Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Obama-Romney Debate #3 Thoughts

I was tempted to rename this post "Obama-Obama Debate Thoughts" but I decided that would be just a tad too cheeky.  But seriously, this has to be one of the worst foreign policy debates I've ever seen, mostly for the reason that their was only one strategy available from both candidates:  Obama's.  Romney sure said a mouthful complaining about how Obama let Iran run rogue, how Syria has become a giant mess, and how Russia and China are challenging American supremacy around the globe.  However, when it came to actually explaining what he would do differently from Obama it turned out to be... well, nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Luckily for Romney he was able to stop parroting Obama and shifted a foreign-policy debate into yet another one about domestic issues, because there he actually seems to have a mind of his own.

Still, it sure was bizarre to see Obama's words coming out of Romney's mouth, especially when Romney spent about two minutes blatantly praising Obama's handling of the Afghan War.  I actually had some nerves about this debate, since Obama is not nearly as strong on foreign policy as the Democrats would believe, and if Romney actually had come with - I don't know - A PLAN OF HIS OWN, he might have been able to beat the President soundly tonight.  This has to be a truly sad moment for the Republican Party:  they're parroting the Democrats.  I'm something of a hawk, I accept this, and I was looking forward to some challenges to Obama's - at times wimpy - policy.  Like, Syria.  Mr. Romney, what exactly are going to do about Syria?  "Everything Obama just said he was doing but I'll somehow be more credible at it."  The best different Romney could offer was his plan to heavily rearm the military, based on absolutely nonsense figures about American military strength.  And then that argument got thoroughly destroyed by Barack Obama's retort about how we have aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines now instead of horses and bayonets.

All in all, this was by far the worst debate of the four.  In terms of the Presidential Race, I don't think it gave Obama the killing stroke he wanted, but Romney sure didn't end up looking like a President tonight.  But neither did Obama, oddly.  Quite a few of the questions were actively dodged, both sides gave extremely vague answers, and both candidates could not have looked more like politicians.  However, the difference here is that Obama has a foreign policy record, and built a narrative that Romney has no policy at all.  Well, Romney sure didn't do much to prove his integrity by jumping right behind his opponent's answers.  It, all in all, was probably the lowest point of the entire campaign, and frankly, I'm glad these debates are over.  Because once you've heard these guys repeat the same line of argument for the third or forth time, you start to feel very cynical about the entire thing.

I like to organize these posts be describing the substance of the arguments, and not really discussing who did what in terms of the debate points*.  As I've said before, most of the argumentation tonight was empty rhetoric, with Romney attacking Obama's record and then, when challenged to show what he would do as President, actively repeat Obama's own strategies.  So I'm pretty sure this discussion is going to be considerably shorter than the other posts:

Syria:  Mitt Romney described Syria as a "human-rights disaster" and pounded the President for spending a year mostly ignoring the issue and standing back away from the situation as it slowly degenerated.  Then when tasked with what sort of distinct policy he would create, Romney said he would not create a no-fly zone like in Libya, he would not use US force, was unclear about whether he would arm the rebels, and said that the US would somehow vaguely be leading the international community against Assad.  Which is Obama's plan.  Was there any kind of distinction at all?  Nope.  Well, Romney did use some very curious geography when he called Syria "Iran's path to the sea"**.  This is particularly frustrating for me because I was hoping that the Republicans would have a stronger position against Syria.  Instead they offered nothing.

Afghanistan:  In previous debates the Romney campaign has been somewhat critical of Barack Obama's handling of Afghanistan, particularly the 2014 withdrawal deadline.  Well, Romney actually backed away from that line of attack, and instead spent about two minutes praising Obama's handling of the War, and spoke with (largely undue) confidence that the situation would be stable in two years.  Now, Afghanistan is largely a mess right now, though its slowly improving, maybe.  The regime we've put in place, however, inspires no confidence in me or any other international observer.  So the conclusion I can draw here is that the United States is going to leave Afghanistan to fend for itself soon enough.  But at the very least, we can be glad that the Democrats and Republicans finally agree on something, even if they're probably both wrong.

Israel-Iran:  Romney went on the offensive with Obama's leadership and the failure of the administration to use the opportunity of the Green Revolution to overthrown Iran's regime.  He also repeated from previous debates that Iran is "four years closer to a nuclear weapon".  But when it came to substantive differences from the current strategy... you guessed it, he had nothing to offer.  Maybe he wanted a slightly tougher sanction, that's about it.  Both candidates pledged support to Israel in case of attack, Romney was especially evasive when asked about a hypothetical situation where Israel actually attacked Iran, it was not a shining moment for either campaign.  But for the most part, Obama has shown steady leadership and a cool head with Iran, and his strategy I believe is working.  Which doesn't do much to improve Romney narrative that the Obama administration is destroying American power around the globe.

Military Spending:  Finally I can talk about places where the campaigns differ.  Mitt Romney wants to spend another two trillion on the military, while Obama maintains that our current technological edge and spending is enough to keep us the premiere military power of the globe for decades.  And this led to my second-favorite lines of the night, when Obama sarcastically blasted Romney's idiotic argument that we're losing our naval and air edge.  The US Navy is the supreme force of the seas, and no other nation has any kind of fleet that could ever hope to challenge us, and our technological edge is only increasing.  Yeah, China recently commissioned an aircraft carrier... which was built off the shell of an old Soviet derelict, and could never hope to defeat even one Nimitz class carrier, let alone our current Gerald R. Ford class.  This is one place where we are quite secure, trust me.  Maybe Romney is hoping that a new militarization program will scare the Iranians, the Chinese, and the Russians into backing down?  Well, he had his chance to say that tonight - he didn't.

