraq. He made the case for his Iran policy, saying the regime is "more isolated than ever" and vowed to take no option off the table for preventing Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. He also reiterated his "iron-clad commitment" to Israel's security and announced the creation of a new Trade Enforcement Unit to investigate unfair trade practices from countries like China.
Much of the speech seemed aimed at refuting the notion that he has embraced the reality of a diminished role for the United States in world affairs. "Anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn't know what they're talking about," he said to a standing ovation.
The Obama administration's recent decision to deny a permit for the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada is emerging as a major campaign issue. Rebutting charges that he is beholden to environmentalists, the president announced this week that his administration is opening up "around 38 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for additional exploration and development."
Nonetheless, the GOP candidates are seizing on Keystone, with Gingrich attacking the decision as "totally, utterly irrational," Santorum arguing that it is "absolutely essential that we have as much domestic supply of oil, that we build the Keystone pipeline," and Romney saying the president's calls for energy independence are meaningless without increased domestic supplies like Keystone.
Of all this week's political developments, the best remembered may be Newt Gingrich's space policy speech, which was aimed at workers in Florida's struggling space corridor, but received widespread mockery in the media. "By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon, and it will be American," Gingrich said, saying the facility could be used for science, commercial purposes, and tourism -- setting the stage for an eventual mission to Mars. Gingrich made no apologies for his "grandiose" vision, comparing it to President John F. Kennedy's 1961 pledge to put a man on the moon.
What to watch for
It's Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, Paul, in that order, in polls ahead of Tuesday's Florida primary, then only four days until caucuses in Nevada and Maine. Paul has been campaigning in Maine, hoping to capitalize on his support among more libertarian, less socially conservative New England voters.
TV viewers can safely turn back to developments on American Idol for the next few weeks, as there's only one debate scheduled for all of February. That could be bad news for Gingrich if he comes up short in Florida.
The latest from FP
FP had all your AstroNewt news covered. Charles Homans looked at why the Republican establishment is dismissive of space policy, Joshua Keating asked if there's anything actually worth mining on the moon, and Uri Friedman investigated whether anyone has ever actually had sex in space.
Josh Rogin reported on the president's unlikely new neoconservative foreign-policy muse.
Scott Clement discussed which foreign-policy issues are most likely to have an impact in the general election.
Rosa Brooks argued that Obama needs a grand strategy.
FP bloggers from across the political spectrum dissected the State of the Union.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Perry and Huntsman bow out
The Republican field continued to narrow this week with two once-promising candidates dropping out before this Saturday's pivotal South Carolina primary. Jon Huntsman, the former U.S. ambassador to China whose campaign touted his foreign policy credentials but never connected with primary voters, ended his run on Monday. He immediately endorsed Mitt Romney, while attacking the state of the rhetoric in the GOP primary. "At its core, the Republican Party is a party of ideas, but the current toxic form of our political discourse does not help our cause," he said.
On Thursday, Rick Perry also bowed out and endorsed Newt Gingrich on a surreal news day on the campaign trail that also saw the final debate in South Carolina. The morning started with news that Rick Santorum may actually have won the Iowa primary by 34 votes, and later that day ABC aired an interview with Gingrich's ex-wife in which she claimed the former House Speaker had asked for an "open marriage."
Perry's departure followed another lackluster debate performance on Tuesday during which he claimed that Turkey's government was run by "what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists" -- prompting an angry response from Ankara -- and seemed to defend the U.S. Marines caught on video urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters.
The Gingrich surge
Allegations about his personal life notwithstanding, Gingrich continues to rise -- with recent polls showing him in a virtual tie with Romney in South Carolina. A Pew Poll taken last week showed Gingrich as the candidate Republican voters trust most to handle foreign policy at 33 percent, compared to Romney's 25 percent. Unfortunately for the Gingrich insurgency, an overwhelming majority of the same voters (58 percent) think Romney has the best chance of beating President Barack Obama. On the campaign trail this week, Gingrich described himself as "the only candidate in this race who understands the scale of change necessary to get this country working again."
Romney's offshore accounts
Already fending off questions about his vast personal wealth, Romney is facing additional scrutiny this week thanks to reports that he has as much as $8 million invested in funds listed in the Cayman Islands. Though Romney does still pay U.S. taxes on his income from these funds, the Cayman address offers some benefits over domestically registration, such as higher management fees and greater foreign interest -- benefits that cost the U.S. federal government billions of dollars per year.
At the CNN debate on Thursday night, Romney was booed after saying he would probably wait to release his full tax returns in April if he's the presumptive nominee since "Every time we release things drip by drip, the Democrats go out with another array of attacks."
Romney refused to say if he would release his tax returns for previous years, as his father did when running for president in 1968. "I'm not going to apologize for being successful," he said.
Paul draws jeers for "golden rule"
Ron Paul's foreign policy views continue to polarize. In Tuesday's debate, Paul was asked about his opposition to the killing of Osama bin Laden, and drew boos from the crowd by saying, "maybe we ought to consider a golden rule in foreign policy. Don't do to other nations what we don't want to have them do to us."
The Pew Poll showed only 10 percent of Republican voters thought Paul was the most trustworthy candidate on foreign policy -- though he still edged out Perry and Santorum.
