The third and final presidential debate took place last night in Boca Raton, Florida. Thank the heavens because I am sick of this election. I am all for making well-informed decisions but there is literally not one undecided voter in any spin room on any network that is actually articulating well what they need to hear.
My personal frustrations aside, this debate was anticipated as a foreign policy wonk Super Bowl. However, we nerds did worry it would turn into a domestic policy shouting match ... and it certainly did for a while. I was disappointed with much of the debate from a foreign policy perspective, but given the economy and Americans' general malaise with the topic, I was not surprised.
Bob Schieffer. No one spelled his name correctly on Twitter and he completely lost control of the candidates. I think we can all agree, despite whatever ridiculous conspiracy theories were drummed up about venerable journalists, Martha Raddatz or Candy Crowley would have handled to flow of the debate much better. I actually have quite a bit of respect for him, in front of whom television pundits look like ridiculous children. There should have been more intervention and fewer interruptions in topics but Scheiffer's line to Romney, addressing the request for more time just felt like a much-needed velvet hammer: "I think we all love teachers." "Obama Bin Laden," though, really?
Climate change. How do you have a foreign policy discussion without bringing up one of the most pressing issues on the planet? The scientific evidence is damning, climate change does exist whether you like it or not. We are literally one of the only places on Earth, you know that planet we share with almost 200 other countries, that has any doubt of climate change. It is a fact that people want clean air, water, and food as well cheaper and more efficient energy. There is no way that happens without taking measures to stem climate change.
The euro zone. The only, indirect, mention of the euro zone crisis came from Mitt Romney in the form of a scare tactic, saying the U.S. is well on its way to becoming Greece. It is true that according to economists, if we do not reach a debt deal unemployment will rise, but not to the astronomical 25% level of Greece. It is also true that we need to raise the debt ceiling as a stop gap measure. Think about who in Congress blocked or is blocking both those measures.
Drones. For both candidates to appear so hawkish was disheartening to say the least. Obama, unlike Romney, did keep that point of view throughout the debate. Schieffer unfortunately did not push the president on the legality of drones and Obama did not answer very clearly either.
Romney. On Syria, "As I indicated, our objectives are to replace Assad and to have in place a new government which is friendly to us, a responsible government, if possible." Regarding Pakistan, "But we do need to make sure that as we — as we send support for them, that this is tied to them making progress on — on matters that would lead them to becoming a civil society." One of the highlights of the Middle East comments portends to a bigger issue: Romney's tone and choice of words harkened to an almost colonialist view towards the region. Yes, there is violence, but it is a dangerous view to think imposing American values on another country will make them more civilized.
On Afghanistan: A new policy was apparently rolled out by Romney — and it mirrors the president's to pull troops out of Afghanistan by 2014. Neither candidate answered the question of what would be done post-2014. This comes after the vice presidential debate, and Ryan's implication that more American troops needed to be sent to the frontlines in the eastern part of the country.
On Israel: Somewhere in Tel Aviv Bibi Netanyahu is feverishly demanding construction paper, markers, and a bowl to trace in the shape of a clock. Apology tour? Really? It was the most tired of clichés used last night. Maybe it was an apology tour — saying sorry to the world for the Bush administration's jingoism and sometimes blatant disregard for international mores, culture, and laws. The facts do not support anything less than that.
Despite the hawkishness of not wanting to apologize for America, Romney threw the word peace around like a pageant contestant. It sounded like he did not have a clear vision.
Cartographers. Yes, mapmakers are making a comeback. Just when they thought all that change in Eastern Europe was their heyday, along came last night's debate. Maps are being re-charted as we speak to include Ohio and Detroit into China and Syria. Who knew Cleveland was so close to Mongolia? I hear it's beautiful this time of year. Also, how could we be so foolish to think Iran had a sea route? Mapmakers, make it land-locked please.
Middle East. The region dominated the portions of the debate that actually were foreign policy last night. Romney seemed to agree with Obama about his stance on Syria, but then also wanted to "arm the rebels." Libya was another hot topic and Schieffer jumped right into it with the first question. I declared this a winner because it appeared to be the region which sparked the most heated debate and if not setting the canddiates apart on policy, did set them apart in leadership and knowledge. Also, discussion of the region served to unveil.
North Mali. Who would have guessed North Mali and its terrorism problem would have gotten more mentions than Palestine?
Iran and China. Romney played the card that the Obama administration did not support the Green revolution. Obama claimed the 'crippling sanctions' were working.
Obama. The president won this debate. Romney let several attacks go unanswered. He appeared to not really know the subject matter very well. I have written it time again, foreign policy is complicated, intricate, and nuanced and Obama came across as the one who understood that the best. This is a common problem with foreign policy, incumbents have been there and done that. However, if Romney had taken a clear stance against any Obama policy instead of agreeing with him but "saying it louder" than maybe there would a comparison to make on that level.
Of course, there were two lines of the night. The parts of the debate which sealed it for Obama, not because it was a joke, not because of the tone of his voice. No, this was a turning point because it pointed to a far more important issue. Romney was not prepared, he was not clear in articulation or understanding last night. Decsions as commander in chief, as president, need to be made with a willingness to accept the ugly realities of the world. He has two weeks to make up for it.