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Issue Guide: Foreign Policy and the Presidency

Author: CFR.org Staff
November 5, 2012

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Below is a catalog of materials from CFR.org and other sources on the foreign policy positions of the candidates and critical issues that will confront the next U.S. president and the new administration.

The President's Inbox


CFR Video Briefs
A series of video segments with CFR fellows and other experts on vital foreign policy and national security topics that will face the next president.

CFR Backgrounder: What Is the Fiscal Cliff?
Regardless of who wins the election, one of the first and most pressing issues the next president will have to face is the so-called fiscal cliff. This Backgrounder explains how the United States arrived at the fiscal cliff, what the consequences could be, and what the prospects for progress are.

Politico: Don't Look Now: Foreign Policy Cliff Looms, Too
CFR's Gayle Tzemach Lemmon writes that while the fiscal cliff is an obvious challenge facing the next president, "what is less obvious is that whoever wins the White House faces a set of cliffhanging foreign policy challenges — a series of tests that will confront him immediately and could bear as much import for the country as its domestic, fiscal twin."

CFR Backgrounder: U.S. Deficits and the National Debt
Long-term budget projections indicate the United States faces insolvency over the next few decades under the current tax and entitlement regime. This Backgrounder examines the U.S. deficit and compares proposed deficit reduction plans, including the president's 2013 budget and the House Republican budget plan.

CFR First Take: Bringing the Foreign Policy Debate Home
CFR President Richard N. Haass concludes that the third and final presidential debate that focused on foreign policy "was not so much about foreign policy and not so much a debate."

Foreign Policy: What's the Foreign Policy Agenda for the Next Four Years?
"No matter who wins on November 6, the feature that is going to dominate U.S. national security planning over the next four years is constraint," writes Stephen M. Walt as he examines the foreign policy issues that will face the next president.

Washington Quarterly: The Risk of Ignoring Strategic Insolvency
"If Washington continues to cling to its existing role on the premise that the international order depends upon it, the result will be increasing resistance, economic ruin, and strategic failure," writes Michael J. Mazarr.

Brookings: Reviving American Leadership: The Next President Should Continue on the Path Obama Has Set
In this policy brief from the Brookings Institution, Bruce Jones, Thomas Wright, and Jane Esberg propose ideas for the next president on America's role in the world.

CFR's Asia Unbound Blog: The Daunting Challenges Ahead for U.S. Policy Toward Asia
Scott A. Snyder explains his takeaways from a conversation between four current and former assistant secretaries of state for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, hosted by Georgetown University.

CFR Interview: A Heavy Post-Election Agenda
CFR Consulting Editor Bernard Gwertzman interviews CFR's James Lindsay on the most pressing issues that will face the next president. "The one lesson for all presidents is that you can expect foreign policy to throw up challenges that you've never dreamed of on Inauguration Day," Lindsay says.

Corriere della Sera: Getting on With the Twenty-First Century
CFR's Charles A. Kupchan writes that after 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Arab awakening, the next president of the United States is poised to "be able to turn his gaze to the broader international challenges of the twenty-first century."

Commentary: The Turn Away From Europe
Josef Joffe writes that the silence on both sides of the Atlantic on the pivot from Europe to Asia is astounding, given that the U.S. "military presence will virtually be gone from Europe by the time the president-elect puts his hand on the Bible in January 2013."

Foreign Policy: Whoever Wins, Congress Is Headed for a Shakeup on Foreign Policy
Josh Rogin looks at the potential changes in Congressional committee leadership posts and concludes that "the result could be a Congress that has less experience and fewer incentives to work across the aisle or cooperate with the executive branch, playing an increasing role of the spoiler in foreign policy."

PolicyMic: Five Biggest Middle East Challenges for the Next President
Ryan Suto looks at issues including the rise of political Islam, the conflict in Syria, and Iran's nuclear program as some of the biggest challenges facing the next president in the region.

