I was excited when debate moderator Bob Schieffer asked the candidates what should America's role in the world be, a question I thought needed to be asked and answered.
Romney answered that he believes we need to promote our ideals -- elections, human rights, freedom. That's a good thought but superficial. When do we promote our ideals? When does doing so interfere with the sovereignty of other nations? And is that ok anyway? Do our national interests have to be at stake?
At least that's an answer. Obama, in contrast, did not answer the question at all. In response, he said we ended the war in Iraq, refocused on our alliances, and then America's role in the world must be to ... "start rebuilding America."
Not only that, but Romney has promoted "wrong and reckless policies." How could he not answer the question whatsoever? There seems to be no more important question than what are a president's general foreign policy principles. And Obama could not say that he has any foreign policy principles.
All in all, I think this response is representative of Obama's general approach to this evening. While he was more polished than either of the previous two debates, I think, he didn't answer some important questions, resorting instead to petty attacks against Romney.
As my friend Dan said while we were live blogging, this debate will likely have zero effect. But if it has any effect, I think, the momentum will go to Romney. Speaking of my co-bloggers, here are there thoughts as well. Their bios are all available on our live-blog of the debate.
Ian Johnson: This debate was largely an indecisive draw. Romney, logically, wanted to play cautious, given his lack of credentials on foreign policy and his current momentum in the race. Obama hoped to show that Romney had few policy differences from himself, and perhaps suggest that Romney was a warmonger or aggressive. Romney did in fact fail to put much space between himself and the president, but I don't think that there will be much in terms of fallout.
Dan O'Toole may provide more thoughts, but in short: "Romney wins. Obama has come off as childish, smug, and petty."
Jeremy Grunert: I think that Obama edged out Romney by a narrow margin – not due to any significant gaffes on Romney’s part, nor on any particularly substantive successes on his own. Obama simply soundedmore confident. Romney also did not do himself any favors by frequently mirroring Obama’s positions, but trying to say that he would do things “better” or “be stronger,” etc. Romney also committed a major blunder by not challenging Obama directly on Libya. Romney might have been scared off by his (unfair) humiliation at the hands of Candy Crowley in the last debate, but without a strong push from Romney, Obama was essentially let off the hook for the significant intelligence failures that preceded the Libya attack, his Administration’s failure to get its story straight on whether or not the attack was terrorism (rather than a spontaneous demonstration related to the “Innocence of Muslims” video), and the significant post-attack hindrances to on-the-ground investigation in Libya.
In terms of the actual policies explicated by the two candidates, we didn’t really see anything new here tonight. If anything was surprising, it was the shear similarity of the candidate’s positions: on Syria, on drones, on Iran, even on aspects of Afghanistan policy and China. The major disagreements and arguments of this “foreign policy” debate were all centered on the candidates domestic policies: the economy, education, and the auto-bailout. Still, Romney successfully came across as fairly moderate and thoughtful. A big meme on the left has been Romney-as-warmonger: someone who will start a war with Iran and plunge the nation back into conflict. This debate alleviated that fear, without completely dispelling the possibility of military action. Romney also closed very strongly: his characterization of America as the “hope of the earth” echoed Reagan and his personal appeal to voters was fairly powerful.
Stay Tuned for thoughts from other bloggers (directly on the live-blog site).