"No matter what you criticize him on, he can say, 'I got bin Laden,' " said Marc Thiessen, a former Bush speechwriter. "In the world of 30-second sound bites, there is a very good case to be made against Obama's foreign policy, but he has a very good talking point."
Despite compiling a lengthy terrorist body count, Obama still has not laid out a clear policy on detention, interrogation and how the government will prosecute terrorists. The prison in Guantanamo Bay will remain open and there's no indication that there will be a plan for dealing with the prisoners, many of whom have been cleared for release since the Bush administration.
Part of the challenge for Republicans is that the president has an advantage on national security issues by virtue of his daily interaction with world leaders and his access to the nation's most sensitive intelligence. During the 2004 presidential debate, when Kerry criticized Bush's collaboration with other world leaders, Bush countered, portraying Kerry as an armchair quarterback.
"I know how these people think," Bush said. "I deal with them all the time. I sit down with the world leaders frequently and talk to them on the phone frequently."
Today, that advantage goes to Obama.
At the same time, the GOP field — made up primarily of current and former governors — starts from a position of disadvantage, collectively having little foreign policy experience.
Voters also have grown tired of the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, making it harder for any other foreign policy message to resonate.
"It's really reflective of where the voters are more than anything else," said Fratto.
Still, in the end, whoever is president in 2013 will face a number of foreign policy challenges, such as how to respond to Chinese cyber attacks and how to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons — issues that were touched on only briefly Saturday.
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