President Obama sat down this week with Time's Fareed Zakaria for a wide-ranging interview on foreign policy, covering Iran, Afghanistan, the planned "pivot" to Asia, and the economy. The president defended his foreign-policy record, saying, "I made a commitment to change the trajectory of American foreign policy in a way that would end the war in Iraq, refocus on defeating our primary enemy, al-Qaeda, strengthen our alliances and our leadership in multilateral fora and restore American leadership in the world. And I think we have accomplished those principal goals."
What to watch for
South Carolina heads to the polls on Saturday with the latest RealClearPolitics poll average showing Gingrich at 32.5 percent and Romney at 31.5 percent. If he endures another weak finish in South Carolina, pressure may mount on Santorum to drop out of the race. (RCP has him in fourth place behind Paul.) Gingrich suggested on Tuesday that from the stand point of the conservative movement, consolidating into a Gingrich candidacy would in fact virtually guarantee a victory on Saturday."
The unexpected wild card in the race is comedian Stephen Colbert, who held a real-world rally with former candidate Herman Cain on Friday. Colbert's super-pac is encouraging South Carolina voters to cast a vote for Cain, though the pizza magnate was careful to assure voters, "I will not be assuming Stephen Colbert's identity. We are very different when it comes to the color of our - hair."
From South Carolina, the candidates will move on to Florida, a key battleground state, where Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog is predicting a 93 percent chance of a Romney win when voters head to the polls on Jan. 31.
The latest from FP:
Joshua Keating looks back at the foreign-policy lowlights of the Perry campaign.
Scott Clement suggests Iran could be a major liability for the president.
Uri Friedman looks at Paul's inadvertent tribute to Millard Fillmore.
David Rothkopf asks whether foreign-policy subtlety is even possible in today's media environment.
Peter Feaver thinks Zakaria missed an opportunity to probe more deeply into Obama foreign policy.
Josh Rogin looks at Obama's chummiest world leaders -- as suggested by the Time interview -- and what they say about him.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Let's face it. When Millard Fillmore, the undistinguished, uninspiring 13th president of the United States, comes up in political conversation these days, it's usually as the butt of jokes. "When five of your six candidates could not be elected president if they were running against Millard Fillmore, I think you can presume there will not be much serious issue discussion," New York Times columnist Gail Collins quipped last week in a primer on the upcoming South Carolina primary. If only the rags-to-riches Whig, whose 212th birthday was recently celebrated with much fanfare in his native Western New York, were around to defend his record.
But last night, during the GOP debate in South Carolina, Ron Paul issued a full-throated endorsement of Fillmore's approach to foreign policy, whether he realized it or not. "If another country does to us what we do to others, we aren't going to like it very much," Paul explained in the context of his opposition to war with Iran. "So I would say maybe we ought to consider a Golden Rule in foreign policy," he continued placidly, as he was eaten alive by boos and jeers. "We endlessly bomb these other countries and then we wonder why they get upset with us?" Paul has trotted out this Golden Rule line several times during the campaign, drawing laughter in New Hampshire after asking, "What if the Chinese came into the Gulf of Mexico and took over the Gulf of Mexico? I know we in Texas would be pretty annoyed."
OK, but what does all this have to do with Millard Fillmore? The former president, it turns out, expressed nearly the same sentiments in 1850 during his first State of the Union address, in a formulation of foreign policy that sounds an awful lot like Paul's noninterventionist, empire-shunning worldview (key lines in bold):
Among the acknowledged rights of nations is that which each possesses of establishing that form of government which it may deem most conducive to the happiness and prosperity of its own citizens, of changing that form as circumstances may require, and of managing its internal affairs according to its own will. The people of the United States claim this right for themselves, and they readily concede it to others. Hence it becomes an imperative duty not to interfere in the government or internal policy of other nations; and although we may sympathize with the unfortunate or the oppressed everywhere in their struggles for freedom, our principles forbid us from taking any part in such foreign contests. We make no wars to promote or to prevent successions to thrones, to maintain any theory of a balance of power, or to suppress the actual government which any country chooses to establish for itself. We instigate no revolutions, nor suffer any hostile military expeditions to be fitted out in the United States to invade the territory or provinces of a friendly nation. The great law of morality ought to have a national as well as a personal and individual application. We should act toward other nations as we wish them to act toward us, and justice and conscience should form the rule of conduct between governments, instead of mere power, self interest, or the desire of aggrandizement. To maintain a strict neutrality in foreign wars, to cultivate friendly relations, to reciprocate every noble and generous act, and to perform punctually and scrupulously every treaty obligation -- these are the duties which we owe to other states, and by the performance of which we best entitle ourselves to like treatment from them; or, if that, in any case, be refused, we can enforce our own rights with justice and a clear conscience.
So, what was Millard Fillmore's foreign policy? While his term in office was dominated by a congressional debate over slavery, Fillmore did adopt a "foreign-policy agenda that emphasized expanding trade while limiting American commitments outside the Western Hemisphere," according to the University of Virginia's Miller Center (Ron Paul claims he's not isolationist because he's a free trader who simply doesn't want the United States to be the "policemen of the world"). Fillmore cultivated closer commercial ties with Japan, (ineffectually) opposed a Bay of Pigs-style invasion of Cuba, and refused to confront oppressive imperial governments in Eastern Europe -- all stances Paul might have taken had he been in Fillmore's shoes (we're not sure where Paul would have come down on securing bird dung from Peru, which Fillmore pursued zealously).
