Election 2012

White House indicates foreign policy will be major focus of Obama’s campaign

White House indicates foreign policy will be major focus of Obama's campaign
White House press secretary Jay Carney

It isn’t often that a press briefing at the White House is devoted almost exclusively to foreign policy issues — at least not in this election year, when it is the economy and related issues that are front-and-center and foreign policy is discussed almost as an afterthought.

But at the regular briefing for reporters Monday,the president’s top spokesman made it clear that foreign policy questions were not only welcome but wanted. In so doing, the White House sent a strong hint that the president would emphasize his foreign policy background and relationship with world leaders as campaign cards against Mitt Romney in the fall.

Press Secretary Jay Carney was given the opportunity to respond to Romney’s criticism of the term “bump in the road” to characterize the present situation in the Middle East. On CBS-TV’s “Sixty Minutes” Sunday evening, Mr. Romney said “I can’t imagine saying something like the assassination of ambassadors is a bump in the road.”

When ABC-Radio’s Ann Compton brought up the Romney quote, Carney thanked her for the opportunity to respond to an “assertion that is both desperate and offensive.”

“The president was referring to the transformations in the region, to this process that has — only began less than two years ago, as we saw in Tunisia,” said Carney, who later returned to the original comment by Romney and dismissed it as “a certain, rather desperate attempt to grasp at words and phrases here to find political advantage, and in this case that’s profoundly offensive.”

To the conclusions of John Zogby and other pollsters that the president’s support among Jewish-American voters is dropping, Carney cited “the unprecedented level of cooperation with Israel” that has been testified to by such Israeli leaders as that country’s defense minister, Ehud Barak. As to reports that Obama has shunned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Carney noted that “the president just recently had a conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu that lasted more than an hour, I believe, and that was just one in countless conversations that they’ve had.

He added that “the president has met with and spent time on the phone with Prime Minister Netanyahu more than with any leader since he took office. And that is a reflective of the importance of and the closeness of the relationship between the United States and Israel.”

As is often the case, the strong pledge of solidarity with Israel was coupled with a strong denunciation of Iranian President Ahmadinejad. In Carney’s words, the Iranian leader says “foolish, offensive and sometimes unintelligible things with great regularity. What he should focus on is the failure of his government, of Iran, to abide by its international obligations, to abide by United Nations Security Council resolutions.”

Normally, foreign policy would not be discussed at a White House briefing to the great extent it was on Monday. But in 2012, this is clearly not the case.

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