Mitt Romney and Barack Obama squared off in the final debate of the 2012 presidential campaign on Tuesday.

Romnesia as America’s foreign policy

October 26, 2012

President Barack Obama won Tuesday night’s debate because he was debating himself.

In a CBS News post-debate poll of undecided voters, Obama won 53 percent to 23 percent, and 24 percent said it was a tie. More importantly, Public Policy Polling says Obama won in 11 swing states and had a 15 point victory among independent voters. The same poll said Obama was ahead 51 to 45 percent in who those swing state voters would vote for now.

Part of the reason former Gov. Mitt Romney lost? He sounded just like Barack Obama. One of Romney’s best lines of the night was “attacking me is not an agenda.” Neither is just repeating what the other guy says.

On Osama Bin Laden — “We’re going to have to recognize that we have to do as the president has done.” On Afghanistan — “When I’m president, we’ll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014. … The surge has been successful, and the training program is proceeding at pace.” On drone attacks — “I support that entirely and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology and believe that we should continue to use it.” On Iran — “It’s absolutely the right thing to do to have crippling sanctions. I’d have put them in place earlier, but it’s good that we have them.”

On just about every major national security issue raised in this debate, both candidates’ plans were pretty much the same. Perhaps because Romney doesn’t have any experience in foreign policy, he thinks it’s OK to steal Obama’s ideas. It’s fine if the candidates can agree on these issues, but this chorus of ideas from Romney is a massive flip-flop.

On Osama Bin Laden, in 2007 — “I do not concur in the words of Barack Obama to enter an ally of ours.” On Afghanistan, in June of 2011 — “Announcing a withdrawal date was wrong. The Taliban may not have watches, but they do have calendars.” On drone attacks, in the very same debate — “We can’t kill our way out of this mess.” On Iran, two weeks ago — “I will not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran and will tighten the sanctions we currently have.”

It’s part of what Obama called “Romnesia” a few days ago. All politicians change their opinion on major issues; for instance, Obama did on gay marriage. It’s quite another thing to change your entire outlook on foreign policy and just copy the incumbent in a cynical ploy to try to appear presidential by not attacking.

Obama managed to attack and still look presidential. The most devastating blow Obama landed was on the subject of military spending. “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’s changed.”

That’s taking Romney to school on foreign policy. Clearly he needed to go.

Obama told the stories of his foreign policy. He talked of Peyton, a girl he met at a 9/11 memorial and how killing Bin Laden brought her closure. “When we do things like that, when we bring those who have harmed us to justice, that sends a message to the world, and it tells Peyton that we did not forget her father.” These kinds of results are much better than empty talk filled with flip-flops.

A president can’t let his foreign policy be dictated by the slightest shifts in the political winds. Allies won’t look kindly on a man who says one thing to one group (i.e. Republican primary voters) and a completely different thing to a different group (i.e. moderates and independents). Romney likes to talk about weakness and backbone. How about standing behind what you really believe?

A lot of pundits and polls say voters don’t think foreign policy matters. Obama’s performance in the debate on Monday showed that it does, and that one candidate has the best foreign policy. Even Mitt Romney agrees.

Photo: Sailors assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell watch the final 2012 Presidential Debate on the mess decks.

Photo credit: Declan Barnes, U.S. Navy

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared as an opinion column in The Maneater on October 26, 2012.