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Robert David SullivanOctober 22, 2012

Once again we are pleased to have debate analysis from Robert David Sullivan:

My quick analysis before diving into Twitter and the blogosphere:

Once again, Moderate Mitt made it through a presidential debate without getting unmasked or unmoored by President Barack Obama.

Romney used his closing statement to portray himself as the bipartisan, ready-to-deal political leader that Obama promised to be in 2008. He touted his success as a Republican governor in Massachusetts, “where the Legislature was 87 percent Democrat” – though he would have really shown his bipartisan bona fides if had said “Democratic” instead of the shortened term that the GOP uses to taunt the opposition.

Both candidates itched to talk about the economy throughout the debate, which was supposed to be about foreign policy. There was a long stretch in which they revisited the argument about Romney’s tax cut plan (and how he would pay for it), and the testiest exchange was about Obama’s use of government funds to successfully rescue the automobile industry. Romney seems to be sticking to the view that the industry could have gone through bankruptcy and come out the other side with government-guaranteed private loans (as opposed to direct assistance), but Obama ran out of time to pin him down. It’s moments like this that show why so many governors, as opposed to legislators with voting records, have ascended to the presidency in recent history. There must have been many times in this campaign where Obama wished he could say, “But you voted against [or for] it, Mr. Romney!” instead of referring to the Republican’s carefully worded speeches and op-ed columns.

Foreign policy was the main topic of discussion, and that topic rarely helps incumbents unless they’re hawkish (so they can say it’s too dangerous to change horses) or can portray their opponents as reckless (i.e., Barry Goldwater). Obama certainly showed his teeth as much as possible during the debate. He said that the killing of Osama Bin Laden brought “closure” to the victims of 9/11 (sounding very much like a law enforcement officer). Not surprisingly, he paid no tribute to former Democratic nominee George McGovern, a leader of the fight against the Vietnam War, who died over the weekend. But Obama’s chief argument was that the world has, to some degree, become safer and more stable under his watch. Whether this is true, it’s like arguing that crime has gone down; a big chunk of the electorate won’t believe it no matter what you say.

So Romney simply reassured nervous voters that they’re right to worry. He talked about “a very dramatic reversal in the hopes we had in that region,” referring to the Middle East but presumably hoping that voters would apply the statement to just about anything they found wanting with the Obama administration. “We’re four years closer to a nuclear Iran,” he fretted. Even when he agreed with the Obama – on toughening sanctions against Iran or America’s role in pushing Mubarek out of power in Egypt – he criticized the president for not moving fast enough, not showing enough resolve.

Moderate Mitt was careful to reassure voters that, as with his tax cut plan, his goals could be achieved without much of a price. “We should be playing the leadership role there,” he said of Syria, with a nanosecond pause before adding, “not on the ground with military.” Also speaking of Syria, he said, “Our objective is to replace [President] Assad … but I don’t want to see military involvement.” Obama’s best chance to prevail on foreign policy is to make Romney seem more likely to bog us down in another war -- something that’s not inconceivable given much of the Republican’s rhetoric and his campaign’s association with neo-conservatives from the George W. Bush administration – but he got few opportunities to try this argument tonight.

Instead, Obama criticized Romney for “being all over the map” (using this phrase at least three times) on foreign policy statements. He also stressed “nation-building” at home and repeatedly said that Romney would make cuts to education spending that would hurt our competitiveness in the world economy. Romney countered that the federal debt was a bigger problem.

Obama’s big zinger of the night was saying that Romney was pursuing “the foreign policy of the 1980s, the social policies of the 1950s, and the economic policies of the 1920s.” This was in reference to Romney’s tough talk on Russia, but older viewers might have been a touch nostalgic for the certainties of the Cold War.

Indeed, this was one of the narrowest debates on foreign policy that I can remember, compared with the days of the nuclear freeze movement, the fight against apartheid, and the civil wars in Nicaragua and other Latin American nations. Not only did the debate rarely stray from the Middle East, there was no discussion about human rights, global poverty, AIDS and other health concerns, climate change, or the economic development of Africa and other impoverished areas. There was very little about the United Nations and nothing about US funding of sex-education programs, as well as programs that provide for contraception and abortion in other nations.

Robert David Sullivan


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Stanley Kopacz
9 years 11 months ago
At least Obama called Romney on that stupid talking point about there being fewer ships than before WWI.  Ryan and Romney need to watch more scifi movies like "The Final Countdown".  You know, nuclear carrier with supersonic jets goes through wormhole to WWII.  Do you think Teddy Roosevelt would have traded in the White Fleet for an Aegis Missile Cruiser with 6MW multiple targeting phased array radar and a bellyful of standard missiles?
Tom Maher
9 years 11 months ago
The President's condescending response during the debate to Romney's criticism of the historically low levels of military preparedness of our armed forces in terms of enough hardware, such as the historically low levels of ships and aircraft, and enough personnel, such as nubber of soldiers and other military personnel, in our armed forces is ignorant in styke and substance of public expectations of what the Presidency is about and the historic failures of Presidents . 

