Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has applied the Etch A Sketch strategy of switching from a hard line right wing approach during the nominating process to a more centrist view during the fall campaign to foreign policy, and it completely backfired on him in last night’s third and final presidential debate at Boca Raton, FL.
After almost four years as commander-in-chief, President Barack Obama has an enormous foreign policy experience advantage over Romney, and he made full use of it. Fully in command of the material and on stage, Obama came across as strong, decisive, comfortable, forceful and aggressive. Romney, by contrast, afraid to come across as an overzealous advocate of military action, was nervous and defensive.
While Romney had previously campaigned pushing the Republican lie that Obama has made the U.S. appear weak on the world stage, he wound up agreeing with Obama on such major foreign policy matters as taking out Obama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders, supporting the opposition in Syria, withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2014, supporting Israel, using economic sanctions against Iran, dropping support for Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and using drones in Pakistan.
Romney’s previous foreign policy differences, combined with his flip-flops during the debate, gave Obama openings in which he said, “I know that you haven’t been in a position to execute foreign policy, but every time you’ve offered a position, you’ve been wrong” and “What we need to do with respect to the Middle East is strong, steady leadership — not wrong and reckless leadership that is all over the map.”
With Romney largely agreeing with Obama over foreign policy, their biggest difference was Romney’s proposed $2 trillion increase in military spending. Romney still failed to explain how he would pay for it. Obama said that the military neither wants nor has asked for this extra $2 trillion, and pointed out that the U.S. spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined.
Romney then accused Obama of supporting policies that undermine the nation’s military preparedness. “Our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917 and our Air Force is older and smaller than at any time since it was founded in 1947,” he said.
In a devastating response, Obama said that Romney “maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works.
“You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916,” he said. “Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military has changed. The Navy now has these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them, as well as ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. The question is not a game of ‘Battleship,’ where we’re counting ships — it’s what are our capabilities?”
At times the debate veered off from foreign policy issues, but Romney failed to make any headway in that regard. And when Romney, whose Bain Capital firm has engaged in large scale offshoring, brought up the trade imbalance and jobs being shipped overseas, Obama responded, “Well, Gov. Romney’s right, you are familiar with jobs being shipped overseas because you invested in companies that were shipping jobs overseas.”
Once again, Obama looked presidential. Romney, exposed for being the unprincipled opportunist that he is, looked like he was in over his head.