It is convenient for the President that during a week in which the latest employment report shows 8.1% unemployment with a 30-year low in participation rate, the focus was on the anniversary of the death of bin Laden. The President seized the occasion of this anniversary to make a speech from Afghanistan announcing both a continued presence and a military withdrawal conveniently timed to his campaign schedule. All arguments about spiking the football aside, the Obama administration was clearly trying to highlight its foreign policy credentials and President Obama’s leadership as Commander-in-Chief. Apparently that celebration was short-lived.
On the heels of the President’s self-congratulation were problems with Russia and China that don’t further the message of strong, successful foreign policy. Despite having signed the contentious New START with Russia, the President will now have to explain why Russia is threatening to strike NATO missile defense sites in Eastern Europe. The President has already conceded missile defenses to appease Russia, and yet here is more conflict. In addition, there is a very unfortunate situation brewing with a Chinese activist that, while unclear, appears to make the administration look disorganized and weak by mishandling it.
If the China and Russia stories generate more attention, then President Obama’s attempt to gain campaign momentum based on foreign policy may be undercut. Perhaps this means he’ll go back to the phony war on women, or college students, or whatever other distraction he can come up with to keep our eyes off the dreadful employment numbers between now and November.
Two other quick points. First, the Obama campaign probably wants to not only score points on bin Laden, but to dare Romney to appear more hawkish in an attempt to make Obama look weak on foreign policy. Team Obama knows there isn’t much voter support for such hawkishness right now, so it’s better for Romney to keep his comments limited on that subject and return focus to the economy. There will be time for Romney to elaborate on foreign policy (such as taking advantage of the Russia news, especially when he made clear arguments against New START at the time). Second, the Russia news probably doesn’t help Senator Lugar, who is trailing in recent polls in Indiana, and who supported New START (he actually addressed Romney’s arguments against it at the time). Senator Lugar will probably have to explain his position on that issue yet again.