Next week, Americans begin the process of choosing a Republican nominee to face Barack Obama, the US president in the 2012 election.

"I just saw a survey of economic professors that teach economics 101 at leading universities, and they basically said that on the basis of their plans, all of these candidates would flunk economics 101, because they don't know what they are talking about. Their proposals are not very well thought out. It's all about creating an impression that a politician knows what he is talking about, knows what he is doing."

- Danny Schechter, author and filmmaker

It is just days to go before residents of Iowa go to the polls in what is known as a caucus vote. Over the course of the next few months, each state will have its say in choosing an eventual Republican presidential candidate.

Who are the frontrunners in the race? And what are the differences and similarities in their policies?

The key issue facing the six candidates before the January 3 poll has been the US's troubled economy. All the Republican hopefuls say that want to reduce taxes, create jobs and shrink the government, but they disagree on the details of how to achieve this.

Starker differences are on display about foreign policy. America's role in the world, the size of the military and where threats to future security lie have proved contentious.

There are three clear front runners in Iowa. Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, made a failed run for president in 2008, losing the nomination to John McCain.

Then there is the former speaker of the house of representatives, Newt Gingrich. He is perhaps best remembered for his role in the Republican victory in 1994 congressional elections.

And there is Texas congressman Ron Paul. He previously ran for president for the Libertarian party in 1988 and in 2008 he was also a candidate for the Republican nomination.

So where do the candidates stand on foreign and economic policies?

Inside Story: US 2012 discusses with guests: Jonathan Strong, a political reporter for Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper; Danny Schechter, an award-winning journalist, author and filmmaker; and John Feffer, from Foreign Policy in Focus

"There are a number of areas where all of the candidates, not just the top three agree, but all of them agree. To significantly curtail government regulation, for the financial sector, for the environment. Many of them want to do some kind of flat tax plan, to kind of reform the tax system…"

Jonathan Strong, a political reporter for Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper 

Source: Al Jazeera