As Obama succinctly put it tonight, Mitt Romney's foreign policy is Obama's foreign policy, but "louder." This fact left Romney grasping for straws, exasperated, while Obama seemed cool and in control, but passionate and proud.
First, it must be understood that foreign policy never diverges much between major presidential candidates. The fact is that foreign policy is designed by a cadre of technocratic experts trained at the same elite universities. This foreign policy establishment changes little when Democrats and Republicans hand over the White House and Congress to each other.
Romney's attempts to differentiate himself from Obama came off as lame, thin, or just plain questionable. The idea that Obama "projects weakness" and "apologizes for America" can't be taken seriously. There are plenty of words that can be describe a president who deploys military power abroad without Congressional advice and consent, as in Libya. There are plenty of words that can be describe a president who orders drone strikes on allied soil that have verifiably killed innocent children. And there are plenty of words that can be describe a president who maintains a "kill list" of assassination targets that have included U.S. citizens. But "weak" is not one I would choose. "Apologetic?" I wish.
The debate was a decisive loss for the American people, who were denied an opportunity for frank and ingenuous conversation about the truth of America's waning hegemony. But it was a slight victory for Obama as well. He embarrassed Governor Romney on the state of the military. The Governor claimed the US Navy has not been weaker since 1917 in terms of the number of active ships. A cutting Obama pointed out our stock of bayonets is also at an all-time-low, and taught Romney about these new-fangled "aircraft carriers."Obama turned Romney's mastery of numbers and data around on him, while at the same time reinforcing the popular perception that Romney is old-fashioned and doesn't "get" the times we're in. This "zinger" was by far the most memorable moment of the debate.
Romney attacked Obama on his committment to Israel, his impotence in dealing with Iran, and his mistakes in Benghazi. Romney is obviously and intelligent man, and his command of the issues was as much as anyone could expect from a businessman turned governor. But Obama has been the President of the United States for four years. His understanding of international relations and how they relate to life for ordinary Americans could not be matched, and Obama met Romney point for point. And I doubt that's a datum that is lost upon Mr. Romney.
Be sure to check out my live blog of the debate here.