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“If Gov. Romney is suggesting that we should start another war, he should say so,” he said.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Mr. Obama’s approval rating on foreign policy took a measurable hit during the recent protests that saw American flags desecrated and U.S. embassies stormed in several Middle Eastern cities.

The poll, conducted between Sept. 12 and 16 — at the height of the American news media’s coverage of the protests — found 49 percent approval of the president’s performance of foreign affairs and 46 percent disapproval. Compared with a month earlier, the new numbers showed a 5 percent drop in approval and 6 percent jump in disapproval.

The coming weeks will show the possible impact on specific voting blocs, such as Jewish voters in Florida. Mr. Obama enjoyed a 69 percent to 25 percent lead among such voters in an American Jewish Committee survey just before the riots purportedly in response to a film made in the U.S. that denigrates Muhammad, Islam’s prophet.

While the latest Gallup polling data shows Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney running neck-and-neck with about 47 percent support each among all registered voters, the latest Rasmussen Reports data shows Mr. Obama with a 1-point lead across swing states.

Foreign policy and national security will likely get pushed from the spotlight by the first debate, on Oct. 3, which is slated to focus exclusively on domestic issues. But debates later in the month will focus on foreign policy.

The foreign policy and national security advantage that the Obama administration built — killing Osama bin Laden, untangling the U.S. from Iraq and maintaining a ubiquitous drone war against al Qaeda — is not one to which Democrats are accustomed.

“Obama put the Democrats back on top politically in foreign policy for the first time since the end of the Roosevelt administration and the beginning of Truman,” says Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus and board senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Liberals and many centrists might agree. But, says Mr. Gelb, while the Obama administration hasn’t made any truly costly foreign-policy mistakes, it ultimately has “no strategy, in general or in particular.”

The Republicans, he said, “have to look for new wedge issues, and they can’t let Obama walk away with the foreign-policy prize without being challenged.”

The catch, said Mr. Gelb, is that Mr. Romney’s campaign-trail jabs on foreign policy fall short of a truly deep and sustainable attack.

Mr. Romney has made headlines by “holding onto slogans” with rhetorical claims like “China is a currency manipulator” or “Russia is our biggest foe,” Mr. Gelb said. “That stuff doesn’t stick.”

The Romney camp, Mr. Gelb said, “would do better to go back to the real source of strength of Republicans on foreign policy, which is realism, real good hard-headed realism.”

“If Romney wanted to do this fairly and not based on trumped-up charges, he could talk about what’s going on in Asia with China and raise questions about what the president is doing there,” Mr. Gelb added. “But then he’s got to say what the president should do.

“But even then,” he said, “even if he did that, I don’t think it would have much effect on the public opinion polls.

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