However, I must give the win to Obama for saying "we need to be thinking about space" in the framework of future military spending.  You know what that means right?  SPACE ARMADA.  WOOOOOOOOOO!!!

Russia:  Obama was very derisive of Romney's claim that the Russian Federation is now the biggest threat to the United States.  He even spoke my favorite line of the night:  "Romney has the foreign policy of the Eighties, the social policy of the Fifties, and the economic policy of the Twenties."  However, Romney is actually correct in that Russia has been a constantly throne in the international community's side when it comes to the Syrian Civil War, as they have not given up their support of Assad.  Russia has rebuilt itself as a great power, with a growing sphere of influence in Eurasia.  But I'll agree with Obama that Romney's stance on Russia is very Cold War - but I do love everything Eighties, so maybe it will be a nice retro hipster fashion for the next administration.

China:  Romney was very aggressive with Obama on the issue of China's currency, which sadly is an issue I cannot actually discuss because even I don't understand international monetary rates.  I did some research and economists seem to rather quietly agree that China is keeping its currency artificially low to keep its exports cheap.  But most Presidents have stayed quiet about this in order to keep China happy.  Lately the Yuan has begun to rise compared to the dollar, so the problem seems to be ironing itself out on its own.  Romney's aggressive stance might set off a trade war.  Both campaigns are rather aggressive against China, with Obama actually parroting the Romney campaign a bit by calling China "an adversary but also a potential partner", which is probably the most dismissive thing I've ever heard out of the President.  Considering the sheer weight of economic activity between China and the US, "potential partner" is one Hell of slap in the face.  I'm going to call all this to be empty rhetoric because I really doubt that either Romney or Obama would be so incredibly dumb as to challenge the Chinese economically.

Anyway, to conclude, Monday's debate was, again, a real low point for me.  I couldn't help but get the sense that Obama was trying too hard to create memes this week similar to "Romney Fires Big Bird" or "Binders Full of Women".  He was just a tad over-clever, but still very aggressive and quick to point out when Romney was plagiarizing his policies.  Romney, however, easily gave his worst debate performance yet, not because his arguments were particularly bad, but because he had no arguments at all.  Both campaigns seemed to run out of steam when it came to foreign policy and thus turned back to domestic issues, repeating the same lines from earlier debates.  I started to fade out at that point and read up on the Third Indochina War, so maybe I missed something important.

I'm still convinced to vote Obama.  However, the polls are now in a true dead heat and the pundits are loving the fact that the race is still competitive.  We very well might see Romney win this election.  And in terms of foreign policy, we can see that nothing different is going to happen.  So perhaps we Democrat-learning voters can make peace with a Romney Presidency.  I sure hope we don't need to cry again like I did in Eighth Grade when I learned that George W. Bush had beaten John Kerry.

And nobody what happens, I'm not moving to fucking Canada.  Every year people threaten to do it, nobody ever does.  I'm actually going to move to Australia if the Conservatives destroy America.  But that won't happen, will it?

* Curiously, I actually am a member of my college's Debate Club, and just got back from a tournament at Yale this weekend, so you'd think I'd be more interested in that sort of thing.  I'm not.  In fact, it makes me more sympathetic to these guys when they stumble on their words and forget a figure, or apparently forget the question mid-argument.  Because I can look down at my paper and take notes, because of the split-screen business, these guys have to stare at each other for an hour and a half so they look Presidential.  No wonder why the substance got lost and Romney forgot to come tonight with a case of his own.

** Iran has a path to the sea, its called the Persia Gulf.  They're a coastal nation.  However, Romney was correct that Syria was Iran's keystone in its support of Hamas and Hezbollah.


  1. You're welcome to come to Australia any time, Blue. Although, to be honest, the political situation down here isn't terribly inspiring either.

    1. But you guys are certainly better off in the event of a Zombie Apocalypse.

    2. I thought that Canada were better off in a Zombie Apocalypse?

    3. No, since Australia is so far from other countries, an outbreak elsewhere in the world would be of minimal threat to them. And if the outbreak happened in Australia, the zombies would have to contend with the Australian wildlife. You don't want to contend with the Australian wildlife.

    4. I'd actually head to the Central Asia Steppe. There are so few people there that the zombies wouldn't be able to mass in large numbers anyway - they'd be more interested in malls and places that are familiar to them. More importantly, the last thing you want to do in any zombie apocalypse is get bogged down or cornered, and its impossible to do that in the empty plains of Asia. Horses have plenty of fuel from the grassland, so you have virtually unlimited transportation. The zombies will never catch you.

      When the agriculturalists turn to zombies, always go pastoral. Just a tip folks.

    5. Well these have been some helpful tips. I chose Canada, because the larger cities are so spread out I wouldn't have to worry about large groups of walkers. Plus the cold would slow them down or out right kill them. If I can't get to Canada then the Mexico desert is my second option.