Milbank: Few differences on foreign policy
WASHINGTON — Tell us, President Obama, about your foreign policy.
“We’ve got to make sure that we reduce our deficit … by cutting out spending we don’t need but also asking the wealthiest to pay a little bit more. That way we can invest in the research and technology that’s always kept us at the cutting edge.”
Thank you, Mr. President. And your foreign policy, Governor Romney?
“I know what it takes to create 12 million new jobs and rising take-home pay. … We’re going to do it by taking full advantage of oil, coal, gas, nuclear and our renewables.”
Obama spoke of the domestic auto industry. Romney spoke of teachers unions. Obama spoke of education funding. Romney spoke of small businesses. Obama spoke of tax deductions. Romney spoke of Medicaid.
“Let me get back to foreign policy,” moderator Bob Schieffer proposed at one point during the exchange. It was, after all, supposed to be the all-foreign-policy debate, 90Êminutes chock full of international affairs.
“Well — ” Romney protested.
“Can I just get back — ” the courtly Schieffer persisted.
“Well, I need to speak a moment if you’ll let me, Bob, just about education.”
Schieffer surrendered. “OK.”
There was a problem with having this last of three presidential debates focus on the candidates’ clashing worldviews. For all the smoke and heat, there isn’t much difference between the Obama and Romney foreign policies in most key areas. On Israel: “I want to underscore the same point the president made, which is that if I’m president of the United States, when I’m president of the United States, we will stand with Israel,” Romney said, concurring with Obama.
On opposing Hosni Mubarak in Egypt: “I felt the same as the president did,” Romney affirmed.
On drone warfare: “I support that entirely and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology,” the challenger asserted.
Obama, in turn, was pleased to observe that “Governor Romney agrees with the steps that we’re taking” on Iran.
This is not to say they didn’t quarrel about matters overseas. There is such a palpable dislike between Romney and Obama, and they are locked in such a tight race, that they could fill 90 minutes bickering about the weather.
Obama was the more aggressive candidate Monday night, glaring at his opponent. “You seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.”
The president suggested that “every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong,” and chided Romney for regarding military spending as a “game of ‘Battleship’” because of the Republican’s criticism that the Navy has fewer ships than it had in 1916. “Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets,” the president needled. Romney’s approach was more of a balance: He had the head of a neocon (many of his advisers are hawkish veterans of the Bush-Cheney years) but the body of a realist on foreign policy. At one point he would give a chest-thumping lecture about how “it’s essential for a president to show strength from the very beginning,” but would then get to a reality with more nuance: “I don’t want to have our military involved in — in Syria … at this stage.”
Romney embraced the neocon view of bending the world to American wishes, creating “civil societies” and promising to show Russia’s Vladimir Putin “more backbone.”
But the repeated efforts by both men to return to domestic disputes made clear their acceptance that the contest, now a dead heat, is not about the world.
Romney informed viewers about his college scholarship program in Massachusetts.
“That happened before you came into office,” Obama retorted.
“That was actually mine,” Romney insisted.
“I want to try to shift it,” Schieffer pleaded, “because we have heard some of this in the other debates.”
Viewers would hear it again on Monday night. Romney spoke of his balanced budgets in Massachusetts. Obama complained about Romney’s faulty budget math and accused him of undermining the auto industry.
“I was born in Detroit,” Romney protested. “My dad was head of a car company. I like American cars.” The car lover then shifted topics — back to education. “I love teachers,” he said. “I was a governor. The federal government didn’t hire our teachers. But I love teachers.”
The thwarted Schieffer brought the foreign policy debate to a close. “I think we all love teachers,” he said.
Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post whose work appears Mondays and Fridays. Email him at email@example.com.
Rules for posting comments
Comments posted below are from readers. In no way do they represent the view of Oahu Publishing Inc. or this newspaper. This is a public forum.
Comments may be monitored for inappropriate content but the newspaper is under no obligation to do so. Comment posters are solely responsible under the Communications Decency Act for comments posted on this Web site. Oahu Publishing Inc. is not liable for messages from third parties.
IP and email addresses of persons who post are not treated as confidential records and will be disclosed in response to valid legal process.
Do not post:
- Potentially libelous statements or damaging innuendo.
- Obscene, explicit, or racist language.
- Copyrighted materials of any sort without the express permission of the copyright holder.
- Personal attacks, insults or threats.
- The use of another person's real name to disguise your identity.
- Comments unrelated to the story.
If you believe that a commenter has not followed these guidelines, please click the FLAG icon below the comment.