The Election 2012 Weekly Report: Strength and clarity on the campaign trail

The Election 2012 Weekly Report: Strength and clarity on the campaign trail

All Cain’s friends and allies

After weeks of stumbles and gaffes on foreign policy, Herman Cain attempted to clarify his views of the world with a speech on national security at Michigan’s Hillsdale College and a document defining his assessment of various countries. But neither exactly succeeded at burnishing Cain’s credentials. The Hillsdale speech, on the theme of "peace through strength and clarity," was described by the National Review’s John J. Miller as "curiously light on substance." The document, which puts 20 countries into categories like "friend and ally" (Canada) or "adversary regime" (Iran and Venezuela) seemed, as FP‘s Daniel Drezner put it, to consist of "whatever his interns could find off Wikipedia."

Romney’s foreign flip-flops

Both the Democratic National Committee and Jon Huntsman‘s campaign unveiled video ads this week attacking Mitt Romney for having changed his views on a variety of issues including abortion, climate change, and his own healthcare plan. Romney rejected the charge in a testy and widely viewed interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier. The "flip-flopper" charge has been extended into foreign policy as well. Barack Obama‘s campaign sent a memo to reporters last week drawing attention to Romney’s differing statements on Afghanistan and accusing him of having five different positions on Libya. Romney’s not the only one facing the flip-flopper charge this week. Ron Paul‘s campaign has unveiled a new ad accusing Newt Gingrich of "serial hypocrisy."

Bachmann’s Iran brain freeze

Michele Bachmann seemed to suggest that the United States shut down a non-existent diplomatic post on Wednesday, when she told the crowd at a pizza restaurant in Waverly, Iowa, "You may have heard that there was a break-in at the British embassy, and the British had to pull their people out…. That’s exactly what I would do. We wouldn’t have an American embassy in Iran. I wouldn’t allow that to be there. Because they are a state sponsor of terror." The United States hasn’t had an embassy in Tehran since the 1979 hostage crisis. A spokesperson for Bachmann, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, said the candidate was speaking hypothetically. Bachmann’s foreign-policy credentials did get a vote of confidence from an unexpected source this week, when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, who moderated the Nov. 23 debate in Washington D.C., praised her argument for continuing aid to Pakistan on the basis that it’s "too nuclear to fail."

Dems fight back on Israel

After weeks of attacks by the Republican candidates, accusing the White House of failing to stand with Israel, Democrats seem to be going on the offensive on the issue. At a fundraising dinner hosted by the chairman of the American Jewish Congress this week, Obama boasted that "this administration has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration." Democratic Representative Steve Rothman picked up the theme in an op-ed, attacking Gingrich, Romney, and Rick Perry for arguing that foreign aid for all countries should "start at zero," saying, "The Jewish State of Israel should not have to worry about a U.S. president who wants to start Israel’s aid at zero."

Foreign policy on the back burner?

The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone spoke with a number of prominent conservative commentators this week for a piece looking at the diminished role foreign policy is playing in this year’s campaign and the lack of defining foreign-policy worldviews among the candidates, with the exception of Paul’s isolationism. The Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer said the current political climate is similar to the early 1990s when "some kind of clear ideological, foreign policy worldview was more difficult to apply." While global issues are being overshadowed by the economy at the moment, New York Times columnist David Brooks predicted that "foreign policy, and in particular, the Middle East, will emerge as a much bigger issue than anyone expects right now."

What to watch for: With Gingrich surging into the lead in the polls, Romney is ramping up his operation in Iowa. The candidates will meet for a debate in Des Moines on Dec. 10.

The latest from FP:

In our new poll-watcher column, Scott Clement crunches the numbers on whether voters trust Gingrich to handle the 3 a.m. phone call.

Michael Cohen writes that after 10 debates, we still don’t have answers from the candidates on some of the most pressing national security issues.

Joshua Keating takes a look at Gingrich’s 1971 doctoral thesis on, of all things, Belgian colonial policy in the Congo.

Drezner breaks his self-imposed Herman Cain blogging ban. [Ed. We knew he couldn’t hold out.]

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