Economy

Foreign Affairs: The Debate About Taxes
Grover Norquist and Andrea Louise Campbell offer differing opinions about the effect of taxation on the U.S. economy and the country's budget deficit.

Foreign Affairs: Stimulus or Reform?
Menzie D. Chinn, Karl Smith, and Raghuram G. Rajan offer differing views
on the causes and aftermath of the current recession and the best policy response.

New York Times: Debt Impasse Shadows Race for Presidency
The decisions and proposals regarding the imminent budget crisis could have an impact on the results of the election, writes Jackie Calmes.

New York Times: Do Tax Cuts Lead to Economic Growth?
David Leonhardt examines whether the Romney/Ryan plan for tax cuts is actually a plan for economic growth.

Economist: Game On
American voters will have to choose between a Republican Party "allergic to needed tax rises" and a Democratic Party that "lacks the courage to make the spending cuts required," the Economist writes.

TIME: Obama's Op-ed on Education
President Obama published this op-ed, titled "Don't Stop Now On Higher Ed Reform," on October 18, 2012.

TIME: Romney's Op-ed on Education
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney published this op-ed, titled "Demand Real Change in Higher Education," on October 18, 2012.

Middle East and Iran


VOA: Obama, Romney Largely Agree on the Best Course for the Middle East
Jeffrey Young says the candidates may have strong differences on domestic issues, but there are "few sharp contrasts" on the Middle East.

Washington Post: Where Obama Failed on Forging Peace in the Middle East
Obama wanted to restore the U.S. reputation as a credible mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and in doing so, the president believed he needed to regain Arab trust and talk tough to Israel, writes Scott Wilson.

LA Times: Neither Romney nor Obama Can Fix the Frenzy in the Arab Streets
"In the Islamic world, Americans are frequent targets, but we are neither the root cause of the region's trouble nor the magicians who can make all problems disappear. An American president can prod, manage, contain and intervene, but he can seldom transform," writes David Horsey.

Foreign Policy: Red Lines Over Iran
"Even with all the turmoil in the Middle East, foreign policy is unlikely to have a decisive impact on the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. But the outcome of the presidential election will have a profound impact on U.S. foreign policy. Nowhere is that more consequential than the debate over whether, when, and with whom we go to war against Iran," writes Samuel R. Berger, chairman of the Albright Stonebridge Group.

China

CFR Interview: China's View of U.S. Presidential Politics
In this CFR interview, Jia Qingguo, a leading American studies scholar, says that despite the scapegoating of China during the campaign, "if the past experience serves as a guide, a new president will not significantly change the U.S. policy toward China because the relationship between the two countries has become so close and the interests have become so intertwined."

Chatham House: U.S. Election Note: China Policy After 2012
This Chatham House paper lays out the likely China policy of an administration under either a second-term Barack Obama an incoming Mitt Romney, and discusses the international implications of these two alternatives.

CNN: Ten Big Questions for Obama, Romney on Asia
Patrick Cronin writes that Asian security issues have barely been discussed in the U.S. presidential campaign. How can a diminished U.S. military meet challenges in the region?

CFR's Asia Unbound Blog: Message to the Candidates: Talk China Policy, Not China Smack
Elizabeth C. Economy looks at the role that China has played in the campaign and suggests areas of the U.S.-China relationship that she thinks deserve the attention of the candidates.

CFR's Renewing America Blog: The Changing Politics of Chinese Trade and Investment
CFR's Edward Alden looks at the politics behind President Obama and Mitt Romney's attempts to "one-up each other over the economic threat posed by China."

National Security

Foreign Policy: The Currency of Power
"Ever since the rise of 'national security' as a concept at the start of the Cold War, economics has become the unappreciated subordinate of U.S. foreign policy. Today, the power of deficits, debt, and economic trend lines to shape security is staring the United States in the face. Others see it, even if America does not," writes Robert Zoellick.