Here's footage of the crowd's hostile reaction to Paul's remarks last night:
Might Paul have pacified the crowd by explaining that, hey, he was only echoing Millard Fillmore? Something tells us he wouldn't have received a standing ovation. But bewildered silence might have done the trick.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images and National Archive/Newsmakers
Romney rolls through New Hampshire, Gingrich unloads the kitchen sink
Mitt Romney enjoyed a decisive victory in the New Hampshire primary, taking 39.2 percent of the vote to second-place finisher Ron Paul's 22.8 percent. Romney took aim at President Barack Obama's foreign policy in his victory speech: "Internationally, President Obama has adopted an appeasement strategy. He believes America's role as leader in the world is a thing of the past. I believe a strong America must -- and will -- lead the future. He doesn't see the need for overwhelming American military superiority. I will insist on a military so powerful no one would think of challenging it. He chastises friends like Israel; I'll stand with our friends. He apologizes for America; I will never apologize for the greatest nation in the history of the Earth."
Romney might already be gearing up for a showdown with the president, but none of his opponents dropped out. After the drubbing in New Hampshire, the anti-Romney rhetoric from the other GOP candidates in South Carolina is getting harsh. Leading the attacks is Newt Gingrich, who essentially tied for fourth place in New Hampshire, and continues to make the case that only a "bold Reagan conservative," as opposed to a "timid Massachusetts moderate" can defeat the president.
A super-PAC supporting Gingrich unleashed a 28-minute video attacking Romney for causing layoffs during his time with private equity firm Bain Capital. Rick Perry piled on, calling Romney a "vulture capitalist." Some conservatives have complained about the anti-capitalist undertones of the attack -- with Rush Limbaugh even comparing Gingrich to liberal Massachusetts senate candidate Elizabeth Warren.
The Gingrich campaign also released a new attack ad which compares Romney to fellow Massachusetts pols John Kerry and Michael Dukakis ("a liberal governor who wanted us to believe he was strong on defense"). For good measure, the ad even threw in a clip of Romney speaking French.
Is Huntsman done?
Despite the hype, Jon Huntsman did not enjoy a Rick Santorum-like surge in New Hampshire and finished a disappointing third place. (He's been widely mocked for claiming this result was a "ticket to ride" in a confetti-strewn post-primary speech.) The former ambassador says his goal for South Carolina, where a recent poll showed him trailing comedian Stephen Colbert, is to "stay relevant." As opposed to New Hampshire, where Huntsman campaigned tirelessly for nearly a year, often touting his foreign-policy expertise and even his fluency in Mandarin, Huntsman is working to remind South Carolinians of his conservative credentials on issues like gun control, abortion, and taxes. Huntsman's chief strategist told the Wall Street Journal "I don't care if Gary Johnson or [Twilight Zone creator] Rod Serling wins it.... As long as it's not Mitt Romney."
Santorum on Iran
Santorum weighed in on this week's mysterious killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran, which Iranian authorities have blamed on the United States and Israel. The Obama administration has denied any role in the assassination, raising Santorum's ire: "Well, I would have -- I've already made a public statement that any nuclear scientist, particularly any foreign nuclear scientist, who's cooperating with the Iranians in developing a nuclear weapon program would be considered an enemy combatant," he told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren. "And I wouldn't -- I would be doing what Israel was -- would be doing tonight, which is saying nothing."
The immigration debate returns
Immigration is again emerging as a major topic in South Carolina. The Romney campaign announced this week that it had received the endorsement of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the co-author of Arizona's restrictive immigration policy. Kobach called Romney, "the candidate who will finally secure the borders and put a stop to the magnets, like in-state tuition, that encourage illegal aliens to remain in our country unlawfully."
On this issue, Gingrich is playing the part of moderate, looking ahead to the looming Florida primary: "I can't wait for them to campaign in Florida," Gingrich said. "Try to go into Miami with the battle cry, 'everybody must go.'... That is clearly going to come across in the immigrant community as a sign you have no sense of humanity for people," Gingrich said this week. As it happens, the Romney campaign has already begun running Spanish-language ads in Florida.
Is anyone paying attention to foreign policy?
A newly released Gallup poll asks Americans, "What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?" "Foreign aid" and "international issues" received 2 percent each, compared with 31 percent for the economy in general and 26 percent for unemployment. The relative indifference to foreign policy could be bad news for Obama, who receives much higher ratings for his handling of international affairs than domestic matters.
What to watch for
The candidates meet for a debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Monday. CNN may have slightly bent its rules to allow the struggling Perry to participate. (Given Perry's difficulties in previous debates, that may not have been much of a favor.) The South Carolina Tea Party will hold a convention prior to the debate, featuring appearances by Gingrich and Santorum.
The current RealClearPolitics poll average shows Romney with a nearly nine-point lead over Gingrich in South Carolina.
The latest from FP
Larry Kaplow looks at Romney's Mexican roots and asks if he could be the "first Latino president." (Yes, someone's already started a "Mexican Mitt" fake Twitter feed.)
Scott Clement asks whether using China as a political punching bag is really effective.
Joshua Keating looks at five ways Romney will attack Obama.
Romney supporter Sen. Jim Talent tells FP's Josh Rogin that the White House is making dangerous, "budget-driven" decisions.
Michael A. Cohen says a Romney foreign policy probably wouldn't be all that different from Obama's.
David Rothkopf hopes this election will start a public debate about the virtues of American capitalism.
