Don't count Romney out just yet

2012-09-21 08:25
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney waves to supporters before he makes a speech in Miami. (AP, File)

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney waves to supporters before he makes a speech in Miami. (AP, File)

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New York - It may seem the last two months have been a disaster for the Romney campaign – a disaster of an overseas tour, intended to strengthen his foreign policy bona fides, was swiftly followed up by a decent, if average, convention where Clint Eastwood spoke to a chair during prime time.

When that was over he inserted his foot in his mouth last week when attacks in Libya killed four American citizens, and then the magazine Mother Jones published a secretly-filmed video of Romney speaking to some of his top donors, saying a whole lot of things he really shouldn't have.
 
But writing off the candidate right now wouldn't be a wise move, despite current circumstances. I certainly don't think Romney is likely to win this election – incumbent President Barack Obama is easily the favourite – but there is enough time and unpredictability for things to turn around for Romney, some of which are not within either man's control.
 
There is no way that one can declare a presidential campaign dead before the three debates in October. While it is difficult to "win" these debates, especially amongst a hotly divided electorate, the possibility of losing them remains, and they have contributed to the outcome of previous elections.

Gerald Ford jettisoned his attempt at holding onto the presidency in the 1976 election against Jimmy Carter when he absurdly said at one of the debates, "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe."

In 1992 then president George HW Bush was widely criticised after being seen looking at his watch during a debate with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.

October surprise

US elections have also been decided by what has been termed the "October Surprise", something utterly random occurring right near the election.

Jimmy Carter wasn't helped by the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1980, when he faced Ronald Reagan. An Osama Bin Laden video released just before the 2004 election is believed to have aided George Bush as national security became a hot topic in the weeks leading up to the ballot.

In 2008 the financial crisis struck in September (not strictly in October, admittedly) and swung the campaigns from arguments about the war in Iraq to the economy.
 
While it is virtually impossible to guess what the October Surprise might be, there is a severely complicated situation arising in the Middle East over Iran's nuclear programme. While Iran claims its nuclear programme is for energy purposes, Israel, the top US ally, insists it is for weaponry.

The US has attempted to lead the way in dissuading Iran from progressing with the whole deal, slapping harsh sanctions on the country's oil industry that are beginning to seriously affect Iran's bottom line.

The sanctions are not, however, being all that persuasive, and Israel is getting mightily shifty about it. There is every chance Israel could decide to strike Iran, as the country's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted, and the Obama will find himself in a very tricky foreign policy position if this happens.

Libya attack

The other possibility this situation spits out is the electoral pressure Netanyahu could place on Obama.

The security and prosperity of Israel is an emotive topic for the US electorate, and Netanyahu will likely use this to get as much as he can out of Obama by squeezing his electoral balls before November. By using the election as a bargaining chip, there could easily be consequences within the American borders.
 
There is one bit of drama to come with which we can do some predicting. The White House is currently hashing its explanation of what went on when the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked last week – an attack that ultimately resulted in the death of Chris Stevens, the US’ ambassador to Libya and three other personnel.

While the Obama administration currently says the attack was a result of a capitalised upon spontaneous protest outside the consulate over a film, there is much valid dissenting opinion.

If the final result of an investigation is that a US building overseas was not protected properly, and an attack there killed American citizens, it will not play out well for Obama. In the most recent round of reports, it seems the mastermind behind the attack, Sufyan bin Qumu, was previously in US custody, imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, until he was released in 2007.

Afghanistan insider attacks

In terms of straight foreign policy, Afghanistan is also causing headaches for the current administration.

Obama has promised a military exit from the country by the end of 2014, but in order for this to happen under an agreement with the Afghan government, US troops need to train Afghan security forces.

A recent spate of attacks against Nato troops by Afghans who are fighting joint missions together – insider attacks – is rendering this virtually impossible. As things stand, US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, John Allen, has suspended all joint operations – severely impinging departure plans. 

A joint statement by a trio of hawkish national security senators, Joe Lieberman, John McCain and Lindsay Graham on Wednesday said suspending these kinds of operations "raises questions about the broader strategy that the Obama administration has been pursuing in this conflict, especially with respect to its timetable for drawing down our military forces in Afghanistan".

Obama has done well amongst the war-weary electorate in dealing with US overseas operations, ending US involvement in Iraq and timetabling an exit from Afghanistan, but this is an applecart that can easily be upset.
 
The economy will also continue to play a role. Although petrol prices should drop when summer ends (an absurd argument that comes up in every election) helping Obama, a spike in unemployment, increasing filings for unemployment and spluttering financial indicators won't help the president, and are all very possible. Europe might also decide to implode.
 
The polls are all starting to tick towards the Democrats, nationally and in swing states, so Obama is the favourite to occupy the Oval Office. But there are still potential upsets that could prevent a smooth route. If things stay as they are, Obama will win. But they might not.

 
- News24
Read more on:    nato  |  barack obama  |  simon williamson  |  mitt romney  |  us  |  afghanistan  |  libya  |  benghazi attack  |  us elections  |  north africa  |  prophet protests
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