Politico: Two Candidates' Views on Defense
"So how do Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama stack up against each other on the enormously important question of U.S. military spending and broader defense strategy? This is a crucial question for the country. It's also one of the better debates between the two men — since their essential disagreement is over substance rather than silliness," writes Michael O'Hanlon.

National Interest: The Elusive Obama Doctrine
CFR President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow Leslie H. Gelb analyzes Obama's foreign policy and national security record.

New York Times: Is There a Romney Doctrine?
Dozens of subtle position papers flow through Mitt Romney's policy shop, but they seem to have little influence on his hawkish-sounding and content-thin pronouncements, writes David E. Sanger.

Foreign Policy: Ryan's Shifting Views on America's 'Forgotten War'
CFR Fellow Gayle Tzemach Lemmon writes that Paul Ryan's position "has moved closer to his presidential candidate's position on the war that won't be named: Afghanistan."

Atlantic: The Afghanistan-Shaped Hole in the Presidential Campaigns
Joshua Foust highlights the apprehensiveness of both presidential candidates to address the ongoing war in Afghanistan and what it means for raising public or political pressure to find a lasting solution.

LA Times: Obama's Foreign Policy Approach: Act Cautiously, and Not Alone
President Obama's foreign policy approach is called prudent by supporters, but viewed as timid by his critics, writes Paul Richter.

Europe and Russia


CFR Campaign 2012 Blog: Romney, Poland, and the Russia Question
Bartosz Wiśniewski, a research fellow at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, offers his perspective on some of the policy implications of Romney's visit to Warsaw, especially as it pertains to the Russia relationship.

Politico: Obama's Europe Fixation
"President Barack Obama's future could hinge on the health of the European economy — and that explains his near-obsession with it," writes Ben White.

National Interest: Russia: Friend or Foe?
CFR's Anya Schmemann examines the candidates' positions on Russia and concludes that "while the jury may still be out on whether it is friend or foe, it is not number one in either category."

Foreign Policy: Yes, Russia Is Our Top Geopolitical Foe
John Arquilla writes about GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's assertion that Russia is America's "No. 1 geopolitical foe," a claim that has been heavily criticized but may still be true.

Moscow Times: Whether Obama or Romney, the Reset Is Dead
Gregory Bovt writes that Russia is a low priority on the list of foreign policy issues for both Democratic and Republican candidates, and advises avoiding excessive anti-Russian or anti-U.S. rhetoric from both sides.

Speeches and Statements on Broad Foreign Policy Issues

Third Presidential Debate Transcript
The third and final debate between President Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney was held in Boca Raton, Florida, on October 22, 2012, and focused on foreign policy topics.

Second Presidential Debate Transcript
The second debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney took place on October 16, 2012, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

First Presidential Debate Transcript
The first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney was held on October 3, 2012, in Denver, Colorado.

Vice-Presidential Debate Transcript
The vice-presidential debate between Vice President Joe Biden and GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan was held on October 11, 2012, at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.

Democratic Party Platform
The Democratic National Committee released its 2012 Democratic Party Platform on September 3, 2012.

Republican Party Platform
The Republican Party of the United States released its 2012 platform on August 28, 2012.

President Obama's Remarks to the United Nations General Assembly
President Obama gave these remarks to the UN General Assembly on September 25, 2012.

60 Minutes Interviews With Obama and Romney
CBS' 60 Minutes interviewed President Obama and Mitt Romney for a program that aired on September 23, 2012.

President Obama's Speech at the Democratic National Convention
President Barack Obama accepted his party's nomination in this speech at the Democratic National Convention on September 6, 2012.

Mitt Romney's Speech at the Republican National Convention
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave these remarks at the Republican National Convention in Florida on August 31, 2012.

Additional Resources

The candidates' opinions and statements on fifteen international and domestic issues can be found in these CFR issue trackers.

Kirsti Itameri contributed to this report.

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