Who Won the Presidential Debate Tonight: A Look at Which Candidate Had the Best Global Strategy

The third and final debate is over, and all everyone will be talking about is "who won?" Both candidates spoke well, looked presidential, and made no serious gaffes. To some, this means that they both "won," or scored numerous "points."

But we as a society should be looking closely at the words both candidates were saying and less at how they were saying them. Obama cautioned against arming Syrian rebels, whereas Romney signaled he would be in favor of such a move. American voters, with two wars in the Middle East fresh on their minds, must decide if the risk to be drawn into a third war in the region is something they feel is worth it.

Romney showed us that his presidency will feature an increase in military spending, while Obama would prefer to spend those funds on improving our underfunded education system, our crumbling infrastructure, and our ailing healthcare. Americans must ask where our priorities should lie in a time of less-than-robust economic growth. 

Romney threatened to label China a currency manipulator on the first day of his presidency, which runs the serious risk of starting a trade war with one of our largest trading partners. Obama has shied away from such overt moves, but has worked to contain China with diplomacy and a military shift to the Pacific theater. How should this play with Americans weary of foreign entanglements?

Romney enjoyed talking tough on Iran at times, but also endorsed Obama’s policy decisions to step up sanctions against the Iranian regime. Obama has consistently relied on diplomatic solutions, but never shying from the military option if absolutely necessary. Americans must decide which path they prefer: effective international sanctions or a dangerous military option that threatens to raise oil prices and puts our armed forces and allies in harms’ way.

Romney endorsed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Romney’s close friend, who spoke of the importance of delineating a “red line” that Iran cannot cross in achieving its nuclear ambitions. To do so would surely bind us to a military effort with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Obama, on the other hand, spoke of his deep devotion to Israel and the great meaning he takes from its inception, but cautioned against premature military strikes against it’s regional opponent, Iran. Once again, Americans must decide how ready they are to rush to war again.

Neither candidate "won," but they both made clear their foreign policy agenda for the next four years. Romney, while perhaps not favoring war, would make decisions that would lead us down a path of belligerence and antagonism. Obama, for his part, seemed to take a conservative approach to foreign policy. He seemed to emphasize domestic spending over engaging in foreign wars, and spoke with an air of prudence and forethought. It does not matter who “won” this debate, but it will matter whose global strategy will prevail come November.