Economy is the most crucial issue in the 2012 US presidential campaign. As many polls have also indicated, incumbent Barack Obama and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney are indubitably in tight race. And one of the major reasons for this situation is slow economic recovery and high unemployment rate. The American economy lost around nine million jobs between January 2008 and early 2010. In a bid to woo voters, for whom job creation is the top priority, Obama and Romney have offered different policies to provide the impetus needed to boost the economy and expand hiring.
Obama, who had taken office at the peak of the global financial crisis, wants to bring manufacturing back to the US. He has also proposed tax incentives for companies that keep jobs in the country. However, he has failed to do any wonders as far as economic recovery is concerned and Romney’s performance is in question due to his fellow Republican George W Bush administration’s performance. Now it is to be seen whether Romney’s 59-point economic plan would be able to sway Americans and offer any solution to their troubles?
Immigration reform is another hot topic for both presidential candidates. Both the presidential candidates are of the same opinion that the US immigration system needs to be reformed.
Barack Obama’s immigration policies have resulted in deportation of over one million illegal immigrants. However, the President seeks the passage of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would grant a path to citizenship to those who ere brought to America as children, provided they had graduated or were enrolled in university, or served in the armed forces. The US President backs a path to legalisation for the estimated 10.8 million undocumented immigrants already in the country, who pose no criminal or security threat.
Romney, who strongly favours a fence along the US-Mexico border, has already said that the United States needs to turn off "the magnets of amnesty, in-state tuition for illegal aliens, (and) employers that knowingly hire people that have come here illegally." He, however, calls him "pro-immigrant", adding that people should enter the US legally. But in the second presidential debate, the Republican backed permitting some undocumented youth to stay in the US. "The kids of those that came here illegally, those kids I think should have a pathway to become a permanent resident of the United States. And military service, for instance, is one way they would have that kind of pathway to become a permanent resident," he said.
Will health care help Barack Obama win second term in office? The fight over health care may prove to be vital in the upcoming Presidential Election. Almost 18% of the US’ gross domestic product is spent on health. It is a serious issue. Obama wants universal health coverage for the whole America, but Romney, discarding `Obamacare`, seeks to transform Medicare. He supports the idea that insurers sell their products across state lines. Democrats say Romney wants to slash Medicaid, and they seek to extend the health program for certain people and families with low incomes and resources.
In September, polls showed that voters think Obama is better equipped to improve American health care.
The US’ defence spending has almost doubled since 2001, thanks to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a bid to curtail defence costs, Barack Obama has sought to finish the combat mission in Iraq and accelerate the transition from combat missions to a security assistance role in Afghanistan next year.
Mitt Romney has lashed out at Obama for reducing military spending. "It is absolutely wrong to balance our budget on the backs of our military. We need a strong military, so strong no one in the world would ever think of testing it," Romney had said in a January 2012 debate. But Obama also reiterated his criticism of Romney`s plan to increase defence spending in the second presidential debate in October, saying that even the military has not asked for additional funding.
Homeland and National Security
Homeland and national security is one of the paramount issues. How to enhance security of the homeland amidst cyber threats, terrorism while ensuring civil liberties is something the next president should work upon. The Obama administration has repealed many Bush-era counterterrorism policies that were notorious, but expanded on the controversial practice of targeted killing, usually through drones. And why not, it helped the US kill many al Qaeda members. Last year, Obama was lauded for authorising a US Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad in Pakistan.
Mitt Romney had got accolades for his leadership of the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, held just five months after the gruesome September 11 attacks. Romney has always emphasised upon the significance of intelligence gathering. Moreover, he has vowed to deal with cybersecurity in his first 100 days in office. Counterradicalisation in Muslim communities will also be on the agenda of Romney.
As per a white paper released last year, if elected president, Romney would "order a full interagency initiative to formulate a unified national strategy to deter and defend against the growing threats of militarised cyber-attacks, cyber-terrorism, cyber-espionage, and private-sector intellectual property theft”.
Nobel laureate Barack Obama, in a speech in Prague in 2009, shared his vision of a world sans nuclear weapons. Obama, as US President, has taken many nuclear nonproliferation initiatives. In 2010, he signed the New START Treaty on nuclear arms reduction with the US’ cold war enemy Russia. Romney is, however, not in the favour of the treaty, which he says has limited US missile defence options.
Furthermore, Obama has increased pressure on Iran, which is adamant on uranium enrichment; though it has failed to produce substantial result. Romney has, meanwhile, vowed to act tough against Iran. Military action against Iran would be an option if Romney becomes president.
With the emerging scene of drilling rigs at many places across the US, many feel that America would soon start producing all the energy it consumes. But rising gas prices coupled with high unemployment rate is, of course, worrisome. Romney says an increase in gas prices is due to Obama`s decision to temporarily block construction of Keystone XL, a planned oil pipeline to link Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Romney has vowed to give green light to Keystone once he comes into power.
Keeping in mind the Democrats’ greener tag, Obama seeks an investment in alternative energy sources to lessen the US’ dependence on oil and gas. Both the candidates favour a drop in foreign oil imports, but they differ over the role the US government should play in subsidising energy production.
Seeking energy independence, Romney connects production of more energy at home with “millions of new jobs” and less price. The GOP presidential nominee wants to expand offshore drilling dramatically. Democrats criticise Romney for not amply supporting clean energy technologies, but the Republican says he favours government investment in research, not companies.