Expat journalist Eric Pape says Mitt can say what he likes about Paris, but he's enjoying European socialism just fine, thanks.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
After weeks of debate and fluctuating polls, we finally have some actual results from a GOP primary. Mitt Romney won the Iowa Caucasus with 24.6 percent, edging out surprise second-place finisher Rick Santorum by only eight votes. In his rambling victory speech, Romney took the opportunity to attack the president on national security. "Iran is about to have nuclear weaponry, just down the road here, and this president, what's he done in that regard? He said he'd have a policy of engagement. How's that worked out?"
The next day, Romney received an endorsement from Sen. John McCain, who said his former 2008 rival was committed, like Ronald Reagan, to a philosophy of , "Peace through strength."
Ron Paul came in third place in Iowa and promised to continue pushing his vision for a noninterventionist foreign policy. "Our foreign policy has been a mess and drains us both economically and our military forces," he said.
After a disappointing fourth-place finish, once frontrunner Newt Gingrich promised to continue to attack "Massachusetts moderate" Romney, (he also called Romney a "liar" in an interview) but took the opportunity to blast Paul's foreign policy views as "stunningly dangerous for survival of the United States."
Rick Perry, who came in fifth with 10.3 percent of the vote, despite spending more money than any other candidate in Iowa, is apparently staying in the race for now.
After essentially finishing last (Jon Huntsman didn't contest the caucuses) Michele Bachmann dropped out of the race, vowing to "continue fighting to defeat the president's agenda of socialism."
Santorum in the spotlight
As the latest "non-Romney" to emerge in the race, Santorum's foreign-policy views are beginning to receive more scrutiny. In particular, Santorum has staked out a position even more extreme than Gingrich on the legitimacy of Palestinian aspirations for statehood. "All the people that live in the West Bank are Israelis, they're not Palestinians... There is no 'Palestinian,'" he told a questioner back in November. (Israel probably wouldn't actually be thrilled with this position, as it would entail full Israeli political rights for Palestinians on the West Bank.)
Santorum has also recently vowed to bomb Iranian nuclear sites if they are not opened for inspections, saying that President Barack Obama's inaction against the Iranian nuclear program risks turning the United States into a paper tiger.
Huntsman's last stand
Huntsman has essentially staked his campaign on Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, opting out of Iowa entirely and campaigning non-stop in the Granite State. "We have to do well in New Hampshire," he told CBS news this week. The Boston Globe endorsed Huntsman this week, pointing specifically to his foreign policy experience. "While other candidates point toward Cold War-style rejection and isolation of China, Huntsman promises deeper engagement. But he had the courage as ambassador to walk among protesters, drawing the ire of repressive Chinese authorities," the editorial read.
Nonetheless, recent polls show that the majority of New Hampshire voters, particularly front-runner Mitt Romney's supporters, which Huntsman was hoping to pick off -- are unlikely to change their mind before Tuesday.
A new strategy for the Pentagon
On Thursday, the president announced a new military approach which aims to trim roughly $450 billion from the defense budget by shrinking the Army and Marines, focusing more heavily on Special Operations and drone forces, and making a strategic "pivot" from the Middle East and Central Asia to the Pacific.
With the exception of Paul and Huntsman, the Republican candidates all oppose large-scale defense cuts. Romney has ridiculed the idea of a strategic shift to Asia in the past, saying, "President Obama seems to think that we're going to have a global century, an Asian century. I believe we have to have an American century, where America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world."
What to watch for
The candidates will meet for two final televised debates in New Hampshire on Saturday night and Sunday morning before voters head to the polls on Tuesday. Real Clear Politics' New Hampshire poll average shows Romney with a commanding 20 point lead over Paul, followed by Santorum, Huntsman, Gingrich, and Perry -- in that order.
Then it's on to South Carolina for the Jan. 21 primary, where Romney currently holds a 19 point lead over Santorum, his closest challenger.
The latest from FP
Scott Clement looks at why Huntsman's experience as ambassador won't help him win over skeptical GOP voters.
David Kenner says Santorum's views on Israel could be "profoundly damaging to U.S. and Israeli interests."
Daniel Drezner argues that Paul would make an even worse president than Gingrich -- and that's saying something.
David Rothkopf wonders why Obama has been so modest as a communicator and lists some of the president's underappreciated successes he should be crowing about.
Peter Feaver criticizes the Paul campaign for having a soldier in uniform speak at a campaign event and says the Iowa results prove there will not be a crack-up in the Republican Party over foreign policy.
Richard Ellis/Getty Images
It was an unexpected late-night nail-biter in Iowa last night, as Mitt Romney barely edged out Rick Santorum. Santorum kept things pretty domestic in what was essentially an introduction speech to a national audience that hasn't heard much from him yet. (No shout-outs to Porfirio Lobo sadly.) Mitt Romney, on the other hand, came out swinging against Barack Obama and began an occasionally rambling speech not with jobs or the economy but with Iran:
“We face an extraordinary challenge in America and you know that, and that is internationally, Iran is about to have nuclear weaponry, just down the road here, and this president, what's he done in that regard? He said he'd have a policy of engagement. How's that worked out?”
Romney may want to give a read to Scott Clement's recent column, which makes a convincing case the Republican voters are a lot less concerned about Iran than their candidates.
