On October 22 the two presidential candidates, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, sat down with moderator, Bob Schieffer of CBS News, to debate foreign policy. With Tinker Air Force Base close by and a huge job provider in Oklahoma City and Midwest City, foreign military policy is important to many Oklahoma residents.
The first question of the evening asked about Libya and if the attack on the consulate in Benghazi is an example of a foreign policy that is unraveling. Romney was the first to answer the question, and he replied that the Arab Spring of 2011 brought much hope for freedom and democracy in the Muslim nations of the world. However, there have been disturbing events in nation after nation. Syria is killing its own citizens. Our US consulate was attacked in Libya. Northern Mali has been taken over by Al Qaeda. The Egypt has a president who is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Romney stated that the US cannot kill our way out of this mess. Al Qaeda is not on the run. Iran is four years closer to having a nuclear weapon. The US needs to develop a comprehensive strategy to counter Muslim extremism.
Obama responded that his first job is to keep America safe. Troops have been pulled out of Iraq, and the strategy is being refocused on the people who masterminded September 11. The core leadership of Al Qaeda is decimated. The Afghans are taking responsibility for their own security. In Libya “I” took leadership to organize an alliance without putting American boots on the ground. The Libyan people stand with the US. Romney’s strategy is not to keep America safe or take advantage of the opportunities in the Middle East.
Romney rebutted by saying that his strategy is to go after the “bad guys” and “take them out”. The key pathway is to get the Muslim world to reject extremism on its own. The four steps of Romney’s plan are to aid economic development in the Middle East with foreign aid, promote education, gender equality, and the rule of law. He wants progress throughout the Middle East.
Obama then responded that a few months ago Romney said that Russia was the biggest threat to the United States. He reminded Romney that the Cold War has been over for 20 years and said that the 80s called and they want their foreign policy back. Romney said that he wanted more troops in Iraq. His opinions are wrong. Romney still believes we should have gone into Iraq in the first place. Romney’s positions in Afghanistan are confusing. Obama stated that what the country needs is strong, steady leadership.
Romney replied that Obama is not being accurate about what Romney’s positions have been. He stated that attacking him will not solve the problems in the Middle East. Russia is a geopolitical foe. Iran is the greatest risk to national security. After the election Putin will get less flexibility and more backbone. He then criticized Obama for failing to institute a status of forces agreement with the Iraqis.
Obama stated that troops on the ground in Iraq are not a recipe to take advantage and meet the challenges in the Middle East. Obama laid out his plan that we need other countries to support our counter terrorism efforts, we will stand by Israeli security, we will protect religious minorities and women, we will develop economic capabilities of these nations, and the US cannot do nation building in the Middle East.
The second part to the initial question posed by Schieffer was if the US should reassess the policy in Syria. Obama responded that the US has organized the international community to say that Assad must go and sanctions are being imposed. We will provide humanitarian assistance to the moderate forces that are fighting the Assad regime. The Syrians must determine their own future. The US will do what can be done to help the opposition. However, we must know who we are helping. Obama is confident that Assad’s days are numbered.
Romney responded that Syria is a humanitarian disaster. It is a strategic nation because they are Iran’s only ally in the region and they are a route for Iran to get to the sea and to supply arms to Hezbollah. Romney wants the regime to be replaced by a responsible government, and he does not want US military involvement. He also does not want arms to fall into the wrong hands. Assad must go, and the US must make a friendship with the replacement government. The UN involvement did not work. The US must lead in this situation.
Obama stated that the US is leading. We have organized the Friends of Syria and provided humanitarian support for the opposition. We stopped the massacre in Libya and made sure Qaddafi did not stay. We wanted to make sure that Qaddafi did not remain in power.
Romney was then asked if he would support no fly zones over Syria. He replied that he does not want military involvement in Syria. We want a friendly government and the opposition to Assad to be armed. He wants our partners in the region to have sufficient resources. He also stated that the Syrian insurgents are not organized and need arms.
Obama pointed out that Romney’s ideas are not different from the administration’s because the US is doing what needs to be done. Schaefer then asked if Obama regretted that Mubarak was ousted in Egypt. He said no because Egypt needed a democracy. Now Egypt has a responsibility to protect religious minorities and women. They must also abide by their treaty with Israel and cooperate on counter terrorism. The Egyptian young people want opportunities like young people in the US. America must develop our economy, energy and education to be successful in the Middle East.
Romney rebutted by saying that he supported Obama, but he should have worked more with our friends in the region for more moderate governments. The United States’ mission needs to be world peace. For the US to promote peace it must be strong with a strong economy. The national debt is a large security threat. A strong military and strong allies are essential. We must stand by our principles. Romney also pointed out that nowhere in the world is our influence greater than it was four years ago.