Although the last presidential debate, scheduled in a week, was going to center on foreign policy, the subject had- until recently- taken a back seat in a presidential race in which the economy was the central issue.
This is changing and foreign policy issues are slowly creeping in. The Romney campaign has lately been going on the offensive in foreign policy issue, after originally ignoring the Obama campaign's assertions that Barack Obama had acquitted himself admirably in foreign policy and the United States was more popular and secure as a result.
The new Republican assertiveness can be put down to several factors:
The American audiences are confronted with indisputable evidence that the confident Obama narrative is not adding up, with Libya being the most graphic example, but not the only one.
Second, there was the factor of the debate. Then maybe the Romney campaign organizers felt that the candidate had to first establish his gravitas before he essayed an attack on foreign policy issues. Perhaps there is also a realization that economic issues have been milked for all their worth and it was necessary to erode the image of the administration's foreign policy competency.
The possibility that Barack Obama may be a one-term president has filtered through to newspapers, who have displayed a marked partisanship for Obama. Today, both the New York Times and the Washington Post have weighed in with articles critical of administration policy on Syria. The common thrust is that the strategy of eading from behind has failed in that country, not only in terms of the high price in destruction and human lives, but because it has reduced the conflict to one between the Assad regime and Salafists. A more forceful intervention early in the game could possibly have allowed the United States to identify more liberal elements among the anti-Assad forces.
One reason for Republican caution on the foreign policy issue was illustrated during the vice president debate. In the debate Joe Biden as he has done on other occasions, accused the Republicans of wishing to drag the United States into another land war in the Middle East with a commitment of 100,000 troops. Given the war weariness in the United States, the Republicans want to steer clear of this accusation.
An issue that Romney has always felt comfortable with, because it is tangential to his economic thrust, is his attack on the administration's China policy and its failure to take measures against China for currency manipulation and theft of intellectual property. This meant an unfair loss of competitiveness.
The new Republican assertiveness should alter calculations about the foreign policy debate. If the administration may have originally thought that this was a home game, they must now prepare themselves for the Republicans to get aggressive.