The final 2012 presidential debate wound to a close with another "new" Mitt Romney appearing, this one pushing a "peace" agenda, sounding conciliatory and endorsing many of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy positions.
Obama on Monday night effectively emphasized his experience in improving world relations and his record of ending the war in Iraq, preparing for the withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan and supporting many nations convulsed by revolutions in the Arab Spring.
The physical swagger and aggressive posturing by Romney in the first and second debates were held in check, aided by the setup of both candidates seated at a table. Obama was assertive, and at times aggressive, especially on points of position-shifting by Romney that needed further explanation.
Romney, as the challenger with no foreign policy experience, had no major gaffes. He appeared strongest when he was off foreign policy, hitting home on high unemployment, underemployment and rising poverty.
Both men strayed from the foreign policy topic repeatedly, returning to the economy issue and their stump speeches.
Obama, however, hit hard at the Romney plan to increase military spending beyond what the military leaders requested despite the deficit. Romney offered little defense of what appears excessive. And Obama deflated Romney’s criticism of fewer naval ships, chiding his opponent that warfare has changed over time, with fewer bayonets, too.
Little time was spent on drone attacks, a major feature of the Obama administration’s pursuit of terrorists and one worthy of more discussion.
Romney spent the 90 minutes trying to disabuse voters of the idea that he’s a blunderer on the foreign stage, or a warmonger. And more than once, he retorted to criticisms of his inconsistencies by saying that "attacking me is not an agenda."
So what is Romney’s agenda on the world stage? He presented a picture of one who agrees with Obama on economic sanctions against Iran and no boots on the ground in Syria.
Romney painted a bleaker world picture, arguing that Obama has brought Iran closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon, but Obama effectively blunted that by reciting how sanctions and cooperation with Arab neighbors are working to weaken Iran.
Both skipped addressing some troubling turf. Romney didn’t answer charges of investments in firms that shipped jobs to China. And Obama didn’t delve into details about why his administration blamed an incendiary anti-Muslim video initially after the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador and three others.
With the election close, the final debate likely didn’t push either into a clear "winner" territory.
Romney escaped without raising fears of looking like a gunslinging president. Obama continued to appear thoughtful and reasonable, and that should help him continue to rebuild momentum that he lost after his lackluster first debate.
What’s ahead? Debates offer a structure, with moderators acting as the sheriffs. Now it’s on to the Wild West of ever more inflammatory political ads. Buckle up.
Copyright The Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.
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