Crucial Debate May Focus on Libya and Iran

Middle East Policy Takes Center Stage in Neck-and-Neck Race

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By Reuters

Published October 22, 2012.
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The incumbent Democrat seems to have the upper hand on foreign policy since he has been in charge of U.S. national security for nearly four years. He gets credit for the mission that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden and for pulling troops from Iraq.

David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Center at Southern Illinois University, said Obama has two goals: show that “he’s got nothing to apologize for in the way he has conducted foreign policy” and question the inexperienced Romney on foreign affairs.

China could be an issue for Obama to raise, said Yepsen, as Romney has vowed to crack down on Chinese trade policies if elected.

“He’s got to really pin Romney down on what he means by some of the things he’s saying. ‘What do you mean when you say you are going to get tough on China? How do you go about doing that?’” he said.

A former governor of Massachusetts whose trip abroad in July to London, Jerusalem and Poland was marked by missteps, Romney has to assure voters he is a credible alternative to the president on the world stage.

Romney accuses Obama of presiding over a weakening in U.S. influence abroad.

“Many voters are ready to fire Obama if they see Romney as an acceptable alternative,” said Yepsen. “Foreign policy has not been a big driver of this campaign but I think Romney could add some icing to his cake if people say, ‘Hey, this guy is on top of world affairs.’”

The two men at their second debate last week clashed bitterly over Libya, a preview of what is to come on Monday. They argued over Obama’s handling of an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

The Obama administration first labeled the incident a spontaneous reaction to a video made in the United States that lampooned the Prophet Mohammad. Later it said it was a terrorist assault on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

This shifting account, and the fact that Obama went on a political fundraising trip the day after the attack, has given Romney ammunition to use at Monday’s debate.


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