I’ve got news; the US election race is close. Indeed, so tight that the polls cannot agree on whose winning: one day its Obama; the next Romney; whilst other sources simultaneously give dead heats. In plain english, these figures mean one thing – it’s all got too close for comfort for Obama and no one know actually knows who will be sitting in the White House come November 6th.
The expectation then of the third – and last – Presidential debate would be one of probing questions, heated and fiery exchanges and angry glances as each candidate hoped to find a chink in their opposition’s armor and thus win over the undecided electorate and swing some extra few votes their way. Even more so considering the election campaign is gearing into the home straight with less than 2 weeks left before election day. And that the main topic was the wide-ranging hot potato that is US foreign policy; fireworks were expected.
Alas, you would be surprised to find out this was not the case. Indeed, consensus, agreement and well…’the same’ seemed to be the buzz words that summed up the contest; it was more like an event of accordance rather than a debate.
Consensus, agreement and well…’the same’ seemed to be the buzz words that summed up the contest..
Indeed, Romney seemed to be reading from a Barack Obama handbook to international politics; he agreed that military presence in Syria would not be a wise move, that the US President had done well to prod Hosni Mubarak out of the Egyptian Presidency in 2011 – despite the “disturbing” elements (the Muslim Brotherhood) that have come its in wake – and the expansion of the drone programme in Pakistan and other Middle Eastern States; indeed, its more than likely that Romney would increase their use rather than lessen them. Even on Afghanistan there was a general consensus; despite some disagreement on when the best date to withdraw was.
It was only with regards to the rising tensions between Israel and Iran that Romney fully attacked the President believing the sanctions against the latter hadn’t gone far enough; “we’re four years closer to a nuclear Iran” Romney noted.
Romney also attacked the sized of the military under Obama claiming that the U.S. Navy was the smallest it has been since 1917; a remark Obama dealt with in jest replying “well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have ships that go underwater.” He added, “The question is not a game of Battleship where we’re counting ships.” Condescending, perhaps – and technically not true, considering the continued use of bayonets of US military guns meaning there are actually more in circulation now, but a good comeback nonetheless (and you would have to be a fool to not catch his drift).
Indeed, Obama never looked troubled; foreign affairs is considered one of his greatest strengthens – he is internationally heralded as a good statesman and has four years experience in the job. It’s strange that he has failed to bring it up previously in the campaign – especially as it essentially half-the-job. The after debate polls, from all sources, all clearly showed the commander-in-chief as the victor.
Yet, to say Romney ‘lost’ the debate would be foolish; he was widely unexpected to be defeated – considering very few US politicians, including those who run for presidents, have very little experience in anything but domestic affairs – foreign affairs is more on the job training than anything else. However, by appearing fairly centrist and in control – and, most importantly, by making it clear that he had no plans to lead the US into another war – his performance probably won him more voters than lost them by showing he can be a potential statesman.
However, by appearing fairly centrist and in control – and, most importantly, that he had no plans to lead the US into another war – Romney’s performance probably won him more voters than lost them by showing he can be a potential statesman.
Indeed, he avoided any of the diplomatic gaffes or land-mines that he has often walked into in the last year – such as calling the London 2012 Olympics organisation ‘disconcerting’, stating the economic difference between Israel and Palestine was based purely on culture and naming Russia as the US’s biggest geopolitical foe (only about 25 years too late on that one.)
Romney also dealt with the issue of Osama Bin Laden extremely well; congratulating the President in his opening speech on the killing of the US’s enemy number one – Obama’s trump card nullified in a second.
His one weakness though was his failure to question Obama where it mattered; the Benghazi attack in Libya as a prime example. Romney walked into a wall of his own making in the 2nd debate when discussing the issue when he asserted that the President had never named it as a terrorist attack; as it was quickly proved wrong by the adjudicator Candy Crowley. Romney helped Obama make a strength out of an expected weakness. He was also criticised of playing politics with the deaths of US citizens. No wonder that the incident got little mention then; Romney dodged the issue with the skills of bullet time Neo; as soon as it was asked, he quickly spoke about Mali, the Arab Spring, Syria, Egypt – anything vaguely geographically related, but no Libya.
Obama had no such trouble, calling Romney out on his Russia gaffe when he stated al-Qaeda was the US’s biggest global threat: “1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back”.
Nonetheless, the debate was all fairly safe; Europe and its financial crisis got no mention – a strange occurrence considering it remains one of the US’s greatest allies and arguably one of the three economic powerhouses of the world. South America was also shoved off the agenda. China, the US’s economic rival, got a glimpse, but nothing satisfactory. This was more the Middle East debate than anything else.
So will this debate matter then? Probably not. Foreign policy is low on the agenda for most Americans and, whilst Romney and Obama may differ greatly on domestic issues, it is far more different when it comes to foreign affairs. Liberal is not a term in US foreign policy with the US so keen to assert and maintain its hegemonic status over the world. It’s something both candidates portrayed and most US citizens want…the conclusion? No winners here then.