Before laying into the "Massachusetts moderate," Newt Gingrich also took the oppurtunity to lay into third-place finisher Ron Paul:
“His views on foreign policy, I think, are stunningly dangerous for survival of the United States and I think it’s a very simple question which I would be glad to ask Congressman Paul: if you have a terrorist who’s prepared to put on a bomb and wear it as a vest and walk into a grocery store or a mall or bus and blow themselves up as long as they can kill you, why would you think that if they can get access to a nuclear weapon they wouldn’t use it?” Gingrich said.
Gingrich also said Romney might be "pretty good at managing the decay," echoing a common line of criticism of President Obama which argues that he has embraced the inevitability of American decline.
And also, along those lines, what we have introduced with so much enthusiasm I hear so often from so many volunteers -- The other day someone came up to me and he was refreshing my memory because he knew I - knew the statement because I've said it.
Back in the old days in the early 70s, Nixon said we're all Keynesians now, which meant that even the Republicans accepted liberal economics. He says I'm waiting for the day when we can say we're all Austrians now.
Paul is referring to the Austrian school of economics, which included free-market luminaries Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, but I'm guessing that the reference confused an awful lot of voters who aren't hard-core Paul supporters and brought to mind John McCain's "Today, we're all Georgians" speech. I'm just not sure most Americans particularly want to be Austrians.
The "dangerous" Ron Paul
With the latest polls showing him neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney in Iowa leading up to next week's caucuses, Ron Paul hasn't been toning down his non-traditional foreign policy rhetoric. Paul described sanctions against Iran as an "act of war" in front of a crowd in Iowa, and said Iran would be justified in blocking the Straits of Hormuz if they had no other recourse to respond.
Paul's unexpected poll surge has made him a target. In addition to the ongoing controversy over newsletters published under Paul's name during the 1990s, many of the attacks focus on his isolationist national security views. "One of the people running for president thinks it's O.K. for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. I don't," Romney told a crowd this week. Michele Bachman, whose own campaign seems to be fading fast, called Paul's foreign policy beliefs "dangerous." Influential Iowa Representative Steve King also attacked his congressional colleague, saying "I don't think that the Paul supporters have really stepped back and thought about what would happen if Ron Paul were operating out of the Oval Office and the commander-in-chief of our armed forces." New Hampshire's influential Union Leader newspaper, in endorsing Newt Gingrich this week, blasted Paul for spouting "nonsense" on national security.
Paul's campaign has brushed off the charges of national security naiveté, touting his popularity among veterans and claiming that he has "raised more funds from active military personnel than all other GOP competitors combined."
A late Santorum surge
All but written off just a few weeks ago, the conservative standard-bearer Rick Santorum is enjoying a late surge heading into the caucuses, with one recent poll putting him in third place. "I expect him to have a significantly better caucus night than predictors, the pundits, and the polls, have said over the last month," said Steve King. Santorum's rise is fueled mainly by Iowa's evangelical voters and is significant enough that Rick Perry has begun running ads attacking the former Pennsylvania senator's past support for earmarks.
In a recent radio interview, conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt asked Santorum if President Barack Obama intended for an Islamist front to take power in Egypt. Santorum wouldn't go quite that far but said that "this is a president who doesn't believe the Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamist front" and "does not understand what radical Islam is and its threat to the West." He also suggested the possibility of taking action against Iran to "show that we are not going to allow radicals to gain power and to use that power for purposes of spreading their radical jihadist ideology."
Condi for Veep?
The Gingrich campaign's sagging fortunes don't seem to have discouraged the candidate from daydreaming of filling Cabinet posts and officials in his administration. At a speech in Columbia, South Carolina, Gingrich said he'd love to see former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a vice presidential debate with Joe Biden. "That would be about as great a mismatch of knowledge versus ignorance as we've seen," Gingrich said. Gingrich quickly denied that he was endorsing Rice for vice president, just praising her as a "terrifically smart" person. Gingrich had previously suggested he could nominate John Bolton as his secretary of state.
Gingrich wasn't the only one looking to start the veepstakes early this week. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich suggested that Biden should switch places with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the 2012 race, in order to "stir the passions and enthusiasms of a Democratic base."
Obama on a roll
Still benefiting from this month's fight with Republicans over extending the payroll tax cut, the president's approval ratings (47 percent) are now above his disapproval ratings (45 percent) for the first time since July 2010. But, since World War II, only Harry Truman won reelection with an approval rating below 48 percent.
What to watch for
Iowans will caucus on Tuesday, Jan. 3, in the country's first major primary contest. RealClearPolitics' current poll average for the state has Romney at 21.6 percent, Paul at 21.2 percent, and Santorum and Gingrich tied at 14 percent. The New Hampshire primary -- which Jon Huntsman has chosen to focus on exclusively -- follows just a week later.
The latest from FP
Scott Clement looks at why Republican candidates are still failing to connect with Hispanic voters.
Uri Friedman surveys the GOP field's selective approach to American exceptionalism, which makes room for Swiss healthcare, Chilean retirement schemes, and a Chinese-style (lack of) welfare state.
The contributors to FP's Shadow Government blog, are weighing in this week with their assessments of how president Obama has handled foreign policy and national security this year.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Paul gets his turn
Just days from the Iowa caucuses, polls show Congressmen Ron Paul surging into the lead. The libertarian has long been an annoyance for the Republican establishment, but Paul's success in the polls has brought with it the kind of negative press the congressman avoided when he was viewed as merely a fringe candidate. Much of the attention this week has focused on newsletters that were published in Paul's name during the 1990s, while he was out of office. (The newsletters were also an issue in the 2008 election after the New Republic ran a lengthy expose on their contents.)