The Constiitution makes the President the Commander in Chief of our armed forces, a very serious job that any President is fully accountable for having enough forces to at all times defend United States interest and security.  THe President response dodges the wquestion of preparenenss by glib response that times have changed as if the world is not as dangerous place as ever.  

Jimmy Carter made this mistake also.  Carter assumed that becasue the United States had large nuclear forces that our armed forces could be cut back drastically without jeopordizing the peace and security of the United States.  Carter military policy was extremely mistaken that destroyed peaceful relationships with the Soviet Union and emboldened very aggresive and dagerous Soviet military expansion worldwide. 

United Staes isolationism and lack of military preparedness before Pearl Harborsuprise attack was a major contributor to widespread destruction and duration of World War II.  
History shows that without a fully prepared military the peace is quickly lost and military agression quickly spreads worldwide unchecked in a modern world of very powerful weapon systems.  This destructive process needs to be stopped before military aggression and expansion goes out of control. 

Today, Iran, a nation that activley supports worldwide terrorism is developing nuclear weapons which its officals have repeatedly said they would use against Isreal.  This is a epic challenge to world peace that requires a prepared military to thwart successfully. Romney is corect to assert that in a dangerous world with numerous places of conflict  Unnited States military forces must not be allowed to remain at historic low levels of military preparedness.
ed gleason
9 years 11 months ago
Tim O.. The 'enemy' of the future will have  machine guns, RPGs and recoilless rifles mounted on pickup trucks dispersed in car parks around inner cities. say hello to Benghazi. No bayonets required
Tim O'Leary
9 years 11 months ago
Stanley #1
Romney was using the data reported by Obama’s Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who wrote: “Rough estimates suggest after ten years of these cuts, we would have the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history.”

The President might have missed the point that technological advances have not been confined to the United States, but also to its actual and would-be enemies. America plays a much more central role to world peace than it did before World War II. If one removes the ships (that mostly keep the peace without actually firing a shot), one is left with bombs or retreat as the only options.

One of the major lessons of World War II (and Pearl Harbor) is that sizing a military for peacetime duties will embolden militaristic opportunists to try to extend their power into the gaps left by the retreating superpower. Another lesson of the last century is that failure of the good guys to project power and maintain the peace (Roosevelt too was distracted by the economic depression and greatly reduced the size of the US military) results in the rise of evil powers. Many of the 150 million who died in communist and fascist nations (most at the hands of their own governments) could have been saved if Great Britain, France and the US had not neglected their military budgets in the 1930s.

Stanley Kopacz
9 years 11 months ago
To Tim O'Leary.
I'm no fan of Panetta or this administration.  You can expect such hyperbole from the secretary of defense.  I, like Ron Paul, want America out of the globe-spanning empire business.  If the possibility of a small country possessing a few nukes can cause big, bad republicans to soil themselves, I would think that our nuclear arsenal, large enough to exterminate the human race, must count for something.  Expanding military in a time of peace is a waste, because you are expending resources before you really know what kind of war you'll be fighting.  Your stuff will be obsolete by war time.  You need robustness enough to hold off the threat until you ramp up for what you need with the latest technology  Anyway, now that we're a sissy financialist golfing country with a decimated industrial base, thanks to slick vultures like Romney, we shouldn't be in the tough guy business anymore.  One more thing, what makes you think we're so great anymore?  Great enough to be judging other peoples and what to do with them.  I don't think so.  I think we better get our own act together first.

In answer to your comment in another thread, I saw the German term "Klimaheizung", or "climate heating" and I liked it.  Blame the Germans, who don't seem to have the cults of wishful thinking that we have here.
Tim O'Leary
9 years 11 months ago
Stanley #4
The first purpose of a strong military is to avoid war, and to win cold wars, like the one we have now with Iran (as we did with the Soviet Union). The second purpose, far inferior to the first, is to win small wars quickly, before they grow into bigger wars. Getting to an active hot war is already a military failure.

Shrinking our military is the first step toward a hot war, as happened in World War II. It was President Kennedy's perceived weakness in his only meeting with Khrushchev, in Vienna in 1961 (see NYT article), that led to the Berlin wall 2 months later and nuclear weapons in Cuba the following year. It was President Carter’s perceived weakness that led to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and it is President Obama’s perceived weakness that is emboldening Iran.

On another point, it is amazing for someone who claims to be an environmentalist to rely so much on nuclear bombs as the main defense strategy. Even if you worry little about a nuclear bomb being used by those with a well established suicide bombing modus operandi, have you thought about how much environmental damage even one nuclear bomb going off over a city in the Middle East or Korea would do to the world, even apart from the terrible human holocaust?

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