- By Uri Friedman
Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland.
Three weeks after the deadly assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi the Republicans appear to be pivoting — however gingerly — back to foreign policy, amid a steady drumbeat of reporting and commentary on the Obama administration’s delay in characterizing the violence in Libya as a terrorist attack and failure to appreciate the security threat to American personnel in the country ahead of the incident.
Politico reports that while Mitt Romney’s advisors are divided about aggressively to attack President Obama’s handling of foreign policy (and how much to deviate from the campaign’s message on the economy — the most important issue in the election), Romney himself is planning a major address on international affairs in the coming days. The GOP candidate, who’s in search of a turnaround moment as his poll numbers flag, underlined the renewed focus on foreign affairs in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Sunday:
Disturbing developments are sweeping across the greater Middle East. In Syria, tens of thousands of innocent people have been slaughtered. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has come to power, and the country’s peace treaty with Israel hangs in the balance. In Libya, our ambassador was murdered in a terrorist attack. U.S. embassies throughout the region have been stormed in violent protests. And in Iran, the ayatollahs continue to move full tilt toward nuclear-weapons capability, all the while promising to annihilate Israel.
These developments are not, as President Obama says, mere "bumps in the road." They are major issues that put our security at risk.
Yet amid this upheaval, our country seems to be at the mercy of events rather than shaping them. We’re not moving them in a direction that protects our people or our allies.
And that’s dangerous. If the Middle East descends into chaos, if Iran moves toward nuclear breakout, or if Israel’s security is compromised, America could be pulled into the maelstrom.
We still have time to address these threats, but it will require a new strategy toward the Middle East.
The column is short on specifics about what this "new strategy" would look like, and it recycles several of Romney’s stump speech lines about the Obama administration not controlling events and Mideast developments signifying more than "bumps in the road" (a reference to comments the president made on 60 Minutes). But it sheds light on the GOP’s evolving strategy as the debates loom and the presidential race enters its final weeks.
The op-ed comes amid the first batch of campaign ads from conservative groups attacking Obama over Libya. American Crossroads is out with a spot criticizing Obama for campaigning in Las Vegas after the consulate attack and appearing on The View instead of meeting with foreign leaders in town for the U.N. General Assembly:
The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, has released two similar ads condemning the Obama administration’s shifting account of the attack and lamenting the "crisis of leadership" in the country:
In a Washington Post column on Friday, David Ignatius criticized Obama for putting foreign policy on the backburner during the election, at one point steering his argument to Libya:
To be blunt: The administration has a lot invested in the public impression that al-Qaeda was vanquished when Osama bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011. Obama would lose some of that luster if the public examined whether al-Qaeda is adopting a new, Zawahiri-led strategy of interweaving its operations with the unrest sweeping the Arab world. But this discussion is needed, and a responsible president should lead it, even during a presidential campaign.
Instead, the GOP appears to be positioning itself to lead that discussion.