In addition to disparaging comments about African Americans and gays, the newsletters contain incendiary language about Israel, describing it as "an aggressive, national socialist state." Another passage suggests that the 1993 World Trade Center bombings may have been the handiwork of the Israeli spy agency, the Mossad. Paul's views were already suspect among many Jewish Republicans, who declined to invite him to a major candidate forum in Washington earlier this month because of his support for cutting U.S. aid to Israel. In several interviews this week, Paul denied writing the newsletters or even being aware of their contents at the time.
Newt Gingrich, who has seen his fortunes in the polls fade as Paul has surged, took a shot at the new kid on the block this week, describing Paul's foreign-policy views as naïve. "This is a guy who basically says, if the United States were only nice, it wouldn't have had 9/11. He doesn't want to blame the bad guys," Gingrich said in a radio interview. "He dismisses the danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon and seems to be indifferent to the idea that Israel could be wiped out. And as I said, I think the key to his volunteer base is people who want to legalize drugs."
Michael Cohen took on Paul's foreign policy in a piece for FP this week, arguing that "his entire philosophy is largely a renunciation of much of what Republicans believe about America's role in the world."
Romney comes out swinging on security
As the media frenzy focuses on Paul and Gingrich, Mitt Romney has been working to build his commander-in-chief credentials with a series of statements on foreign policy. Speaking to reporters on his campaign bus, he said he believes Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin "endangers the stability and peacefulness of the globe." Speaking just hours before terrorist bombings ripped through Baghdad, he described President Barack Obama's inability to secure an agreement to keep U.S. troops in Iraq as one of his "signature failures."
In an interview with Fox's Chris Wallace last weekend, Romney gave the president credit for giving the order for the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, but then said that "any president would have done that." Critics immediately jumped on what appears to be yet another flip-flop from the candidate, who criticized candidate Obama in 2008 for saying he'd be willing to unilaterally order a raid within Pakistani territory. The Democratic National Committee began running ads this week featuring comments from prominent Republicans including former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, praising the president's handling of the bin Laden raid.
North Korea reactions
Several of the candidates issued statements this week in reaction to the death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. Romney called on China to "exert its influence" over its neighbor and take control of the North Korean nuclear weapons program. He also said that he hoped Kim's death would hasten the end of the North Korean regime. Former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman said Kim's death gives North Koreans "the best opportunity to get on a path towards a more free and open society and political reform." Rick Perry said the United States should "engage with China, and encourage Beijing to work towards a peaceful transition from a grim dictatorship to a free Korea," though the strength of his message was somewhat undermined by a press release referring to "Kim Jong II." To be fair, an "I" and an "l" look pretty similar ... and he's not the first candidate to think the late tyrant's name indicated that he was the second Kim Jong.
Obama's foreign-policy advantage?
Something of a consensus seems to be developing that -- considering the state of the U.S. economy -- that foreign policy could be the president's strong suit going into this election. CNN's Fareed Zakaria, writes that Republicans, facing two unpopular wars and unable to make traditional attacks of appeasement stick, are "effectively ceding the vast swathe of foreign policy to Obama." Conservative commentator Juan Williams notes that following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, Obama "has fulfilled a major campaign promise" and that we're facing an unusual 2012 political scenario, in which Republicans will find a Democratic presidential incumbent vulnerable on the economy but strong on national security.
Indeed, the president gets strong marks from voters on his handling of national security and terrorism. But as poll-watcher Scott Clement noted last week in Foreign Policy's Election 2012 Channel, Obama's numbers aren't quite as strong on international affairs generally, or the war on Afghanistan in particular.
Return of Iraq
The war in Iraq was a defining issue of the last election, and Obama got high marks from voters from wanting to end the campaign there, one he never supported. But if the current violence and political dysfunction in the country continue following the recent troop withdrawal, it could quickly reemerge as a major national security headache for the Obama administration. In addition to Romney, Gingrich blasted the withdrawal this week, saying, "I think we're going to find to our great sadness that we've lost several thousand young Americans and had many thousands more wounded undertaking a project that we couldn't do." Obama's 2008 opponent, Sen. John McCain, also weighed in, telling the American Enterprise Institute's Danielle Petka, "All the gains we have achieved in Iraq are now at risk, and the enormous expenditure of blood and treasure that those gains entailed are now in jeopardy of being viewed by history as sacrifices made in vain."
What to watch for
For the next two weeks, it's all eyes on Iowa. Paul (27.5 percent) retains a slight lead in a recent University of Iowa poll, with Gingrich (25.3 percent) a close second, Romney (17.5 percent) in third, and Perry (11.2 percent) a distant fourth.
Huntsman, who has a laser-like focus on New Hampshire, has opted out of Iowa entirely, but for the socially conservative (and bottom-dwelling) candidates Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann a strong showing in the caucuses might be their last chance to save their campaigns. Some recent polls show Santorum climbing into fourth place in Iowa, and his campaign has blanketed the state with major advertising buys. Bachmann is still drawing enthusiastic crowds, but appears unlikely to climb out of the single-digits.
The latest from FP:
Michael Cohen speculates on just what a Ron Paul foreign policy would look like.
Scott Clement says Republican voters aren't as worried about Iran as their candidates' rhetoric might suggest.
Joshua Keating discusses Huntsman's dubious claim to have done "more than anybody" to fight China's one-child policy.
