23 October 2012

Was there a foreign policy debate?

Morning after analysis suggests that the President cleaned his challenger's clock at their final debate, but the proof of that will be if Republicans concede the point as quickly as Democrats did Obama's failure in the first round. The theme for the third round was foreign policy, but in substance it seems to have been a debate on military spending more than anything else. On this subject Romney apparently made his preference clear: he would cut nearly everything else from the federal budget but spend more on the military; he would choose guns over butter. The decisive moment came, for those who judge these contests by their zingers and gotchas, when the President noted Romney's failure to distinguish quality from quantity. The Republican had complained that the U.S. Navy had fewer ships than it did nearly a century ago. The incumbent answered that the military as a whole also had fewer horses and bayonets, making a point any Republican should have appreciated about innovation encouraging economy so that the country can do quite well with fewer naval vessels than it had in 1917. But I'm sure there are big Republican donors who depend on military contracts, so the usual imperative of efficiency goes out the window.

Romney was also characterized as being repeatedly cornered into endorsing Obama policies, conceding that sanctions on Iran, for instance, had been effective in stalling the Islamic Republic's alleged nuclear weapons program. The Man From Bain was reduced to the usual chauvinist grumbling against Obama's supposed proclivity toward "apologizing" for American conduct abroad. His best line in this line was his remark that it was not dictating to other countries to remove their dictators. The line is a lie, of course, but at least you can see some aspiration to cleverness in it. Overall, a foreign-policy debate between Democrats and Republicans is more a matter of attitude than a meaningful difference in policy. The basic contrast is between a Republican arrogance that demands affirmation of American moral superiority from the entire world and a Democratic diplomacy that tries to refrain from adding insult to injury while applying the boot just as vigorously. The absence of a real anti-interventionist alternative, whether from the "anti-imperialist" left or the "isolationist" right, renders the third encounter of the major-party candidate the lamest excuse for an actual debate of the three. As ever, the media and the people have only themselves to blame for that. 

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