In Monday’s presidential debate, GOP contender Mitt Romney persistently avoided confronting President Obama on foreign policy issues, with both candidates agreeing on most fundamental issues.
Romney was put in a difficult position on Monday night’s foreign policy debate. As the Republican nominee for President, he was supposed to prove himself the more hawkish candidate. But Obama’s aggressive record on foreign policy left little room for Romney to appear to the right of him.
Unlike in previous debates, Romney avoided confrontation with Obama, while Obama this time was on the attack. While both candidates quibbled on the specifics, there was very little in the way of substantive differences in policy that was displayed.
One moment of minor controversy was Romney’s statement that Syria is Iran’s “route to the sea.” This was an embarrassing gaffe that most in the media ignored. Iran has its own routes to the sea, and doesn’t even border Syria, or have a naval presence in Syrian ports.
Obama at times tried to paint Romney as too hawkish, resembling the militarist George W. Bush. But the only accurate criticism Obama had of Romney was that he was “all over the map” on issues of foreign policy.
Obama accused Romney of flip-flopping. “Governor,” Obama said, “the problem is, is that on a whole range of issues, whether it’s the Middle East, whether it’s Afghanistan, whether it’s Iraq, whether it’s now Iran, you’ve been all over the map.”
“I’m pleased that you now are endorsing our policy of applying diplomatic pressure [on Iran] and potentially having bilateral discussions with the Iranians to end their nuclear program. But just a few years ago you said that’s something you’d never do.
“In the same way that you initially opposed a timetable in Afghanistan, now you’re for it, although it depends. In the same way that you say you would have ended the war in Iraq, but recently gave a speech saying that we should have 20,000 more folks in there. The same way that you said that it was mission creep to go after Gadhafi,” but later supported the Libyan war,” Obama said.
Indeed, it’s true: Romney has pivoted on all these issues, changing his tune when it suits him politically. But Obama was pivoting too.
On the issue of Iran, similar agreement between the candidates was forthcoming. Obama talked about preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power and bragged about the harsh economic sanctions his administration has imposed. Romney agreed, with the only difference being a ridiculous proposal to have Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad indicted for incitement of genocide, an absurd sideshow of an issue.
On Syria, Obama laid out his policy of aiding and indirectly arming the Syrian rebels, while working hard to avoid the US getting drawn into another ground war in the Middle East.
Romney agreed: “We don’t want to get drawn into a military conflict,” he said. “So the right course for us, is working through our partners and with our own resources, to identify responsible parties within Syria, organize them, bring them together…And then make sure they have the arms necessary to defend themselves. We do need to make sure that they don’t have arms that get into the wrong hands,” in a verbatim reiteration of the White House’s explanation of their policy.
Lastly, drone policy made an unexpected appearance in Monday night’s debate. When asked what was his position on President Obama’s use of drones, Romney said “I support that entirely, and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology, and believe that we should continue to use it, to continue to go after the people that represent a threat to this nation and to our friends.”
Much with regard to these issues was left out of the debate. While the sanctions on Iran were mentioned, it was not mentioned that the sanctions are mainly harming the Iranian people, with little effect on the regime. While aiding Syrian rebels were mentioned, it was not mentioned that the UN reports they have committed war crimes, and US intelligence says the bulk of them are tied with al-Qaeda. While drones were mentioned, the fact that they consistently kill civilians and drive al-Qaeda recruitment and are probably illegal, was not mentioned.