A few thoughts on the third debate

*Warning: what follows are a few thoughts with some semblance of structure about the foreign policy debate from last night. I don’t like the foreign policy of either candidate and find the American political coverage both of the debate and of foreign issues to be utterly disheartening. I have done little to no new research on any of the topics, do not offer solutions (yet), and at several points make opinionated statements that I have not necessarily adequately defended with examples pulled from my recollection of the debate or by briefly skimming through the debate transcript. Words are wind.

-“There is no reason that Americans should die [when we have Afghans for that].”

-Dear Mitt Romney, Barbados, Burundi, Palau, and the Vatican City are all four years closer to the bomb, too. That is how time works.

I sent out two tweets during last night’s foreign policy debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama (though I have since modified the wording of the first to make it pithier). I had one tweet for each presidential candidate, neither positive. For most of the day today I have monitored the coverage–everything from that this debate didn’t matter to which candidate appeared more presidential. Most of the coverage was inane, repetitive, and (if possible) more vapid than the actual talking points during the debate. Just one article truly went too far for me. I will get to this one in a moment, but I will say now that it was not the comments that Ann Coulter made. I’ve long since decided that, at least when I want to be serious, nothing she says is coherent or dignified enough to warrant a response. I prefer to deal with rational people and, as far as I can tell, she is not one.

To be honest, what Romney said scared me more than what Obama did. On one hand, I have significant qualms with how the administration is handling Iran, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Israel, and most of the rest of the world, not to mention drone attacks. On the other, I was never at any point surprised by what Obama said and I could see a mixture of pandering and basic precedent set in his first term in the answers. Romney never really provided answers of his own, but it was nonetheless interesting that he was the one who brought up the various militant Islamist groups that the President has not publicly addressed, particularly Mali and the student protests in Tehran.

Romney’s answers were often nonsensical, culturally imperialistic, and (borderline) offensive. To give one example, Romney repeatedly mentioned that Israel is the closest ally the United States has in the Middle East (Obama made the same claim at least once). This may be true, though I could easily see a case to be made for Turkey–a NATO member–officially and substantively being closer to the United States than Israel. On the Arab Spring, he said:

“I wish that, looking back at the beginning of the president’s term and even further back than that, that we’d have recognized that there was a growing energy and passion for freedom in that part of the world, and that we would have worked more aggressively with our friend and with other friends in the region to have them make the transition towards a more representative form of government, such that it didn’t explode in the way that it did.”

In short: perhaps this whole supporting dictators and rigging elections thing doesn’t work so well in this age of instant technology–and while we support free elections, did you really have to vote for those guys?

Romney also pointed out the opportunities for US business in “Latin America,” claiming that there were “language opportunities” (whatever that means), brazenly claimed that Europe would support whatever sanctions the US wants on Iran, and that his relationship with Netanyahu will help determine Israeli policy on Iran. Romney said that we need to “indict” Ahmadinejad, though for what, it isn’t entirely clear (something about his words inciting genocide?). And, somehow, the teacher’s union is a foreign policy imperative. Presidential though he may have seemed, my biggest sense was that the President’s primary critique of Romney–that his foreign policy is rash and all over the map–seemed to ring true. And, yes, the United States does dictate to other countries.

As has been noted in a few places, this debate was notable for what was left out. Europe was hardly mentioned, Central and South America came up rarely, and climate change was never mentioned. It was also remarkable in that the candidates often agreed. Neither wanted to be involved in the regime change in Syria and both support increased defense spending, and on a number of occasions Obama was forced to counter Romney’s statements with statements that the administration already does what Romney proposed. More egregiously, though, both candidates lived in a world of blissful ignorance about history of even relatively recent events. For instance, there was a lot of talk about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, but none that the United States supported Hosni Mubarak for decades–not to mention at least one gloss made between Tahrir Square and Tienanmen Square. And, of course, there was the role of America in the world:

“I absolutely believe that America has a — a responsibility, and the privilege of helping defend freedom and promote the principles that — that make the world more peaceful. And those principles include human rights, human dignity, free enterprise, freedom of expression, elections. Because when there are elections, people tend to vote for peace. They don’t vote for war.”

“America remains the one indispensable nation. And the world needs a strong America, and it is stronger now than when I came into office.”

The perpetual myth that is the American responsibility to civilize and defend the world–and the perpetual myth that democracies don’t go to war. Leaving aside that democracies don’t actually exist, the Melians probably have something to say about this and Kipling would love these guys. Sort of. They talk the talk, but really don’t want to get their hands dirty.

So, the article. I looked through the debate transcript and tried to recall some of my reactions from watching the debate last night. The accusation against Romney that comes up in the article posted above, but not here is that Mitt Romney made a geographical gaffe about Iran’s access to the sea. What we watched last night was an hour and a half of political bickering in front of a national audience and, for all we know, Romney might have been thinking about the Mediterranean as “the sea.” I would be more concerned if Romney was looking at a map and couldn’t figure out where Iran was, but I am fairly certain that he can pick Iran out on a map and would notice the other bodies of water. It is a misstep, but I dislike using this type of misspeaking to discredit his candidacy only slightly less than I dislike making fun of his name. It is something he said, but it is also something of even less significance than everything else he said during the debate.

If political language is meant “to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind,” then it seems that now, more than ever, the media tries to do the same.

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