The final Presidential debate on Monday night presented the odd spectacle of challenger Mitt Romney conceding over and over that he fundamentally agreed with a whole host of President Obama-led foreign policy strategies, while moderator Bob Schieffer offered too many questions that were, as Romney put it, “hypotheticals” that both men brushed aside.
Obama and Romney essentially agreed on American approaches to dealing with Syria, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan; they agreed on drone strikes and “crippling sanctions” (apparently neither man can say “sanction” without noting that it should be really, really “crippling”) as well as presenting a united front with ally Israel. “He doesn’t have different ideas,” Obama observed at one point. Numerous times, Obama said various versions of “I’m glad Governor Romney agrees with my policies.” As Romney struggled to distinguish his positions, he said more than once that sanctions placed on Iran and some other countries needed to be “tightened,” to be “tighter” — he used every variation on the word “tight” possible without moving on to explain what that might mean, other than, as Obama said, “saying it louder” than the President did.
If you were looking for zingers, Obama provided all of them. To Romney’s charge that we have fewer ships in our Navy than at any time since 1916, Obama said, “Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed … And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships. It’s what are our capabilities.” Obama observed that Romney has “praised George Bush as a good economic steward and Dick Cheney as somebody who shows great wisdom and judgment.”
Romney was expected to attack the President’s response to the murderous Benghazi attack, but the issue was raised and dispatched with early on in the evening. At about the mid-way point, Romney started bringing the foreign policy debate back home, to continue the previous debates’ attacks on Obama’s domestic policies.
Romney was notably more centrist than he’s been in previous debates and on the campaign trail; this evening, he was playing the part of the Republican moderate rather than the warrior conservative. Which at times flummoxed the President, because it meant there was little to refute, other than Romney’s oft-repeated accusation that Obama conducted “an apology tour” of the world soon after his election. Did Romney and his advisors think there are still-undecided voters watching this evening who were going to be swayed by that old, nebulous charge? For his part, Obama repeated the phrase “all over the map” numerous times to characterize Romney’s earlier positions on foreign issues.
Moderator Schieffer will not receive the kind of criticism that was leveled at Candy Crowley after the last debate, because Schieffer did not intrude or interpret either man’s remarks. His weakness was in posing vague questions such as, “What if the prime minister of Israel called you on the phone and said, ‘Our bombers are on the way. We’re going to bomb Iran’?” Romney was correct in giving this the back of his hand: “Bob, let’s not go into hypotheticals of that nature,” he said, and then the two men just proceeded as though Schieffer wasn’t in the room.
That’s it. Those were the 2012 debates. Did you watch, or did you switch away to sports?