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Weekly Kos: A foreign policy debate lacking disagreement

Published: October 26, 2012
Section: Opinions


I am a politics and policy junkie. I know each tax bracket, appreciate the differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney’s positions versus their party’s platforms and I can name every senator. But the final presidential debate, last night in Boca Raton, Fla., concerned foreign affairs.

This is the closest I’m going to get to the rest of us, who fortunately do not share the disease that is politics-obsession. I like domestic affairs: health care, taxes, budgeting and spending, with a bit of education and a heap of social issues all stewing in Washington, D.C. Being able to name the crown heads and ministers of Europe would never prepare me for this debate, and so I came into it with about as open-minded a view, compared to most of the viewing public and especially those last few undecided voters among us, as possible.

Foreign affairs, as even I know, has been consumed as of late by the tragedy in Libya on Sept. 11 and the Obama administration’s response in its wake. Mitt Romney suffered a live-TV instant fact check last week when he brought it up, but last night’s coverage drew a more evenhanded picture.

The gist of Libya is this: All Americans mourn the loss of Ambassador Chris Stevens and our other fellow countrymen. But the Republican attack that Obama officials have tried to obfuscate the cause is unfounded. Obama has both blamed violence in the wake of the anti-Islam video and called it a terrorist attack. That the GOP has refused to consider the possibility that both of these things could be true was Romney’s mistake in the last debate.

On Monday night, he avoided such embarrassment, which was good for those of us supporting the president: the bravado with which he boasted his role as commander-in-chief was too much. He has verged too close to the charges of lack of patriotism that liberals faced after criticizing former President George Bush. It is perfectly legitimate for Romney to ask questions about the Libya attack, without him being accused of “politicizing a tragedy.”

So last night did not include the too-zealous Democratic attacks either. Indeed, the major takeaway from last night is just how much the two parties agree.

In Syria, Romney basically prescribed joint action with allies in the region, dialogue with other world powers outside the region and a stance calling for President Assad’s regime to end immediately. This is exactly what Obama has done.

On Iran, both men sounded the same tune. While Romney has traditionally taken the hard-line position, last night Obama reminded the world that “the clock is ticking” on Iran’s supposedly disbanded nuclear program. The instruments both men were sounding were the drums of war. Both men are hoping we never get to that point, but feel they must declare themselves willing to act.

On China, put aside Romney’s threat to label them a currency manipulator, both presidential candidates are calling for increased engagement. Obama, even as his campaign has called Romney’s worries about China’s dominance overblown, has taken many steps, right before the election, to appear “tough” on our biggest trading partner. Obama challenged them in the World Trade Organization a few weeks ago, and last night touted his push for ending a supposed Chinese advantage in the market for tires. A president named Romney would have taken the same steps.

And finally, both Obama and Romney embarrassed themselves, and the nation, by practically prostrating themselves before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. If the debate portrayed how few differences lay between the two party leaders, once the discussion leaves our shoreline, it is Israeli affairs that were the pinnacle of the sorry exercise. The great number of Jews in the Boca Raton audience may have had something to do with it, but if I were an undecided voter just tuning in last night I would have been forced into the notion that Israel can do no wrong, and that Netanyahu’s recent warmongering with Iran are anything other than dangerous. And most dreadful of all: 15 minutes of touting Israel as America’s greatest ally, a dodged question on a possible Bibi strike on Iran, and nothing whatsoever about the people or rightful future nation of Palestine.

Remember when Israel-talk at debates was about the conflict with the Palestinians? Last night they were abandoned, and as with so much, by both men and parties. Which brings us to the second part of the one-two punch a voter got from last night’s debate, that the Palestinians weren’t alone in being ignored.
Neither man mentioned global warming or international climate issues at all. Neither man mentioned North Korea, fresh with a new diminutive dictator and their own not-so-new nuclear program. There was no mention at all, other than a slap at Greece again from Romney, about the biggest near-term threat to the United States, a collapse of the global financial system by a crisis in the euro currency zone. In fact the only continent mentioned last night was South America. Asia had only China to represent it and there was no discussion of non-Middle East Africa.

So much for a debate on foreign policy. And as for what was said, “I agree” was probably the most popular phrase out of each man’s mouth, so much for a debate at all.