Monday night's presidential debate was about continuity, strengths, and differences.
With respect to continuity, President Obama and Governor Romney came out in agreement on a number of key issues. Neither wanted to intervene directly in Syria. Both committed to seeking a relationship with China that resembled a partnership rather than a rivalry. Both committed to the defense of Israel. Both reiterated their strong commitment to not allowing Iran to obtain a nuclear weapons. Both thought the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan should come to an end in 2014.
With respect to strengths, Governor Romney rightly highlighted that strength and leadership abroad rested on the internal strength of America at home, particularly of its economy. It should come as no surprise that Governor Romney, who entered Monday night's debate being somewhat vulnerable on matters of foreign and defense policy, would highlight a facet of American strength that just so happened to mirror his own: economics. His multiple point plans on energy policy, the budget, and job creation highlighted the relevancy of the economy even in a foreign policy debate. He did well here.
President Obama's strengths were reiterated, not revealed. He highlighted his commitment to hunting down Al-Qaeda, drawing down U.S. ground forces from the Middle East and strengthening U.S. alliances and international standing abroad were presented, articulated and defended consistently. He exposed the dubiousness of the charge that he had been too soft on Iran, too hard on Israel or had gone on an apology tour overseas. Perhaps most effective of all was his ability to paint Governor Romney as inconsistent on these issues while simultaneously projecting a personal image of calm and deliberate leadership.
While the disagreements between the two candidates were many, perhaps none were as striking as their understanding of the term "leadership." While neither candidate explicitly defined the term, one can decipher the outlines of their thoughts by the way they spoke of it. President Obama expressed a leadership that is cautious, quietly confident, accommodating and co-operative. Governor Romney expressed a leadership that is open, direct, forceful and decisive.
While some might claim the debate as a victory for the president, I would argue that if it was a victory it was a modest one.
Governor's Romney's opening remarks, of his belief that we could not "kill our way out" of our conflicts, and his closing statement, of his commitment to a "peace, a lasting peace," were presidential in form as well as in substance.