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Conflict in the Middle East: Benefit or detriment for Obama? (+video)

The latest surveys of likely voters show President Barack Obama pulling ahead. But Republicans and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney may have an opportunity to cast doubt on Obama's foreign policy as unrest rises in the Middle East.

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A poll released on Tuesday showed Obama up 4 points in Ohio, one of the top three battleground states.

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MIDDLE EAST CLOUDS GATHER

With the home front reasonably stable for him, Obama now has one eye on the Middle East as Republicans accuse him of weakness in the face of protests at US diplomatic missions over a film many Muslims consider blasphemous.

The region has a history of upsetting US presidential races as in 1980 when the Iran hostage crisis played a part in the defeat of Democratic President Jimmy Carter.

Although the current crisis is nowhere near as serious, demonstrators attacked the US embassies in Yemen and Egypt on Thursday and American warships headed toward Libya after the US ambassador there was killed in related violence.

Obama appeared to slip up by saying that Egypt, which receives $1.3 billion a year in military assistance from the United States, is not an ally.

"I don't think that we would consider them an ally, but we don't consider them an enemy," Obama told Spanish-language network Telemundo on Wednesday.

Former election opponent McCain appeared on a series of morning television shows to accuse Obama of lacking resolve.

"The fact is the United States in the Middle East is weak," the senator told MSNBC. "We are seen as withdrawing, and we are paying a price for that weakness, whether it be unraveling in Iraq, the tragedy in Syria, the tensions with Israel, the Afghan situation unraveling. There is a lack of leadership there."

Obama vowed that those responsible for killing the ambassador in Libya and three other Americans would be brought to justice.

"No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America," Obama told an audience of 8,400 in Golden, Colorado.

Romney was accused earlier this week of being too hasty to criticize the president in the middle of a foreign crisis, as well as giving wrong information about the Obama administration's reaction to the storming of the embassy in Egypt.

He recalibrated his argument against Obama on Thursday, stopping short of repeating charges that Obama is apologizing to America's enemies.

"As we watch the world today, sometimes it seems that we're at the mercy of events, instead of shaping events, and a strong America is essential to shape events," he told supporters at a rally in Fairfax, a Washington suburb.

Although foreign policy dominated headlines this week, the Federal Reserve's decision to launch another aggressive stimulus program on Thursday presented a further opportunity for Romney to return the presidential campaign to economic issues, long considered the former private equity executive's strong suit.

Additional reporting by Margaret Chabourn in Washington, Steve Holland in Fairfax, Virginia, and Andy Sullivan in Golden, Colorado; editing by Alistair Bell and Mohammad Zargham.

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