Will International Crisis Drive the Debate Away from Economy?

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"What I am most struck by these last two years is the ability and willingness of President Obama, as well as Congressional Republicans (and even would-be presidential candidates to an extent), to separate foreign and domestic policy, largely agreeing on the former while fighting vigorously over the latter," said Michael O'Hanlon, director of research and senior fellow at Brookings. "I expect that will continue."

With North Korea and South Korea on high alert, Obama has the opportunity to show leadership on the international front. But his main focus should be to turn the dialogue toward the economy and project an optimistic outlook, as he did in Kokomo, Indiana Tuesday, experts say.

The White House is trying. The president's Thanksgiving message focused on the economy, with Obama calling on Republicans and Democrats to work together and "and start talking with one another."

"I think that his principle concern is domestic issues. That's what's going to get him elected or not elected in 2012," said Ross Baker, professor of political science at Rutgers University. "He has to tend to the rest of the world but there really isn't anything as important on the horizon in foreign policy or international relations as it is getting the unemployment rate down, and he knows that."

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