Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The foreign policy debate: Obama won, kind of

1. Foreign policy can't be reduced to bumper sticker slogans, and much of it takes place out of public view.

For an obvious example, we couldn't tell Pakistan's government about our raid to get Bin Ladin. For another example, diplomacy often involves compromises the average guy won't like. We do business with dictators, turn our backs on virtuous causes we're not in a position to pursue...we do what we can with what we've got under the prevailing circumstances.

And we can't do a lot of this out in the open. This is true regardless of who's president or which party is in charge. Life is just messy, and pretending otherwise is a path over a cliff.

2. If you watched the debate with the sound off, Romney looked like the president (except for the flop sweat), Obama like the contender. If you watched with sound on but didn't factcheck the answers, Romney had the relaxed, reasonable tone of a leader of a major nation comfortably in the lead, while the younger man looked like the upstart gunning for the Big Guy's job--slightly desperate.

3. If you knew your facts or looked them up afterwards, it quickly became obvious that Romney was once again reversing foreign policy positions he'd been stating for the last four years of pandering to the neocons and the Tea Party right wing of the right wing.

It also became obvious that while both contenders often shaded the truth, Romney not only stated one whopper after another, but they were whoppers that he'd already stated frequently--and which had already been debunked authoritatively.

So it was Obama's half truths against Romney's Pants On Fire baldfaced lies--but baldfaced lies told with a gentle "more in sorrow than in anger" smile that would earn the professional admiration of any professional con artist watching the debate.

Just go to politifact.com and factcheck.org for the details.

4. Sarcasm is the crack cocaine of smart people. It's sooo tempting to get snarky after hearing some halfwitted calumny for the umpty-umpth time. But it should be resisted. Women, in particular, don't like snark. Obama indulged himself in frequent snarkiness in this debate. I understand his exasperation with the con artist sitting across from him, but he shouldn't have gone there so much.

5. This debate was Kabuki theater, with each working angles underneath the putative reasons for each one's statements. Practically everything that was said in this debate had a reason for it being said that wasn't said, mostly in the form of manuvering to get the votes of particular constituencies in particular battleground states.

For example, Romney's mildness was a ploy to get women to vote for him in the main election after his wild-eyed chest-pounding caveman foreign policy stance in the primaries.

Romney's specific mention of ships was a ploy to win Virginia, home of major shipbuilders for the military.

Both of their devoting so much of the debate to Israel's concerns was a ploy by both to get the Jewish vote. Neither mentioned the drug war involving Latin America--in part because the obvious solution is to legalize narcotics for adults, along with marijuana (which is not a narcotic), and American's don't want to hear that.

Likewise pandering to the Jewish vote (especially important in the battleground state of Florida) precluded dealing with far more important foreign policy issues like Europe's ongoing economic crisis and our frenemy relationship with China, plus our role in helping all the nations surrounding China to the south/southeast/east deal with China's claim to pretty much all the waters between them and China's neighbors--a very dangerous issue. Plus China's efforts to conquer the independent nation of Taiwan and to commit ethnicide in Tibet.

And India--one of the primary locales for outsourcing of American jobs--got not one word, despite also being one of the two most populous nations on Earth.

Nor did sub-Saharan Africa.

Because talking about these places didn't improve battleground state voting for one or the other.

6. Romney's foreign policy as of last night is Obama's, only by a white guy. All those Southern crackers don't like Romney's pivot to the mild side, and they don't like his religion, but they really, really hate having a black man in the White House, so they'll vote for Romney as a bloc even as Romney abandons their preferred foreign policy in an effort to trick women into voting for him.

Making Romney the GOP's Great White Hope.

7. Neither Romney nor Obama drew the logical conclusion about military spending: that there is no sane reason for America to spend more than the next ten largest military-spending countries combined, much of that for expensive hardware rather than on training and equipping our troops better. And much of that expensive hardware is useless or at best suboptimal for the military conflicts we actually face.

For example, we don't need more supercarriers. We need a fleet of pocket carriers (like today's assault carriers) with UAVs and choppers instead of manned warcraft, for a fraction of the cost of those supercarrier task groups.

8. Winning the second and third debates was less important than winning the first one. If President Obama fails to win re-election, he'll spend the rest of his life kicking himself for thinking that people wouldn't buy Romney's constant lying--constant lying wrapped in extremely presidential-looking atmospherics by a Guy Who Isn't Black.

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