Bin Laden Death Bolsters Obama, Highlights 2012 GOP Field's Scant Foreign Policy Experience

Possible contender admits he's "probably not" ready to debate on foreign policy.

May 5, 2011— -- President Obama's gutsy decision to storm Osama bin Laden's hideout has bolstered his credentials as commander-in-chief, and underscored the lack of foreign policy experience in the field of Republican challengers trying to unseat him.

Roughly two years ago, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a veteran and war hero, attacked Obama's fitness for office by questioning his limited experience with foreign affairs.

"He does not understand the elements, the fundamental elements of national security and warfare," McCain said in 2008.

Now, as Obama seeks reelection, he hopes his record will prove otherwise, including a new START treaty with Russia, military intervention in Libya and a successfully executed secret mission to take out the world's most wanted man.

But few in the field of prospective candidates seeking to take Obama's job -- a mix of former governors, congressmen and businessmen -- have significant expertise in international affairs that can match.

None of the leading likely candidates for the Republican nomination has served in the U.S. military besides Rep. Ron Paul. And none has negotiated a foreign treaty or participated in high-level national security or diplomatic relations, besides former U.S. Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman.

While many have made trips to the Middle East to meet with U.S. troops and foreign allies -- and many of the former governors, including Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, can claim to have commanded their states' divisions of the National Guard -- they largely lack the hands-on experience some might say is required.

One indication of Obama's newfound credibility on foreign affairs was Indiana Gov. and possible GOP presidential contender Mitch Daniels' response to a question on whether he is ready to debate Obama on foreign policy: "probably not," he replied, according to the National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru.

Experts say bin Laden's death caps two years of military and diplomatic experience for Obama that may neutralize some of the attacks by Republicans heading into the 2012 campaign. But, they say, don't count Republicans out.

"It's less about foreign policy experience and more about temperament," Republican strategist Steve Lombardo said of what voters will be looking for. "While certainly the bin Laden killing boosts the president's popularity on the surface level, it's fairly ephemeral.

"I'm sure 2012 Republican candidates will get questions about how they'll handle circumstances like this, and their answers will highlight anyone who acts immaturely," he said. "But the election isn't going to be about that [foreign policy], it's going to be about the economy."

Moreover, Lombardo said, Obama's foreign policy victories won't stop Republican candidates from continuing to criticize the president for his response to the Egypt uprising, crisis in Libya and the war in Afghanistan.

Romney has accused Obama of being "unable to construct a foreign policy." Gingrich has slammed Obama for intervening in Libya, after he initially endorsed a no-fly zone. And Pawlenty accused the administration of bungling Egypt with messages that were "inconsistent, bordering on incoherent."

"A lot of people still see the Republican party as the party of the military, the party of expertise in international relations, and it's still the Democrats who have to prove their chops here," Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon said.

"The issue of foreign policy credentials could still dominate the debate if something massive happens in the months leading up to the election," he said, "but if things continue apace, even if there is more turmoil in the Middle East, then the economy is still going to eclipse foreign affairs."