Foreign policy still the issue that matters most

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images It’s puzzling to me why it’s so difficult for some to let go of the old 1990s formulation that the economy still matters most in elections. “[I]t’s really about the economy,” declared a BusinessWeek headline yesterday morning. To be sure, the economy has played an important role in the campaign over the ...

596140_080305_obama2.jpg
596140_080305_obama2.jpg

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

It’s puzzling to me why it’s so difficult for some to let go of the old 1990s formulation that the economy still matters most in elections.

“[I]t’s really about the economy,” declared a BusinessWeek headline yesterday morning. To be sure, the economy has played an important role in the campaign over the last couple weeks. But if Hillary Clinton’s victories in Ohio and Texas last night prove anything, isn’t it the opposite? Voters are still very much in a Sept. 11th mindset. Clinton won last night in large part by beating Barack Obama two to one among voters who made their decision within the last three days of the race. And she did that by attacking his preparedness to handle national security, not the subprime crisis. Most notably via the now-infamous, and apparently effective, “It’s 3:00 A.M….” ad.

Why did that strategy work? Because, as Michael Gerson points out in today’s Washington Post, this is really the only issue on which Obama is beatable. Clinton insiders have, it appears, finally grasped this fact. “His vulnerability is experience and judgment on national security,” Harold Ickes and Mark Penn wrote in a memo last night.

I suspect foreign policy is now the issue on which Obama’s political future will live or die. This morning, he told reporters aboard his campaign plane, “Over the coming weeks we will join [Clinton] in that argument. Was she negotiating treaties? Was she handling crisis? The answer is ‘no.'”

John McCain is already signaling that he intends to make November a referendum on national security. Like it or not, it’s a foreign-policy election.

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows the Statue of Liberty holding a torch with other hands alongside hers as she lifts the flame, also resembling laurel, into place on the edge of the United Nations laurel logo.
An illustration shows the Statue of Liberty holding a torch with other hands alongside hers as she lifts the flame, also resembling laurel, into place on the edge of the United Nations laurel logo.

A New Multilateralism

How the United States can rejuvenate the global institutions it created.

A view from the cockpit shows backlit control panels and two pilots inside a KC-130J aerial refueler en route from Williamtown to Darwin as the sun sets on the horizon.
A view from the cockpit shows backlit control panels and two pilots inside a KC-130J aerial refueler en route from Williamtown to Darwin as the sun sets on the horizon.

America Prepares for a Pacific War With China It Doesn’t Want

Embedded with U.S. forces in the Pacific, I saw the dilemmas of deterrence firsthand.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, seen in a suit and tie and in profile, walks outside the venue at the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. Behind him is a sculptural tree in a larger planter that appears to be leaning away from him.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, seen in a suit and tie and in profile, walks outside the venue at the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. Behind him is a sculptural tree in a larger planter that appears to be leaning away from him.

The Endless Frustration of Chinese Diplomacy

Beijing’s representatives are always scared they could be the next to vanish.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomes Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman during an official ceremony at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, on June 22, 2022.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomes Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman during an official ceremony at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, on June 22, 2022.

The End of America’s Middle East

The region’s four major countries have all forfeited Washington’s trust.