Etch-a-Sketching Middle East policy
In pre-debate discussion on CurrentTV last night, former Vice President Al Gore speculated that Mitt Romney would need to avoid the pitfall of “too much endless war.” I wrote in my notes that “R will prob know how to avoid that one.”
Did he ever.
Whether Romney knew how best to avoid the pitfall of recommending endless war might be questioned. But he knew enough to sidestep it over and over. I lost count of the number of times Romney endorsed President Obama’s actions and policies, particularly in regard to the Middle East.
Once again, C-Span came through for the public. Watching the debate on C-Span gave viewers something no other channel offered–a split-screen view of both candidates while each was speaking. Thus one could see, for example, Romney looking sick when moderator Bob Schieffer asked the president about Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. The question was whether the president had any regrets about calling for Mubarak to step down. The answer was a firm no. Apparently Romney thought the answer was a good one; he responded to the Mubarak question by quickly saying that he had supported the president on Egypt.
Romney didn’t look a whole lot more robust when Obama discussed American policy in regard to previous conflict in Libya–including the fact that Libya was previously governed by long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Does any GOP candidate even remember Gaddafi? Do any of the chicken-hawks eager to inflame tensions around the world–particularly in dangerous situations–even recall that Gaddafi was removed on the president’s watch, to U.S. advantage as well as to the advantage of his own people, without American boots on the ground?
For that matter, do any of the Republicans running for national office remember that a series of dictators has fallen in the last four years? Where was the mention of a string of collapsed dictators, when Romney attempted to rattle off a stump-speech litany of administration failures?
To his credit, Romney began on a conciliatory note by saying, “I congratulate him” [Obama] on getting Osama bin Laden.
Romney also did not mistakenly mix up Osama bin Laden’s name with President Obama’s. Every little bit helps. Romney even went on to say, “but we can’t kill our way out of this mess”–making two people on his ticket (as of this writing) going for non-military-intervention in hot spots, for a total of four on the two national tickets. No saying how the rabid right wing of his party will receive the message, but at least he stuck with it through the course of the debate.
As mentioned, Romney’s statements often paralleled the president’s or paralleled administration policy. Romney voluntarily brought up the U.N. (Those words should probably be highlighted and bold-faced in red.) He expressed a desire to “help the Muslim world.” He spoke favorably of policy recommendations from a group of scholars. He referred to “economic development.” He voluntarily brought up “foreign aid.”
Where was this Romney during the Republican debates of the campaign season?
When the president said firmly, in response to Schieffer’s question about Syria, that Syrians have to determine their own future but that the administration is organizing the international community, working to isolate the dictator and to support the opposition–without military intervention and without providing arms that might later be turned against the U.S.–Romney had no rebuttal. No counter-offer. No specifics. But he, too, to do him justice, said clearly that “we don’t want to get drawn into a military conflict” in Syria.
Romney, in short, agreed with Obama on Egypt, on Syria, on the Muslim world and its youth, on engaging in commerce, on supporting education around the world, on supporting women’s rights around the world–and on Pakistan and Afghanistan.
That last might be the big item. After repeatedly criticizing the White House for even wishing to get out of Afghanistan, the Republican presidential nominee came through with a key policy endorsement in the clutch: “we’re gonna be finished [in Afghanistan] by 2014,” Romney said. He said it more than once, too: the troops will be “out by 2014.”
More bold red highlighting needed. In response to questions from Schieffer about Pakistan, Romney even went so far as to say, “I don’t blame the administration” for going into Pakistan (without permission). “We had to go in there,” Romney said, if we were going to get bin Laden.
Even in regard to China, Romney’s policy suggestions parallel those of the administration. With a lot of tough talk about Chinese piracy, hacking, and currency manipulation, Romney still had this to offer: “China can be our partner.” Since no Republican candidate wants a ‘trade war’, he pretty much had to say it. It still left him in a vulnerable position, politically; as Obama mentioned–speaking of trade–“You ship jobs overseas.”
More on some of the domestic-policy talk that derailed the foreign policy debate, later. For now a slight plug for Current TV. Current TV made the mistake of the decade firing Keith Olbermann. It made itself look petty and feeble. It lost ratings. It may tank financially. But it did offer an entertaining gimmick with the candidate debates: Viewers can read tweets on the debate scrolling below the screen while watching the debate. This has its downside, of course. One gets a microscopic up-close-and-personal look at some right-wing ignorance.
Furthermore, the tweets are selected by someone behind the scenes at CurrentTV. When I helpfully tweeted Current, during the second presidential debate, that sound problems were distorting the president’s voice, the tweet did not appear. The sound problems seem to have been corrected, though by that time I had switched to C-Span.
Back to the tweets last night–they were helpful on Romney’s oral mistakes; for example, Romney mixed up ‘Iraq’ and ‘Iran’ more than once, etc. Although I don’t recall anyone picking up on Romney’s remarkable claim that “The economy is not stronger” (than four years ago), tweets were alive with Romney misstatements. Even with GOP spinsters horning in, Obama won the tweets column.
Farther down and later on, one could sense big guns getting alarmed at President Obama’s strong performance in contrast to Romney’s feeble one. Karl Rove and Ann Coulter took a valuable minute out of their busy schedules to tweet a diss of the president. The cavalry appears over the top of the hill.
They got some help from an odd source: For some reason the otherwise astute Eliot Spitzer, Olbermann’s replacement, keeps preaching from the text that ‘the economy’ is ‘Romney’s issue’. ‘The economy’? Romney’s issue? After the mortgage-derivatives crisis? With Romney’s background? This from a man who as New York’s Attorney General went after the bad guys on Wall Street?
Politics makes strange bedfellows, as they say. It also makes strange theory-weddings.