By Juan Williams - 07/23/12 09:00 AM EDT
Foreign policy is about to go center stage in the presidential race. This week Mitt Romney goes overseas to London, England, for the 2012 Olympics and later stops in Israel for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The political strategy behind this trip — as it was behind candidate Barack Obama’s 2008 trip to Europe — is to demonstrate that the candidate is ready to be a world leader.
But while the big Republican criticism of candidate Obama was the rock star reception he got in liberal European capitals, there is a bigger risk for candidate Romney. He might remind voters of foreign policy decisions during the last Republican administration of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
“Gov. Romney is counting on collective amnesia of the American people. Americans know that we can’t go back to the future, back to a foreign policy that would have America go it alone, shout to the world you are either with us or against us, lash out first and ask the hard questions later — if they get asked at all.”
It does not help that Romney’s foreign policy team is largely made up of former Bush administration officials.
Two national polls from last week found Obama leading Romney on the question of who will do a better job of handling foreign policy.
A CBS/New York Times poll found 47 percent of Americans believe the president is better on foreign policy, while 40 percent believed Romney is better.
A McClatchy-Marist poll of registered voters asked which candidate they thought would do a better job of handling foreign policy, Obama or Romney. The president edged out Romney, 47 percent to 41 percent.
The Romney campaign’s critique of Obama’s “failed foreign policy,” comes down to charges of “leading from behind” and “apologizing for America.”
Polls do show Americans have historically regarded the GOP as the stronger of the two parties on national security.
Since Gen. Dwight Eisenhower won the White House in 1952, Republican presidential candidates have considered national security and foreign policy as a strong point against any Democratic challenger.
Ronald Reagan defeated President Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential election by blasting his handling of the Iranian hostage crisis. George W. Bush won reelection in 2004 over John Kerry by casting him as soft on the war in Iraq and the wider war on terror.
Yet, Obama’s actions during his first term have effectively taken away the GOP’s advantage on foreign policy. For the first time, foreign policy may well be an advantage for the Democrats.
After all, it was Obama who did in one term what George W. Bush was unable to do in two terms — he killed Osama bin Laden. The Democrat also kept his 2008 promise to bring the troops home and end the war in Iraq. He is also on track to bring the troops home from Afghanistan by 2014. The American people support both actions by wide margins.
The president has simultaneously increased the number of drone strikes against suspected foreign terrorists — killing enemies of the United States with precision without putting soldiers at risk.
He also managed the international response to the Libyan civil war last year, which prevented a humanitarian crisis and removed dictator Moammar Gadhafi from power.
Obama has avoided U.S. troops becoming entangled in the Arab Spring revolutions in Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia.
In many ways, Obama owes his presidency to foreign policy.
He was able to defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary by criticizing her support for the Iraq war.
He defeated John McCain in the 2008 general election by associating him with George W. Bush’s administration, which became wildly unpopular because of its handling of the war on terror.
As a governor and a businessman, Romney has dealt almost exclusively with domestic policy.
He arguably has the least international experience of any GOP presidential candidate of the last 25 years.
John McCain and Bob Dole both had a wealth of foreign policy experience from their careers in the U.S. Senate.
Even George W. Bush, when he first ran for president in 2000, cited his record as governor of Texas in dealing with Mexico.
And right now foreign policy is emerging as a potential major issue in this election.
Conflict in Syria is escalating. The terrorist attack on Israelis in Bulgaria and the new government in Egypt both present challenges.
The 2012 election appears to be unique in that foreign policy looks to be an advantage for Democrats — with Republicans seeking ways to reclaim a past strong point.
Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.