In a campaign that focused on the U.S. economy, Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney devoted less attention to world affairs. Even their October 22 debate, which was meant to focus on foreign policy, often veered back to the domestic economy.
Following are positions offered by the candidates on key foreign policy challenges and global trouble spots ahead of Tuesday’s election.
OBAMA – Obama touts the 2011 killing of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in his compound in Pakistan as a major victory for U.S. counterterrorism. He says his plan to draw down U.S. troops in Afghanistan and hand responsibility for security to the Afghans by the end of 2013 will “responsibly end the war” there in 2014.
ROMNEY – Romney says Obama’s announcement of a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2014 “left our Afghan allies in doubt about our resolve and encouraged the Taliban to believe that they could wait us out.” He says he would order a full interagency assessment of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan to ensure that the withdrawal is based on conditions on the ground but still with the goal of handing combat operations to the Afghan Army by the end of 2014.
OBAMA – Obama has ramped up drone strikes against high-level militants in Yemen and Somalia but also says that he has forged partnerships in the region to promote reforms that will help solidify the revolutions that deposed dictators in key Arab states. On Syria, Obama said his goal is to “promote a moderate Syrian leadership and an effective transition so that we get (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad out.”
ROMNEY – In Syria, Romney says Obama failed to “act resolutely” to help end the Assad government, making the United States “absent and irrelevant” at a time of instability in the Middle East. He offers a three-part plan for Syria that includes: undermining Assad through sanctions and rejection of diplomatic initiatives that allow Assad to stay; work with defectors and neighboring countries to secure Syria’s stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction; and facilitating arms to “responsible” Syrian opposition forces.
On the broader Arab Spring, Romney says he would work to make sure that Egypt, with its 80 million people, remains a U.S. ally that maintains peace with Israel and contributes to regional stability, but he would attach good-governance conditions to U.S. aid to Cairo.
OBAMA – Obama has responded to Romney’s criticism that he has been weak on China by pointing out that his administration has brought eight complaints against China’s trade practices at the World Trade Organization – more than his Republican predecessor George W. Bush. Obama, under a policy of “rebalancing” the U.S. presence in Asia, has beefed up diplomatic and military ties in the region to hedge against China’s rise. He has tried to set aside differences to cooperate on global issues such as nuclear proliferation and climate change.
ROMNEY – In campaign speeches and debates, Romney has vowed to name China a currency manipulator on his first day in office to press Beijing to end a cheap yuan policy that many economists say gives China a trade advantage and hurts U.S. manufacturers. On his campaign website, Romney focuses on the security dimensions of China’s rise, including its rapid military buildup and Chinese pressure on neighbors over territorial claims, vowing “a strategy that makes the path of regional hegemony for China far more costly than the alternative path of becoming a responsible partner in the international system.” To achieve that goal, Romney urges the United States and its allies to maintain strong militaries and deepen security and economic cooperation.
OBAMA – Obama has progressively tightened sanctions on Iran in an effort to convince Teheran to halt a nuclear program the West believes is aimed at building an atomic bomb. He does not rule out the use of force as a last resort to stop Iran and says he will not allow Tehran to stall with open-ended diplomacy. Iran has argued that its nuclear program is solely for civilian energy purposes.
ROMNEY – Romney says Obama has allowed Iran to speed up its nuclear program and has squandered U.S. credibility with Tehran’s ruling clerics by being too willing to talk without preconditions and by failing to support anti-government protests in 2009. He says he would end Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons by retaining a “very real and very credible” military option, military exercises with regional allies, tighter economic sanctions and diplomatic efforts to isolate Iran, support for the Iranian opposition and strengthening of the U.S. missile defense system.
OBAMA – Obama rejects complaints that his failure to visit Israel during his presidency and tensions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Israel’s settlement policies have allowed the U.S. relationship with a longtime leading ally to deteriorate. He highlights enhanced security cooperation including joint military drills, missile defense support and coordination on Iran.
ROMNEY – Romney says Obama has isolated Israel and made the Palestinians more intransigent in negotiations at a particularly dangerous time in the Middle East. He vows to help Israel maintain its strategic military edge and work to repair Israel’s strained relationships with Turkey and Egypt and resist anti-Israel policies in those two countries.
OBAMA – Obama launched a 2009 “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations that helped in several areas such as arms cuts and trade, including completing Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization. The president mocked Romney’s harsh campaign rhetoric on Russia, saying in the October 22 debate that “the 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”
ROMNEY – Romney pledges to “reset the reset” with policies aimed at discouraging Russian aggression and encouraging democratic political and economic reform. He said he would work with Europeans to decrease their dependence on Russian energy and reach out to Russian civil society. In the October 22 debate, Romney accused Obama of viewing Russia with “rose-colored glasses” given Russia’s repeated U.N. veto of Western efforts to facilitate a political transition in Syria.
OBAMA – Obama’s platform defends military funding cuts as necessary in a harsh fiscal climate but says Democrats are committed to a strong military to ensure U.S. global leadership and national security. Obama wants to pursue “nation-building at home” with the savings from defense cuts and the winding down of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When Romney said the U.S. Navy has fewer ships than it had in 1916, Obama replied that it is the capabilities that matter, adding mockingly, “we also have fewer horses and bayonets.”
ROMNEY – Romney would reverse Obama-era defense cuts and says core defense spending – on personnel, operations and maintenance, procurement and research and development – will not fall below 4 percent of GDP. He wants to increase Navy shipbuilding from nine vessels per year to approximately 15 per year and to pursue a “robust, multi-layered national ballistic-missile defense system.” He says he would seek savings by trimming wasteful weapons procurement practices and cutting the size of the Pentagon’s civilian bureaucracy.