Monday’s third and final presidential debate on foreign policy (with quite a bit of domestic issues sneaked in) demonstrated the difference between someone studied, practised in international affairs, and someone just trying to sound like they are. CBS News correspondent Bob Schieffer provided arguably the best moderation of the debate season, keeping the candidates to reasonable times, allowing appropriate responses, showing the candidates respect as well as commanding respect, and closing with both a joke and a wonderful nugget of advice from his mom: ‘Go vote. It makes you feel big and strong.’ The Urchins couldn’t agree more.
As I discussed yesterday, Romney’s performance at Monday’s debate illustrated both his ignorance and naivety about foreign policy. He erroneously claimed that the U.S. ‘Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917′ in an attempt to show that President Obama has weakened the U.S. military. The reality is that the U.S. actually has more ships than they did in 1917, the lowest point since 1917 was under George W. Bush, and as President Obama pointed out, Romney’s claim revealed a gross lack of critical understanding of U.S. national security and defense measures. As Commander in Chief, President Obama is fully aware of and versed in the needs and practises of the military, and has ensured they have had everything they need over the past four years. Then, Romney displayed a horrific geographical ineptitude when he claimed that Syria is Iran’s route to the sea. For a U.S. presidential candidate to make such a serious geographical gaffe about what he claims is the most important region in the world in terms of U.S. safety and affairs is downright terrifying.
Lastly, Romney and President Obama showed us the difference between talk and action. While Romney, in what was supposedly an attempt to appeal to women voters in Ohio, dropped the word ‘peace’ at every opportunity throughout the debate, President Obama is not only running on a history of peace-seeking (he opposed the war in Iraq as a senator, withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq, and has a clear and decisive plan to end the war in Afghanistan) but, through his description of his trip to Israel as a presidential candidate, showed the time, thought, and effort he has put into the responsibility of being a world leader.
As I watched Monday night’s presidential debate on foreign policy, I developed a blazing urge to challenge Mitt Romney to a game of Stratego. And then Risk. And then Settlers of Catan. And, to President Obama’s suggestion, Battleship. I feel I’ll have a very good chance to win every time. Of course, he’d do his best to distract me. He’d try to get me heated by bringing up arguments we’ve had in the past. And then he’d try to scrutinize and copy my strategies. Which, I suppose he’d be able to spin, is his original strategy. Maybe playing board games with Mitt Romney wouldn’t be so much fun after all. In fact, I hate the idea! Isn’t it amazing how quickly someone can change their mind?
The most important question of the Monday night debate has been largely overlooked by political pundits: What do you feel America’s role is in the world? Both candidates’ responses were unsurprisingly weak. Mitt Romney mentioned an obligation to spread democracy and freedom and then started talking about the economy. President Obama didn’t really answer the question at all. The failure of each candidate to provide a comprehensive answer isn’t surprising because this isn’t a question we often ask ourselves as a nation. What should we contribute to the world? Mitt Romney assumes that the United States has both the ability and the right to control what happens in other countries. His foreign policy appears to be based upon a John Wayne movie: kill the bad guys. (And Mitt Romney is no John Wayne.) While President Obama has killed the one big bad guy, Osama bin Laden, he is not simple-minded enough to think we can kill all the bad guys all over the world… or that we have the right to do so.
Bob Schieffer’s question should be given much more thought through public discourse. It is a very important discussion that deserves a more thoughtful answer than what Mitt Romney said in his closing statement: “This nation is the hope of the Earth.” When I look at America’s treatment of women in the workplace, healthcare, environmental destruction, and in many cases failing educational system, I can image many other nations that are qualified to be the hope of the earth. Woe betide any planet that sees America as its hope.