Power Play

Foreign Affairs Intrude on 2012 Narrative

Foreign Affairs Intrude on 2012 Narrative; A Congressional Christmas Pageant

Turmoil Around the Globe Changes Discussion for Presidential Election

“Kim Jung Un may feel it necessary in the future to precipitate a crisis to prove his mettle to other senior leaders or deflect attention from the regime's failings.”

-- Bruce Klingner, Asia policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, talking to Reuters.

The last two elections were decided on domestic issues, while the three contests before that hinged on foreign policy and national security.

As suggested by the news today – the death of the dictator of the nuclear-armed, neo-Stalinist state of North Korea, the unraveling of onetime ally Egypt, the unrest in Russia, the continued rise of Iran, the morass in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the ongoing failure of Europe – the next contest may see a return to the more typical balance between domestic and foreign concerns.

The outbreak of a new war or a successful terrorist attack against the United States could certainly refocus the electorate on foreign affairs and security, as was the case in 2002, 2004 and 2006. Similarly, a double-dip recession or fresh financial panic could make 2012 the third consecutive election fought over almost exclusively domestic issues.

But it looks likely that foreign affairs will at least be a bigger part of voters’ decision-making process than in 2008 or 2010.

So who benefits?

The White House and the Obama campaign pretty clearly believe that the president does. You got a sense of just how much when President Obama snapped, “ask Usama bin Laden” when questioned about accusations of “appeasement” against him by Republican presidential hopefuls.

Democrats have been relentless on the message: Obama ended the war in Iraq, is ending the war in Afghanistan and is ready to kill al Qaeda types by remote control, wherever they are.

When the White House released the Situation Room photo of the bin Laden kill or the president mugs for cameras with the troops the message is clear: there is only one commander in chief. And Obama, who came to office with a thin resume on foreign affairs, has been getting on-the-job training in the subject for three years.

And polls do show Obama outperforming his job approval numbers when it comes to foreign affairs, especially on terrorism. In the latest FOX News poll, Obama carded a weak 44 percent overall job approval rating and a dire 35 percent on his handling of the economy. But Obama got 50 percent for his handling of Iraq and 47 percent on handling of Afghanistan.

And what weaknesses Obama has shown on foreign policy have been within the Democratic base with voters unhappy about Obama’s extension of several key points of Bush administration policy and the escalation of the Afghan war. Those don’t sound like potential GOP voters, though they could punish Obama by sitting on the sidelines.

The Republican contenders, meanwhile, don’t offer much in the way of foreign policy or security. There are only two veterans in the mix – Rick Perry and Ron Paul – and, even in a party dominated by the response to 9/11 for seven years, there is no one with much of a portfolio on national security.

But there’s a reason that Republicans have been accusing Obama of appeasement. Obama’s strategy of “engagement,” “reset,” “smart power” and “leading from behind” have left him open to the return of the Republican charge that Obama is weak and that he is not a believer in American exceptionalism, the belief that America has special rights and responsibilities as the “last, best hope of earth.”

If the fevers currently burning around the world abate, Obama may be able to rely on a “killed bin Laden, out of Iraq” foreign policy platform, but if the problems worsen, he will be vulnerable to Republican charges of weakness and naiveté.

Congress to Stage Christmas Pageant

“I believe that two months is just kicking the can down the road. the American people are tired of that. Frankly, I'm tired of it. On the House side we've seen this kind of action before coming out of the Senate. It's time to just stop, do our work, resolve the differences, and extend this for one year.”

-- House Speaker John Boehner on “Meet the Press.”

The reason President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Reid toyed with the idea of a government shutdown last week was that once the government was funded, they would lose leverage over House Republicans in the battle over extending the current Social Security tax holiday.

In the end, fears about precipitating such a crisis after House Republicans had already come up with a bipartisan funding plan for the next year led the president and Senate Democrats to go along and put through an appropriations bill for the remaining 10 months of the current fiscal year.

That means House Republicans have the rest of this week to joust over the issue of the payroll tax holiday, how it will be offset and what other torture devices to cause the president political discomfort will be included.

The first order of business is making sure that whatever they do is longer than the two-month counteroffer passed by the Senate. The Democratic plan is to have as many votes on the subject as possible before the election since it allows the Blue Team to decry Republicans as the puppets of the 1 percent for opposing a millionaires tax hike to offset the funds being denied to the already insolvent Social Security trust fund.

There is a House-passed bill and a Senate-passed bill and the tax holiday doesn’t expire until Dec. 31. The effort of late from the Senate and the White House is to say that Speaker John Boehner had secretly agreed to jam through the short Senate version and then faced a rebellion from the rank and file – cue talking points on “Tea Party extremists” and claims that Boehner has lost control.

But it’s been less than a week since Boehner pulled off the feat of pushing through the payroll tax measure over conservative objections in order to keep the pressure on the Senate. In fact, it was the passage of the House version of the payroll holiday that convinced Democrats to go ahead and fund the government.

While he may have discussed a failsafe option of a short extension, it seems unlikely that Boehner would have climbed down so quickly after his victory. Furthermore, the idea that any negotiator would take the first counteroffer with the deadline for talks still weeks away is just silly.

Congress never does anything before it absolutely has to or until it starts to inconvenience its members, so that suggests that there are at least five days this week before the standoff begins to imperil Christmas plans and 13 days before anything happens to workers’ paychecks. The House Republicans have long expected to be working this week and clearly have no intention of reaching a compromise until their time has run out.

Plus, Republicans like the looks of staying in session while the president frets about the start of his annual Hawaiian family getaway. Obama put his own vacation at risk when he warned Republicans to stay at work until the payroll tax issue was resolved. They are now turning the tables on him.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace."  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.