Last night, the third and final Presidential Debate was held in Boca Raton, Florida. The ostensible subject was Foreign Policy, though the subject often was directed back towards domestic policy in general and the Economy specifically. In the sometimes humble opinion of this would-be writer, this is right and proper. While Foreign Policy is not to be ignored, it simply is not of the utmost concern on voters minds. A Foreign Policy must go hand in hand with a Domestic Policy, and the two should be coherent together. We have seen what happens when a Domestic Policy is seemingly created in a vacuum, with not much consideration given to the repercussions of a certain Foreign Policy. Waging war is sometimes necessary, but always expensive. We have been at war for eleven years and in that time, we have seen the domestic policies of two different Presidents both completely ignore the economic cost of war. So, it was not really outside the scope of the debate to discuss federal Spending, the Budget, and the Deficit.
I still haven’t seen the final thirty minutes of the debate, so all I can report on is the first sixty minutes… but my guess is that the last third was simply more of the same. here is my take on the evening:
Romney came into the debate with the following “Must-Do’s”:
- Project the confidence and surety required to be a (and realistically, the) World Leader
- Showcase the strategic understanding required to be our Commander in Chief
- Demonstrate the firm grasp of the world’s current geo-political climate required to fight for America’s interests
- Be a reasonable and acceptable replacement for the current President
In the sixty minutes I watched, Romney did all four.
To be a credible Republican candidate for President, a person finds they have a wide range of foreign policy philosophies to choose from. Republicans and non-Republican Right-minded folks have extolled such a wide range of foreign policy beliefs, that it is probably difficult for a candidate to nail down a coherent policy. From the Neo-Conservative Nation Building of George W. Bush to the Old Guard Hawkism of John McCain to the Isolationist views of Pat Buchanan to the (distinction without a difference) Non-Interventionist beliefs of Ron Paul… we on the Right approach foreign policy from quite a variety of angles.
For his part, Romney appears to be more drawn to a Reaganesque “Peace through Strength” model of foreign policy. The central tenet of Reagan’s foreign policy was: Create the world’s strongest and most able military fighting force, but do everything humanly possible to never deploy them. Romney has latched onto that way of thinking.
According to my own admittedly non-expert analysis, a return to Reaganesque Peace through Strength seems to be a logical and wise shift in our foreign policy. Obama’s current foreign policy is something of a mess. he has been unable to balance the pragmatic necessities of American leadership in the World with his Party’s (and his own) far-left wing personal beliefs about America’s place in the world. The result has been a confusing and mixed loosely-termed ‘policy’.
Romney provided a contrast for President Obama’s clear belief that America can lead from behind. But he did so without coming across cavalier and cowboyish (much to the dismay of Obama, who clearly was hoping that Romney would sound like the Return of Bush… which he most certainly did not).
The world is volatile and in foreign affairs, situations can change in the blink of an eye. This requires a certain amount of flexibility… but it does not negate the need for a consistent, coherent overall Foreign Policy direction. While I can’t predict the future (and I share in Romney’s disdain for hypotheticals), it seems to me that Romney is striking the right tone for our time. 2012 may not be 1980. But it also is not 2002 or 2008. What I mean is that the specific tactical application of Reagan’s foreign policy do not mesh with our current situations. But neither do our tactics immediately following 9/11 or even Obama’s immediate tactics following Bush’s tenure. The world has changed drastically yet again, and it is time for a new vision and understanding of America’s role. That being said, the strategic elements of Peace through Strength would likely serve us well.
Romney forewent the easy route of personal attacks on the President due to his crumbling foreign policy. Instead he presented himself as solid, committed, calm, rational and, well… Presidential. In my book, that gives him the ‘win’.
First, I will address the substance of what I saw in the president’s debate performance.
OK, now that that’s done, I will move on to…
I kid, I kid… but only slightly.
President Obama came to the debate ready to do battle with George W. Bush, but later found out his opponent was Mitt Romney. Republican consensus has moved slightly away from neo-conservatism and seems to be settling on a more Reaganesque approach… with a good measure of limiting intervention thrown in. Mitt Romney came to the debate presenting the new Republican consensus and it made Obama’s performance seem off and odd.
The President devoted much of his time to offering snarky put-downs of Romney and glib assessments of Romney’s positions. Romney’s refusal to respond in kind made President Obama looks small and less Presidential. It’s a pattern of snide combativeness that the president copied from his Second Debate performance. It seemed even more out of place in the setting of a somber and serious Foreign Policy discussion than it did in the town hall format. Curious it is that the President’s team thought it to be a winning strategy, when it’s deployment in the second debate did not slow Romney’s national momentum at all (and in fact possibly increased it).
When it comes to military action, Obama is the true successor of Bush’s policies in every conceivable way. Obama’s killer drone fetish is probably something we would have seen in a third Bush term. Likewise, our combat mission in Iraq was on it’s (ultimately unaltered) course of wrapping up. And Bush would surely have adopted some kind of Surge strategy for Afghanistan as Obama did. President George W. Bush would have left the Guantanamo Bay facility open and operating, just as Obama has done.
But there are many other things that Obama has done and overseen that are incompatible with the Bush Doctrine that he half-followed. It’s as though Obama sometimes wore a WWBD bracelet (What Would Bush Do?) and other times he wore a WWCD one (What Would Carter Do?).
He simply could not balance what needed to be done in the War on terrorism with his own brand of anti-colonialism America-Lastness.
So, as Romney pointed out, we stick a knife in the back of our ally, Mubarak, while ignoring the Iranian public uprising against Ahmadinejad. We intervene to allow Al Queda- backed Lybian rebels to murder a murderous Gadaffi, but we turn a blind eye to Assad slaughtering his people in Syria. It’s an inconsistent policy, and it weakens us.
Obama also has the unfortunate tendency to conflate any recent American successes on the World Stage with himself. He seems to think that, “Only Obama could kill Osama”. He truly seems to believe that with the power of his presence, he has changed the World for the better. This is not the way a President thinks. It’s the way a self-obsessed egoist does.
Two men walked onto the stage in Boca.
Only one of them acted like a President.
Unfortunately, his name was not Barack Obama.