- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
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.