David Rothkopf looks at the 14 biggest lies of 2011.Most of the 2012 candidates -- including the president -- are guilty of several of them.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
The GOP candidates faced off in Sioux City on Thursday in what will likely be the last primary debate before the Iowa Caucuses. Foreign policy was very much on the agenda. Responding to a question about the downed U.S. drone in Iran and president's request that it be returned by Iran, Mitt Romney accused the Obama administration of weakness: "Does timidity and weakness invite aggression on the part of other people? Absolutely," Romney said. "A strong America is the best ally peace has ever owned. A spy drone downed over Iran and he says ‘pretty please?'"
Rick Perry repeated his call for Attorney General Eric Holder to resign over the controversial Operation Fast and Furious undercover gun-running scheme on the U.S.-Mexico border. In response to a question about whether Holder should take responsibility for the incident even if, as he claims, he didn't know about, Perry said, "If I'm the president of the United States, and I find out that there is an operation like Fast and Furious and my attorney general didn't know about it, I would have him resign immediately." Perry also disputed the president's assessment that the border is safer that it's ever been.
Jon Huntsman took a counterintuitive approach, using lower immigration numbers as evidence of the president's failures: "In terms of immigration, and illegal immigration, this president has so screwed up this economy, nobody is coming anymore. There is nothing to come for. There's not a problem today! Look at the numbers coming across. The numbers posted the other day -- lowest in four decades."
Rick Santorum continued his attack on Latin America policy and claims that Islamist militant groups are using the region as a safe haven: "This president has ignored that threat, has insulted our allies like Honduras and Colombia deliberately and embraced like other scoundrels in the Middle East, embraced Chávez, Ortega, and others in South America not promoting our value and interests."
Ron Paul, who has seen a recent surge in the polls, dismissed concerns about Iran's nuclear program, saying, "There is no evidence they have a nuclear weapon. This is another Iraq coming. There's war propaganda going on." Michele Bachmann responded incredulously to Paul's attitude, saying she had "never heard a more dangerous statement."
The Gingrich-Huntsman debate
Newt Gingrich finally got his wish for a three-hour Lincoln-Douglas style debate he sat down on Monday at New Hampshire's St. Anselm College with the trailing Huntsman. It was a cordial affair -- after all, a strong showing by Huntsman in New Hampshire can only be to Gingrich's advantage against Romney -- with few major disagreements between the two. (Huntsman even referred to Gingrich as a "great historian.") Gingrich disapproved of the way Obama had handled the Arab Spring, particularly how he "dumped" U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak in a "very unceremonious way." Huntsman anticipated "a hubristic, nationalistic generation" poised to take power in China.
Are Gingrich's 15 minutes up?
Once again, Newt dominated the news this week, particularly for his controversial comments that Palestinians are an "invented people," a remark that generated a sharp backlash from Palestinian leaders. Even Romney, hardly known for his pro-Palestinian views, went after Gingrich's "erratic outspokenness."
This also seemed to be a week when major Republican figures turned on Gingrich. Columnist George Will blasted the front-runner, saying he "seems to believe there is always some higher synthesis, inaccessible to lesser intellects, that makes all his contradictions disappear." The National Review piled on: "His character flaws -- his impulsiveness, his grandiosity, his weakness for half-baked (and not especially conservative) ideas -- made him a poor Speaker of the House."
Whether attacks like these will resonate with primary voters remains to be seen, though Gingrich's numbers do seem to be slipping somewhat in Iowa.
Obama touts Iraq pullout
At a modest ceremony in Baghdad this week, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta marked the official pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq. In a new web video from the Obama campaign titled, "Promises Kept," the president touts his commitment to ending the Iraq war, saying, "Over the next few days, a small group of American soldiers will begin the final march out of that country... Iraq's future will be in the hands of its people." The pullout, despite being conducted along a timeline previously agreed by Obama's predecessor, is likely to be a centerpiece of Obama's pitch to voters, along with the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Cain for SecDef?
Guess who's back? Former candidate Herman Cain, who famously struggled with even the fundamentals of foreign policy during his campaign, was interviewed by Barbara Walters this week as part of her annual "most fascinating people" segment and told her that if he had his choice of Cabinet positions, he'd like to be secretary of defense. This response prompted a rare "what?" from the veteran interviewer. Perhaps he'd settle for ambassador to Uzbekistan?
What to watch for
All eyes are on Iowa this holiday season as residents of the Hawkeye state prepare for caucuses on Jan. 3. There's now increasing speculation that Paul might have his turn as the next "anyone-but-Romney," following turns by Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and Gingrich. Paul has consistently polled in second or third place in Iowa, and with Gingrich's numbers beginning to fall, he may be in a position to capitalize. Expect more scrutiny of Paul's views, particularly his neo-isolationist foreign policy, in the days ahead.
The latest from FP:
Defense writer Sharon Weinberger examines Gingrich's far-out futurist vision of warfare.
Former candidate Tim Pawlenty tells FP's Josh Rogin that Gingrich is a flip-flopper on foreign policy.
Michael A. Cohen laments that more genuine disagreements weren't aired at the Gingrich-Huntsman showdown.
Poll-watcher Scott Clement explains why, despite Iraq and Osama, the president shouldn't feel safe from attacks on his foreign-policy record.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
The Israel Primary:
The main foreign-policy event of the campaign week was a forum hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition, during which six of the GOP candidates attacked the administration's policies toward Israel. Congressman Ron Paul, who favors cutting U.S. aid to Israel -- as well as every other country -- was not invited.
