The consensus in the main stream news media is that Obama won the debate on foreign policy, but that Romney did okay.
The view that Romney held his own neglects the fact that Mitt once again repudiated 24 months worth of speeches and position papers to list to the center. He accused Obama of projecting weakness abroad and yet ended up saying he’d do exactly what the President has done. At certain points, Romney was incoherent in response to Obama’s articulate and respectful chiding.
Whoever wins the election, Obama’s line about Romney’s idea of increasing our battleships will go down as one of the greatest of all debate putdowns. Here is the most extended version of it:
“You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines…And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships. It’s what are our capabilities.”
While demurring from the mainstream view that Romney did okay enough to help himself, I want to consider the excuse that some like Cokie Roberts gave for Romney: a sitting president has an enormous advantage over the challenger when it comes to foreign policy.
It sounds reasonable until you actually examine the evidence. Even after four years as president, Bush II had no more experience in foreign policy than Kerry. The same for Bob Dole and President Clinton; the same for Walter Mondale and President Reagan. While challenger Clinton’s and Reagan’s foreign policy credentials couldn’t compare to the incumbents, they articulated easy-to-understand global visions and voters hated the policies of the incumbents, Bush I and Jimmy Carter, respectively.
In short, lack of foreign policy experience is not an excuse for Romney, but a flaw in his candidacy that voters should and will weigh when deciding for whom to cast their vote.
At least the inexperienced Clinton and Reagan offered voters a choice, each in his own way. By contrast, Romney offers nothing different in substance or action from Obama. Mitt’s only difference on foreign policy is one of style. Instead of speaking softly and carrying a big stick—yet another way in which Barack Obama resembles past Republicans, Mitt would propose we thrust our horns out, snort, kick the earth a few times and plunge into that China shop.
As many Democratic, liberal and progressive candidates, office holders and pundits have already recommended, perhaps we should judge Romney by the advisors he has retained. About two-thirds are former Bush II officials and the main guys all advocated or helped to plan or wage the disastrous Iraq war. Romney himself has now flipped and flopped on every foreign policy issue; and on many of them he flipped and flopped in the third debate. Maybe instead of believing that Mitt has settled in the center, we should instead assume that he will listen to his neo-con advisors. The guys who brought us an expensive goalless war, torture, diminished respect among our allies and the hatred of many in the Moslem world
We can’t afford to give Romney the chance to put the neo-con warmongers back in charge.