Monday, October 22, 2012

The Third Debate: Lacking a Foreign Policy Vision

The foreign policy debate is tonight. Bob Schieffer's got the moderator's chair.

I generally like Schieffer's calm demeanor (he's kind of got a twinkle in his eye, like he's enjoying the small humors of life), but his questions tonight are too open-ended (a la Jim Lehrer) rather than pointed (a la Martha Raddatz).

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During the first half hour my conclusion is that there are very few substantive differences between Obama and Romney on foreign affairs. 

It's amazing how the 2004 election was so focused on foreign policy (Iraq, in particular), and this year the rest of the world is basically an afterthought. It's all about the economy.

To that end: on Schieffer's question just now about America's proper role in the world, both candidates went way off course in order to emphasize domestic policy differences.  I'm reading The Economist's live blog, and one of the writers there just posted "This debate is like the non sequitur Olympics."

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I have read several articles criticizing Obama for his lack of leadership in formulating a coherent response to the Arab Spring, and my sense from this debate is that neither Obama or Romney is a great foreign policy thinker.

They both speak in generalities, without a coherent underlying vision. They both seem reactive rather than proactive on Iran, Libya, and Syria. 

I give Obama credit for ending the war in Iraq, but the surge in Afghanistan remains one of the biggest mistakes of his Presidency, and perhaps his decision on the surge stemmed from his reactivity -- his unwillingness to get in-front of public opinion on Afghanistan.

I think that John Kerry, Bob Dole, Bill Clinton, and even John McCain (among others) would out-perform either Obama or Romney in this debate.

I guess that it's a good thing -- given the times -- that both Romney and Obama like to think about economic and domestic policy, but I wish that they had more clarity on foreign affairs as well.

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My takeaway, after the first 65 minutes of this debate: It's not going to swing the momentum of the race one way or the other. 

There simply are not significant differences between the two candidates' policies, and both of them are doing fine on the "optics" (neither seems as hyped up as they were for the town hall, which makes for a more relaxing viewing experience!).

Martha Raddatz gets my vote as the best of the four moderators.

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