President Barack Obama’s surprise trip to Afghanistan on the first anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden is the latest indication that foreign policy and national security issues will matter this election year, even if most political analysts predict that the economy will be the central issue in the U.S. presidential campaign.
While in Afghanistan, the president signed a long-term security agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and met with U.S. troops at Bagram Air Field. And, in a televised address, Obama spoke about winding down the U.S. military commitment in Afghanistan.
"I will not keep Americans in harm's way a single day longer than is absolutely required for our national security," the president said. "But we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan and end this war responsibly."
To highlight the one-year anniversary of bin Laden's death, the Obama presidential campaign released a video recalling the decision to go after the al-Qaida leader and the tense moments that followed.
“He took the harder and the more honorable path,” former U.S. President Bill Clinton said in the video.
The Obama campaign also raised the issue of whether the president's expected Republican opponent in November, Mitt Romney, would have approved the bin Laden raid - based on a 2007 comment he made questioning the resources devoted to the manhunt.
Romney appeared in New York City on the bin Laden anniversary with former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
"Of course I would have ordered taking out Osama bin Laden, of course," he said. "This is a person who had done terrible harm to America."
President Obama gets high marks from the public for his handling of foreign policy and that's why Romney is likely to keep hammering away at the president’s economic record.
“We need a president who understands the power of free enterprise because he’s lived it," Romney said. "And I have, and I will, and I’ll make sure that that is part of our future.”
The Obama-Romney race is shaping up as close, says Ken Duberstein, former chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan.
“If this is a referendum on the American economy, Governor Romney has a good shot of being elected president of the United States," he said. "If this is a referendum on the Republican Party and Governor Romney, President Obama has a decent chance of being re-elected.”
Romney is already shifting his focus away from conservatives to winning over moderates in November.
“I think the fundamental issue is whether Governor Romney will define the Republican Party or will the far right define Governor Romney,” Duberstein said.
With the election six months away, the president has a slight lead over Romney in most public opinion polls.