The List

How Romney Will Attack Obama

Looking ahead to the biggest foreign-policy debates of the general election.


Don't believe the primary hype. In all likelihood, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will exit New Hampshire with a head of steam, then go on to roll over his rivals in South Carolina and Florida, and have the Republican presidential nomination wrapped up by the end of January.

With his coronation now looking fairly ensured, Romney can now shift to the more challenging task of preparing for a general election against incumbent Barack Obama. While the U.S. president is probably most vulnerable to attacks on his handling of the economy, foreign policy is sure to come up as well. But the Obama entering this race is a very different national security candidate from the man who ran against John McCain in 2008. Here are five key areas where Romney is likely to go after the president.


The Islamic Republic, an implacable foe of the United States for three decades, seems guaranteed to be the biggest foreign-policy issue of the election. Romney has made his pitch in very stark terms. "If we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon.… If you elect me as president, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon."

In his erratic Iowa victory speech, Romney began not with the struggling U.S. economy, but with Iran: "Iran is about to have nuclear weaponry just down the road here, and this president, what's he done in that regard? He said he'd have a policy of engagement. How's that worked out?"

The president has defended his Iran policies, saying the administration has "imposed the toughest sanctions on Iran ever" and that as a result of U.S.-led efforts, "today Iran is isolated and the world is unified."

What shape this debate takes in the coming months will likely be determined by events in the Middle East. Iranian moves like the recent beginning of enrichment at a facility in Qom and Tehran's aggressive rhetoric over the Strait of Hormuz will give Romney fodder to say that Obama's policies on Iran have failed, while the administration will dismiss them as desperate bluster from an increasingly isolated regime.


Russia hasn't been much of an issue in the Republican primary, but with Romney as the presumptive nominee, expect it to re-emerge. Romney has described New START, the treaty under which Russia and the United States have agreed to reduce their nuclear stockpiles, as Obama's "worst foreign-policy mistake." He thinks that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is "rebuilding the Russian empire" and that "letting people into WTO who intend to cheat is obviously a mistake." In his official foreign-policy white paper, he promises to "reset President Obama's 'Reset' with Russia," "[f]orthrightly confront the Russian government over its authoritarian practices," and enhance diplomatic and military cooperation with countries in Russia's so-called near abroad.

In March, Putin will almost certainly be returned to Russia's presidency in an election likely to be marred by reports of irregularity and fraud -- a development that will not reflect well on the "reset policy," one of the Obama administration's signature foreign-policy initiatives. The criticism of the president's overtures to Moscow fits in with a larger Republican critique of Obama's abandoning U.S. allies, such as former Soviet satellite Georgia, in the name of engagement with rivals.

In defending the reset, Obama can point to the historic agreement to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and increasing Russian cooperation in the war in Afghanistan.


Romney argues that Obama has been far too critical in his public disagreements with the Israeli government. "If we disagree with [Israel], like this president has time and time again, we don't do it in public like he's done it; we do it in private," he said during one debate. According to Romney, the president "threw Israel under the bus" because he "thought that if he drew closer to the Palestinians that would somehow encourage the peace process." Romney has also accused Obama of criticizing Israel to curry favor with European countries.

While most of the argument focuses on tone, expect to hear plenty of rhetoric from the Romney camp about Obama's suggestion in his May 2011 Middle East speech that Israel return to its "1967 lines," with agreed territorial swaps. (Obama says he was only suggesting those borders as a starting point for discussion.)

There is evidence that Obama's support among Jewish voters has been slipping, and the recent Republican victory in the race to fill resigned congressman Anthony Weiner's seat, during which Israel was a major issue, may give Republicans hope that they can further chip away at this traditionally Democratic voting bloc. Obama has come out swinging in response, pointing to stepped-up military-to-military ties and telling a forum of Jewish voters, "It's hard to remember a time when the [U.S.] administration gave more support to the security of Israel."


If violence continues to worsen in Iraq, expect to hear mounting Republican criticism of Obama's failure to keep troops in the country. Obama's former opponent and now Romney surrogate, Sen. John McCain, recently defined this line of attack, saying, Iraq is "unraveling because we did not keep residual forces there because the president of the United States pledged to get out of Iraq."

Romney himself has said that "by not putting in place a status-of-forces agreement with the Iraqi leadership, [Obama] has pulled our troops out in a precipitous way, and we should have left 10-, 20-, 30-thousand personnel there to help transition to the Iraqis' own military capabilities." Romney may be somewhat cautious about going hard after Obama on Iraq, however, as it's one of a number of issues on which he has shifted positions over the years.  

Romney has also criticized the president for overruling his military advisors in announcing a withdrawal timetable for Afghanistan, though Romney is hardly enthusiastic about the war, saying, "One lesson we've learned in Afghanistan is that Americans cannot fight another nation's war of independence."

The White House has touted the Iraq withdrawal as a "promise kept" -- never mind that it was carried out on basically the same timetable agreed to by Obama's predecessor and only after he failed to persuade the Iraqis to grant legal immunity to U.S. troops. The president also claims the United States is in the process of withdrawing all combat troops from Afghanistan.

Neither war is exactly popular among voters these days.


