News Column

A World of Trouble Awaits Obama, Romney Tonight

Oct. 22, 2012

Chris Cassidy and Hillary Chabot, Boston Herald


Unrelenting bad news could dog President Obama at tonight's foreign policy-focused presidential debate.

"There's plenty of ammo," said Democratic strategist Lou DiNatale. "And the president better be ready to handle some incoming."

Recent headlines include Russian President Vladimir Putin personally overseeing ballistic missile tests, Iran's nuclear program still under way, a lingering war in Afghanistan, civil war in Syria, a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt and shifting stories about what happened in the Sept. 11 Benghazi terrorist attack.

It may be harder for Obama to attack Romney's once-mocked assertion that Russia is "our No. 1 geopolitical foe" and other perceived foreign policy gaffes, while the cavalcade of bad news leaves Obama vulnerable to questions, jibes and attacks on his administration's claims of a "reset" with Russia and "smart" diplomacy.

"The remarkable thing that's happened over the course of the campaign is that Romney has slowly chipped away at the foreign policy advantage that Obama had in the beginning," said Patrick Egan of New York University. "The biggest reason for that is Benghazi, and I think that will be litigated more in (tonight's debate at Lynn University in) Boca Raton."

Obama once had held what appeared to be the national security trump card -- he ordered the strike that killed Osama bin Laden. But repeated touting of that triumph turned it into a punch line even before it was overshadowed by the fumbling response to the murderous consulate attack in Benghazi.

"President Obama's at a disadvantage, because what's new about foreign policy is not encouraging," said GOP strategist Todd Domke.

"The question about possible secret talks with Iran and still trying to explain the Libya security issue -- that puts him on the defensive," Domke said. "It doesn't suggest a commander in chief who's in command of what's going on, but rather someone who can't quite explain what's going on. That's more unsettling than it is reassuring."

On the flip side, Romney's foreign affairs credibility is limited. His overseas trip this summer drew fire when he questioned Britain's security readiness for the 2012 Olympics.

And he let Obama flummox him in the last debate with the controversial fact-check by Candy Crowley, who supported Obama's claim that he had declared Benghazi an "act of terror," though he and his administration for two weeks insisted it was a protest over an anti-Islamic YouTube video that got out of hand.

Romney, meanwhile, signaled it will be on the offensive tonight, as a top Romney adviser slammed a report of one-on-one talks with Iran -- though seen by some as an effort to show the president is taking control of the issue -- as yet another misstep. U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said the idea "sounds like the U.S. is taking a position that we're likely to jettison our allies."

Source: (c)2012 the Boston Herald Distributed by MCT Information Services

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