He addressed Iranians during the Persian holiday of Nowruz, stating that his administration sought "engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect”. The world looked with interest if Barack Obama would be able to reset the US’ ties with Iran. But Iran’s defiance of giving up nuclear ambitions has tested Obama’s patience time and again.
The Iranian administration’s act of almost sabotaging political scene by violating rights of opposition and cracking down on supporters and the reports of International Atomic Energy Agency outlining Iran`s enrichment-related activities had pushed Obama, who wanted to resolve Iran`s nuclear issue through diplomacy, to harden his stance. The Obama administration has been working with other countries to isolate Iran with the help of sanctions. The US President has also denied any pressure from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to draw "red lines" on Iran.
Mitt Romney wants to change the political scene in Iran. He seeks to back Iranian dissidents dreaming regime change in their country. Romney has always adopted tough posture as far as tackling Iran is concerned. In a debate last year, Romney had said: "If you`d like me as the next president, they (Iran) will not have a nuclear weapon”. Also, in an op-ed titled `How I Would Check Iran`s Nuclear Ambition`, Romney wrote that he would "restore the regular presence of aircraft carrier groups in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region (and increase) military assistance to Israel and (improve) coordination with all of our allies in the area."
The love-hate politico-economic relationship between the United States and China is quite complex. China, being the largest US creditor, is important to both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Whoever wins need to tackle China’s currency manipulation as well as unfair trade practices, which has led to the US-China trade imbalance. Also, China`s aggressive stand in the South China Sea is something the US is not taking lightly. The Obama administration has expanded its presence in Asia in a bid to contain China`s rise. In the third presidential debate held in Florida, Obama said: "China is both an adversary, but also a potential partner in the international community if it`s following the rules."
Romney says Obama has not adopted hard line against China. He advocates a US policy towards China that persuades "Beijing to embark on a course that makes conflict less likely and continues to allow cooperation with the United States, economic opportunity, and democratic freedom to flourish across East Asia." He has also announced to designate China as a currency manipulator on his first day of his presidency. Romney has also called China`s one-child policy "barbaric”.
In the third presidential debate, Romney noted: “China has an interest that`s very much like ours in one respect, and that is they want a stable world. They don`t want war. They don`t want to see protectionism. They don`t want to see the world break out into — into various forms of chaos."
The United States invaded Afghanistan in the aftermath of terror attacks on September 11. In a bid to crush al Qaeda and Taliban, the US-led “war on terror” has claimed the lives of over 2,000 American troops in Afghanistan till August 2012. Moreover, as per congressional estimates, the war has cost the US over USD 440 billion (through 2011). The US has announced to hand over overall security responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of 2014. Obama, n his Democratic National Convention speech in September 2012, said: "We`ve blunted the Taliban`s momentum in Afghanistan and in 2014, our longest war will be over."
Mitt Romney has criticised Barack Obama for setting a withdrawal date for US troops in Afghanistan. Romney wants the US to assist Afghanistan build up its own military and security forces. “We do not want to see Afghanistan once again return to a Taliban dominated nation with al Qaeda and other training camps coming into the nation”. On the troop withdrawal, Romney said in the third presidential debate: "[W]hen I`m president, we`ll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014. The commanders and the generals there are on track to do so."
Ties between the United States and Pakistan have seen many lows during Obama’s rule. The adoption of Af-Pak strategy, killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad by the US Navy SEALs without informing Pakistan, killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border in a NATO air strike, Raymond Davis case, repeated drone strikes are some of the issues that added to tensions between the United States and Pakistan.
In a debate held last year, Romney stressed that the US’ goal should be to "bring Pakistan into the twenty-first century". In the third presidential debate, Romney said that the aid to Pakistan should be "conditional—and consistent with US foreign policy priorities”.
Despite "reset", which is mulled as one of Barack Obama`s major foreign policy achievements, the US and Russia are still at odds over many issues. US missile defence shield in Europe, US military action against Iran are some of the contentious issues between the former Cold War foes. Russia also supports Syria and has vetoed the UN Security Council resolutions against Syria. Obama had inked the New START Treaty with Russia. Also Obama’s support to Russia’s World Trade Organisation accession is a step towards better ties with Moscow. In Russia, Vladimir Putin is back as President.
For GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Russia is a competitor and a threat to security. Opposed to Russia’s accession to WTO, Romney said, “Russia is not a friendly character on the world stage”. In the final presidential debate, Romney said he would not "wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia, or Mr Putin”.
Barack Obama backs a two-state solution with borders based on 1967 lines. In September 2010, Obama had made efforts to mediate a new round of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. However, negotiations were halted when Israel rejected to renew a moratorium on the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
In September, during the Democratic National Convention, Democrats made 11th-hour changes to restore a declaration that "undivided" Jerusalem is Israel`s capital. "Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths," the amended document read.
Mitt Romney, who made his trip to Israel to show that he care for the region, criticised Obama`s ties with Israel. In early October, Romney said the "strained" relationship with Israel has led to a "dangerous situation that has set back the hope of peace in the Middle East and emboldened our mutual adversaries, especially Iran." Romney slammed Obama for not achieving any progress on peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.