US election: Is foreign policy Romney's best chance?

A burnt house and a car are seen inside the US embassy compound on 12 September 2012 in Benghazi, Libya following an overnight attack on the building There are growing criticisms over the lack of security in Benghazi ahead of the attack on the US consulate

The US death toll in Afghanistan rises above 2,000 with more killings on Monday.

The month that has just ended was the worst in Iraq for nearly two years. And there are growing criticisms of the lack of security in Libya before the murder of the US ambassador there.

As the US election race enters an October dominated by debates, with at least one devoted to foreign affairs, could what happens abroad dictate the election result at home?

Some in Mitt Romney's camp are tempted to switch focus to foreign affairs. No-one doubts now that the opinion polls show Mr Romney in a whole heap of trouble.

One popular view is that he can only win if he dramatically changes the dynamics of the race.

So Politico's excellent detailing of a fierce debate in the Romney camp makes sense. The piece quotes a senior adviser arguing that the campaign has been handed a gift.

"President Obama has been outmatched by events. He's an observer of events, not a shaper of events. Everywhere you look, he's been outmatched."

Others counter that the focus should be kept on the economy.

It must be tempting to switch to foreign affairs. But it is a path strewn with pitfalls.

It is not impossible to trace a path from lax security in Libya that leads to the door of the White House. But it is not that easy either to turn it into a grand policy issue.

No American can look on Iraq and Afghanistan and be happy at what is going on, but President Barack Obama's promise was to bring the wars to an end, not to bring peace to those countries.

It is easy to be worried about the Arab uprisings, less easy for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to say what they would do differently.

They are clearer on Iran - they would back an Israeli attack and draw a red line earlier than Washington and London currently do (at the technical ability to make a bomb, rather than the political decision to do so).

Americans do not like looking weak or adrift abroad. But nor do they seem to be in the mood for more foreign interventions, or eager to police the world.

So if Mr Romney takes the route advocated by some advisers, it is certainly not a clear road to victory.

But above all else, most Americans care more about the economy and jobs than turmoil in the Middle East.

Suggesting new ways of building up America's debt with more concentration on the US image abroad may not be a path to victory.

Mark Mardell, North America editor Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor

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