Republican Mitt Romney entered Monday night’s debate on foreign policy with the goal of presenting himself as a competent, plausible alternative to President Obama as commander in chief.
But Romney appeared to cede many positions to Obama, moving closer to the president on a range of issues and presenting them in a softer way.
[...] “I’m glad that Governor Romney agrees with the steps that we’re taking,” Obama said at one point. “There have been times, Governor, frankly, during the course of this campaign, where it sounded like you thought that you’d do the same things we did, but you’d say them louder and somehow that would make a difference.”
One of any number of zingers that President Obama got off during the night and this time, he inflicted wounds on his opponent, rather than stand back and let Mitt swallow his own foot.
The foreign policy debates are the most difficult for both the candidates and the audiences.
Yes. Audiences. I’ll get back to that in a moment.
Foreign policy requires a deep understanding of issues that concern other nations as well as the interdependent interplay between nations that most of us don’t even pay attention to.
Which is why Romney’s comments on Iran are deeply troubling:
Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea.
The question was posed to Romney on how he would pay for his proposed $2 trillion increase in military spending, and he flat out didn’t answer it. He was busy finishing his previous answer. So by the time it was the president’s turn, Obama actually said, “You should have answered the question.”
Obama then asserted that the United States spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined. That’s a great attention grabber. By the time Romney finally answered, he simply said we needed a stronger military, and the Navy needs more ships because it has fewer ships than it did in 1916.
But Obama countered with the most memorable line of the night. “We also have fewer horses and bayonets.” Obama’s debating point was that the nature of our military has changed. He continued by saying that the U.S. has things like submarines and aircraft carriers that should suffice, and reminded viewers that the nation needed to study what its threats are and put money into things like cybersecurity and space. Obama said that the military neither wants nor has asked for this extra $2 trillion.This was terrible for Romney for three reasons. First, it was the original area of real disagreement, and Romney couldn’t afford to be bested. Second, no matter what he may actually know, Romney looked like a neophyte when it comes to military spending, as though he were repeating old Republican talking points. Viewers could be left unsure whether he knew what century this is.
And finally, it’s two freaking trillion dollars! They both talked about the budget deficit and the need to balance the budget, and over three debates, this — $2 trillion on military spending — was the biggest difference on offer. Axing Big Bird would net a President Romney next to nothing in savings, but adding $2 trillion to defense sounded excessive, especially if it’s true that the U.S. already spends more than the next 10 countries combined. Point Obama.
Sorry for the extended quote, but Graham’s point was excellent, which brings me to the nub of this post.
Foreign policy debates always speak to two audiences: the voters, and the world. Most nations can safely ignore the town hall and economic debates (China and our trading partners have some vested interest, but…)
Foreign policy lays out a candidate’s vision of the world, and its future. If a challenger can be seen as a credible President, it will help nations like China and Russia– and Iran– figure out how best to deal with him or her.
You have to speak both diplomacy outwardly but inwardly speak to the American people about strength and security. Obama has an huge advantage. He’s a known quantity on the world stage. He can speak more to the American people if he so chooses, knowing that his actions already speak for him. He can even bully Iran a little, given that he’s lined up Russia and China, both reluctantly, behind him.