Current front-runner and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich led the charge, accusing the White House of "one-sided, continuing pressure that says it's always the Israelis' fault no matter how bad the other side" and promised to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem -- a controversial move approved by Congress 15 years ago but resisted by the last three administrations -- on the first day of his presidency. Gingrich also vowed to appoint former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton as his secretary of state.
Gingrich's main rival, former governor Mitt Romney, devoted much of his remarks to Iran, saying "regime change is what's going to be necessary" and promising to indict President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the crime of incitement to genocide. Romney and Gingrich both called on the White House to fire Howard Gutman, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium who set off a firestorm of controversy with a speech that suggested a distinction between anti-Jewish sentiment in the Middle East and other forms of anti-Semitism.
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, the former U.S. ambassador to China under the Obama administration, said Gutman's comments reflected a deeper strain of anti-Israel sentiment within the administration. "These aren't speeches that are cooked up at the local level and at the embassy.... They go high up within the State Department," he said.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, attempting to assuage Israeli concerns about his pledge to drastically reduce foreign aid, promised that "strategic, defensive aid" to Israel would actually increase under his administration.
Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann touted her personal connections to Israel, particularly her time volunteering on a kibbutz in 1974. She also said she does "not see presently that there is a road to statehood" for the Palestinians.
Former Senator Rick Santorum compared U.S. policies toward Islamic extremists to actions taken by Britain before World War II. "For every thug and hooligan, for every radical Islamist, he has had nothing but appeasement," he said. Romney also accused the administration of appeasement with regard to Iran.
Obama: Ask Bin Laden:
Asked by a reporter to respond to the "appeasement" charge at a press conference on Thursday, a visibly testy President Barack Obama replied, "Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al Qaeda leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement. Or whoever is left out there, ask them about that."
Obama also defended his administration's record on Iran, saying it has "systematically imposed the toughest sanctions" on Tehran and that the country is more isolated than ever.
Gay rights becomes a foreign-policy flashpoint:
The Obama administration announced a new initiative this week to use foreign aid and international diplomacy to promote gay rights abroad, for the first time identifying LGBT issues as a major U.S. foreign-policy goal. Santorum and Perry, two of the more socially conservative candidates in the race, were quick to respond.
"Obviously the administration is promoting their particular agenda in this country, and now they feel it's their obligation to promote those values not just in the military, not just in our society, but now around the world with taxpayer dollars," Santorum told reporters in Iowa.
"This administration's war on traditional American values must stop. Promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America's interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers' money," Perry said in a statement to supporters.
Perry's comments seemed to be part of his slumping campaigns attempts to reach out to socially conservative voters, and followed a TV ad in which the candidate lamented "there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school."
Huntsman backtracks on climate:
Huntsman, widely viewed as the moderate in the race despite a very conservative governing record, has distinguished himself from most of the candidates in the field by openly supporting the notion that human activity is causing climate change. "To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy," he tweeted in August. But the candidate seemed to backtrack on that position in a speech to the Heritage Foundation this week, in which he argued that there "questions about the validity" of climate science and that there's "not enough information right now to be able to formulate policies" on global warming.
Huntsman joins Gingrich, Romney, and Paul in the group of candidates who once allowed for the human factor in climate change but have changed their tune when running for president.
What to watch for:
The candidates meet for two debates in Iowa this week, the first on Saturday night in Des Moines on ABC, the second on Thursday in Sioux City on Fox News. With Gingrich still leading the polls, expect other candidates to go on the attack.
On Monday, Gingrich and Huntsman will go head-to-head in a Lincoln-Douglas style debate on foreign policy and national security at New Hampshire's St. Anselm College. Gingrich, who has been openly critical of the format and moderating of previous debates (particularly when he was shunted to the side, before becoming a front-runner), has repeatedly expressed his desire for Lincoln-Douglas debates and has said he will challenge Obama to seven of them if he wins the nomination. Gingrich may be hoping that giving Huntsman a prominent platform may help him take moderate votes away from Romney in New Hampshire, where the former Massachusetts governor is still leading. Romney has declined Gingrich's invitation for a one-on-one Lincoln-Douglas debate.
The latest from FP:
Despite the hype surrounding this week's Jewish coalition event, pollwatcher Scott Clement says Israel won't actually matter all that much in next year's election.
Michael Cohen wonders why Obama is trying so hard to avoid the label "apologist-in-chief."
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Here's presidential candidate Ron Paul on CNN responding to a follow-up question to one of the more controversial moments from last week's debate, when Wolf Blitzer asked him if he would let a hypothetical patient without health insurance die:
"All I know is if you look at history and if you compare good medical care and you compare famine, the countries that are more socialistic have more famines," Paul told CNN's T.J. Holmes. "If you look at Africa, they don't have any free market systems and property rights and they have famines and no medical care. So the freer the system, the better the health care."
This is, to put it mildly, something of a non-sequitur. He was asked about healthcare mandates and replied with an answer about food shortages.
In any case, there's an argument to be made about the difficulty centrally planned economies have in responding to famines, but it seems pretty out of touch with the current state of affairs in East Africa. There are a lot of words to describe the political situation in famine-wracked Somalia, but socialist ain't one of them. The country hasn't had a functioning government since 1991.
Hat tip: Chris Blattman
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