The candidate who titled his book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness is likely to make patriotism and American exceptionalism a centerpiece of his campaign. "I will not and I will never apologize for America. I don't apologize for America, because I believe in America," Romney has said. He has also charged that the president's foreign policy sees America as "just another nation with a flag" and ridiculed the administration's "Asia pivot," saying, "Obama seems to think that we're going to have a global century, an Asian century. I believe we have to have an American century, where America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world."

The Obama administration has been adamant in rejecting the "apology-tour" charge, with foreign-policy advisor Ben Rhodes telling the New York Times, "Barack Obama has never apologized." The president has, undoubtedly, acknowledged past U.S. mistakes, particularly those of his predecessor, but this is a line of attack that could easily backfire if Republicans appear to be questioning the president's patriotism. All the same, the president's likely to keep his flag pin on for the next few of months.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images; EBRAHIM NOROOZI/AFP/Getty Images; ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images; Aaron Showalter-Pool/Getty Images; Mario Tama/Getty Images; Darren McCollester/Getty Images

The List

War Dogs, Boomtowns, and Dead Dictators

Foreign Policy’s most popular photo essays of 2011.


On the day after Osama bin Laden’s assassination, we came across a throwaway line among the stories on the 9/11 mastermind’s death: The U.S. commando team that took down the al Qaeda head was made up of 79 soldiers -- and one dog.

Good thing, then, that we already had Chief Canine Correspondent Rebecca Frankel on staff -- who was a grizzled veteran of the war dog beat for Tom Ricks’s Best Defense blog. Frankel knew intimately the value of dogs in the military -- a long legacy harkening back to World War II. and with thousands of their counterparts today serving with valor from Baghdad to Kabul.

Thus was born the War Dog photo essay, which, along with its successor, became FP’s most successful feature ever, with a whopping 11 million page views. Frankel continues to write a weekly column for Tom Ricks’s Best Defense blog, where she profiles canines and their trainers on deployments across the world’s war zones.

Courtesy K9 Storm Inc.

Foreign Policy’s annual Failed States Index profiles the world’s most vulnerable countries (and reliably prompts angry denials from their governments). These stunning images portray life in the 60 worst-ranking countries on the Index -- an existence too often dominated by squalor, poverty, and war.

Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

Anders Behring Breivik, a far-right xenophobe, shocked the world when he murdered 77 people, many of them children, with a car bomb attack in the Norwegian capital of Oslo and a shooting rampage on a nearby island on July 22. These images of Norway’s cushy penal system -- where prisoners have flat-screen televisions and mini-fridges in their rooms -- stood in stark contrast to the cold-blooded horror of Breivik’s crimes.

Alex Masi


Muammar al-Qaddafi ruled Libya with extraordinary brutality and legendary eccentricity for over four decades, before his regime came crashing down this year. In an FP exclusive, we partnered with Human Rights Watch emergencies director Peter Bouckaert and photographer Michael Brown, who discovered never-before-seen photos in the ex-dictator’s compounds and offices, to provide a unique look into the Brother Leader’s private life.

Michael Christopher Brown

When the U.S. war in Afghanistan began, the first iPhone was not yet a gleam in Steve Jobs’s eye -- and forget having an app for that. But as America’s longest war stretches on, a group of photojournalists told the story of U.S. Marines in southern Afghanistan through these remarkable photos taken and edited on the now-ubiquitous device.

Teru Kuwayama and Balazs Gardi


The unbelievable 18 days of protest that toppled the Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak still stand out as the signature event of the Arab Spring. This photo essay captured the men and women that brought down a dictator.



Chris Hondros, one of the most recognizable war photographers of his generation and a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy, was killed this year while on assignment in the Libyan city of Misrata. We felt his loss deeply, and this photo essay provided a glimpse into his extraordinary body of work.

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

The Bangkok-based Dhammakaya movement may have begun as a reaction against the excesses of Buddhism in Thailand, but it soon developed cult-like rituals all of its own. Journalist Ron Gluckman and Luke Duggleby went inside the walls of the UFO-like headquarters to provide FP with an exclusive look at the evangelical movement’s otherworldly ceremonies.



Across the world, ,more than 50 million girls under the age of 17 are married, but nowhere is the practice of child marriages so particularly widespread as rural Afghanistan. These remarkable and heart-wrenching photographs provide a glimpse into the world of these Afghan girls, while Anna Badkhen’s dispatch showed that boys are also being forced to grow up too soon.

Stephanie Sinclair / VII


The world’s fastest growing cities aren’t where you think they are. From the booming Chinese port city of Beihai to the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, these seven cities have the potential to change the geopolitical map.

George Lu via Flickr

Two decades after the collapse of the USSR, the former Soviet satellites have drifted apart. This sweeping photo essay explores how life has changed across Russia’s sphere of influence -- from Ukraine, with its contentious political divide, to authoritarian Uzbekistan.

Warrick Page/Getty Images

The war in Afghanistan is not just a man's war. These intimate iPhone photos provide a glimpse into the lives of a U.S. Marines Female Engagement Team on patrol in eastern Afghanistan. 

Rita Leistner 

From Yemen to Tunisia, children have been on the front lines of the Arab revolutions this year -- waving flags, carrying signs, and even directing protesters. They have also been its cruelest victims, as images of injured and dead children have served to outrage citizens across the region.