Debate Night in America: When a Foreign Policy Debate Just Isn’t
Canada. Mexico. Cuba. Brazil. Tunisia. Jordan. Lebanon. Turkey. The Palestinians. The European Union. Kosovo. India. Burma. Japan. Vietnam. Indonesia.
These are the names of various nations (or supranational organisations) critical to the foreign policy interests of the United States that those tuning into last night’s debate did not hear about. Or, at least not in any substantive way.
The reasons for this were essentially two-fold. First, the illusion of a free exchange of ideas pertaining to international affairs lasted around ten minutes, when after a fumbling exchange on Libya, both candidates retreated to zingers and talking points. President Obama started it off, in fact, with this:
Governor Romney, I’m glad that you recognize that al-Qaida’s a threat because a few months ago when you were asked, what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia — not al-Qaida, you said Russia. And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.
But, Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s. You say that you’re not interested in duplicating what happened in Iraq, but just a few weeks ago you said you think we should have more troops in Iraq right now.
Romney, later in the debate, cracked open the following canned attack:
Our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We’re now down to 285. We’re headed down to the — to the low 200s if we go through with sequestration. That’s unacceptable to me. I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy.
Our Air Force is older and smaller than any time since it was founded in 1947. We’ve changed for the first time since FDR. We — since FDR we had the — we’ve always had the strategy of saying we could fight in two conflicts at once. Now we’re changing to one conflict.
To which, Obama said this:
Second, at times thanks to the sub-par moderation of Bob Schieffer, the debate derailed multiple times throughout the course of the evening to the extent that lengthy exchanges contained no mention of foreign policy whatsoever. At around the half an hour mark, Schieffer asked the pointless question, “What do each of you see as our role in the world?” (almost as bad a question as Lehrer’s, “What is the role of the federal government?”) which gave Obama and Romney free rein to give their standard, pre-fabricated responses.
It was during this back and forth that the discussion turned not to hard power v soft power, or the Asia-Pacific pivot, but the ins and outs of the Massachusetts education system and whether Romney likes teachers. And this topic didn’t just come up once — it repeated on us at the end of the debate. “But I love teachers,” Romney said. “I think we all love teachers”, Schieffer responded. It’s enough to make you heave.
Anyway, Americans who favour the course foreign policy has taken over the past two presidencies need not worry, since things aren’t going to change in any substantive way whatever the outcome of the election. Obama and Romney have the exact same policies, or as near as makes no difference, on Syria, Libya, Iran, and Israel, the only topics discussed in any great detail. If you care about other continents or regions like Europe, Central and South America, sub-Saharan Africa, the Indian sub-continent, or south-east Asia, I’m afraid I can’t help you.
Some other things I observed:
Romney should mention how the Desert Mounted Corps was essential to General Allenby’s liberation of Palestine during WW1 #debate— Liam Hoare (@lahoare) October 23, 2012
Someone needs to mention either the nuclear duck and/or the insatiable crocodile of militant Islam to complete the set #debate— Liam Hoare (@lahoare) October 23, 2012
Ugh— Liam Hoare (@lahoare) October 23, 2012
That last one pretty much sums it all up…