In the event that foreign policy is how you decide on who should be president, then Barack Obama is your man. He commanded Monday night’s debate with Mitt Romney and seemed confident of his facts (even when they were wrong) and certain that Romney lacked the expertise and experience to challenge him.
If, however you choose a president by honestly alone, then you have a tough time ahead of you. Both candidates lied.
Obama might have been the more egregious of the two. He strongly suggested that he had America take the lead in Libya, organizing the air campaign that brought down Moammar Gaddafi. In fact, the French took the lead and the United States followed, which gave rise the phrase “leading from behind” — an indictable offense, if you ask me. Obama also suggested that Gaddafi was some sort of American enemy when actually Washington had cut a deal with the Libyan strongman and then-secretary of state Condoleezza Rice had met with him in 2008.
Obama also implied that he had not sought an agreement with Iraq that would have kept U.S. troops in that country. He answered a flat “no” when Romney suggested he had sought such an agreement. He had, but the Iraqi government would not play along.
As for Romney, as he has in the past, he insisted that he did not propose that Detroit’s automakers go bankrupt and work their way back to solvency without government help. The record shows that Romney endorsed that approach — a bad political plan, never mind its purported economic virtues. Then, too, Romney repeated the canard about Obama making “an apology tour” of the Middle East. T’aint so, Mitt — and by now you should know it.
But on foreign policy, the overall topic of the night, Obama prevailed. All Romney could do is essentially agree with Obama — with some amendments. It seemed that he was determined to bend over backward not to seem like the foreign-policy hawk some of his advisers would like him to be. His rhetoric on Iran was muted and, while he would be somewhat bolder on Syria, favoring heavy weapons for the rebels, he eschewed a no-fly zone or, it goes without saying, more aggressive measures. By bipartisan agreement, this war will continue.
For Romney, caution was clearly the byword. He has closed with Obama in the polls, and the last thing he needs is to rattle the electorate by ratting some sabers. That will not close the gap with women voters.
The result, though, was that he could draw few distinctions to Obama on almost any foreign policy issue. The night went to the president — but given the esoteric nature of the subject, election day may be a different story.