The economy has dominated the presidential campaigns this election year with both President Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney showcasing their economic policies to revive the anemic recovery. The economy may very well determine the next U.S. president but voters also want to hear how their candidates will tackle the biggest foreign policy issues facing the nation. David Sanger, author of "Confront and Conceal" and the chief Washington correspondent at The New York Times, says there are three major foreign policy concerns that will play a factor in the November election: China, Iran and Afghanistan.
As Romney attempts to burnish his foreign policy credentials with voters, he's unlikely to fall under the "Sarah Palin effect," Sanger says, referring to the former vice presidential candidate and governor of Alaska. Palin's limited awareness of foreign policy matters were highlighted by various media interviews and contributed to McCain's loss against Obama in 2008.
Voters want "candidates to have at least a working knowledge about foreign policy issues," Sanger says in an interview with The Daily Ticker. "It won't be a problem for Mitt Romney. He is a very quick study."
Romney may have avoided the foreign policy gaffes that plagued Palin, but his stances on China and Russia have at times conflicted with prevailing GOP orthodoxy. His assertions that China is a currency manipulator, intellectual property thief and trade cheat and his vow to impose sanctions on Chinese goods in his first week in office mirror arguments made by his party's far right members, Sanger argues, and run counter to the GOP's free trade platform. Romney's strong rhetoric will likely soften or "evolve" as the election heats up, Sanger adds. Many donors to the Romney campaign are multinational corporations that conduct business in China.
Romney's views on Iran and Afghanistan also sharply diverge from the Obama administration. He opposes engaging with the Taliban, saying in January that "the right course of America is not to negotiate with the Taliban while the Taliban are killing our soldiers." Romney denounced Obama's Afghanistan strategy to pull out troops by the end of 2014 at a campaign event in February.
"You just scratch your head and say how can you be so misguided?" Romney said. "And so naive? His secretary of defense said that on a date certain we're going to pull out our combat troops from Afghanistan. Why in the world do you go to the people that you're fighting with and tell them the day you're pulling out your troops?"
Many foreign policy experts credit the trilateral peace talks with reducing the violence in several tribal regions and for expediting the timetable of U.S. and NATO troop withdrawal.
As for Iran, the national security concerns surrounding Tehran's nuclear energy program are as threatening as the economic hardships that have affected Americans at the gasoline pump. Representatives from Western nations are meeting with Iranian officials to reach an agreement on curbing Iran's enrichment of uranium, which can be used to develop nuclear weapons. Energy prices spiked earlier in the year as tensions flared over Iran's reluctance to end its nuclear program. The White House has pursued a policy of negotiation and diplomatic talks with Iran, a strategy heavily opposed by Romney and Republicans. Sanger notes that the meetings between Iran and the West have proven fruitless thus far and won't yield an acceptable outcome until new financial sanctions against Iran creep closer to the July 1 deadline. Obama administration officials say "they don't expect the Iranians to get serious until the next round of sanctions go in to effect," Sanger notes. "The more time the talks drag on, more uranium is produced. These centrifuges are spinning. Can the diplomacy spin at the same rate that the centrifuges spin? So far the answer is no."
Sanger believes the economy will ultimately decide the presidential election but expresses caution over the foreign policy proposals put forth so far by the candidates. If Romney were to be elected, his positions on Syria, Afghanistan, Iran and Russia will likely be tested and criticized like the president before him.