Romney said the killing of 30 thousand Syrians by their government is a humanitarian disaster. He added that the Syrian tragedy is also an opportunity, because Syria is a major ally of Iran. We shouldn’t send the military there, but should identify responsible parties within Syria, help them organize as a council to eventually replace the government, and make sure they are armed and able to defend themselves. But make sure those arms won’t end up in the wrong hands.
So, essentially, Romney did not challenge the president’s narrative on Syria, the delusional notion that there are forces of light vs. forces of darkness fighting each other over there, and that America is siding with the nice ones. He either does not know the reality, which I doubt, or didn’t care, because, let’s face it, presidents come and go and U.S. foreign policy endures unchanged.
Romney allowed Obama to claim that the U.S. is playing a leadership role in supporting the opposition to Assad (who are really scary and brutal Sunni warriors that would murder as many Alawite, Druze, and Shiite civilians if they could), and that in Syria we’re following the Libyan model.
Then Obama turned on Romney, trying to egg him on into a fight for having said that to take out Ghadafi was mission creep. Obama positioned himself to the right of Romney on this one, coming across a lot more blood thirsty than his Republican opponent – and Romney let him.
Romney even hit Obama with a great line, after he had brought up Osama Bin Laden’s assassination once too often: “You can’t kill your way out of every situation.”
Frankly, there wasn’t a whole lot of daylight between the two on Iran, either. Romney made a few points on American reluctance to support the demonstrators in Iran two years ago, but basically supported the idea of bombing Iran’s nukes only as a last resort. The only criticism he had about the sanctions was that they need to be tighter.
Most readers of this website could go a few rounds against the president and beat him on the Iranian nukes issue, but Romney conceded.
Romney wasn’t more aggressive on Egypt, either, essentially agreeing with the president’s stated policy of supporting democracy in the Middle East, just making sure they don’t kill their Christians or honor-murder their women.
Then Romney said something so outrageously foolish, I was wondering if he’d been studying the Democrats’ party platform instead of his own party’s. He said: “I believe America has to defend freedom and defend human rights, dignity, free enterprise, elections – because when people have elections they tend to vote for peace.”
On what planet? In what Middle East? From Turkey to the Palestinian Authority, to Jordan to Egypt to Tunisia, every time the Arab masses have been given an open and honest chance to vote in free elections, they voted for the most medieval, most extremist Islamist party.
With that statement and the one about Israelis and Palestinians going back to the negotiations table, Romney absolutely re-captured the center, and sounded sounding more Democrat than Obama.
Romney even let Obama extract himself from the accusation–absolutely correct and righteous–that he signaled his distance from Israel when he toured the Middle East and didn’t stop to visit in the Holy Land. Obama said he had been to Israel as a candidate, visited Yad VaShem and even met with families under rocket fire in Sderot. I know it’s hard to think on your feet on those occasions, but the least Mitt could have done was that there’s a gigantanormous difference between hopping in as a candidate and actually avoiding the old place like the plague while visiting everyone else in the neighborhood. Come on…
I actually think the debate last night could have been the push Romney needed over the hurdle of having to stand on an equal footing with an incumbent president. I’ll be proven wrong or right in the next couple of days, as the only polls that count—those in the swing states—will start reflecting last night’s bout.
Of one thing I’m sure, regarding U.S. policy towards Israel, should Romney win, I doubt anyone would notice a hair of a difference.