Final Debate Reactions

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Some quick thoughts on the debate, after internet finally kicked in:

President Obama and Gov. Romney are as close together on foreign policy as any two candidates in recent memory. On Libya, they agreed that the Administration’s course of action was more or less correct, and Romney skirted the Benghazi embassy issue after last debate’s debacle. On Syria, Romney repeated the President’s call for rhetorical and humanitarian support, while neglecting to demand a no-fly zone or arming of the opposition. On issue after issue, from al-Qaeda to Israel and Iran, Romney seemed to be echoing Obama’s points, only louder.

This is remarkable, especially considering the politics of foreign policy during the last decade. Eight years ago, Bush won (and Kerry lost) on the Administration’s promise to continue the expansion of America’s military involvement in the Middle East; in 2012, both parties are hewing as close to the center as they can. This is partly a result of the emerging popular consensus against Bush’s extension of power, and partly a result of Obama’s perceived foreign policy successes. Combine the killing of Osama bin Laden and a GOP inching closer to isolationism, and the daylight between the two parties on foreign affairs has narrowed quickly.

Last night, this played into Obama’s hands quite well. To win, Romney must run against the status quo, rather than on a louder extension of Obama’s policies. The President’s skill at reminding the audience of his experience as commander-in-chief only emphasized Romney’s weakness. Without a clear distinction on foreign policy against Obama, the GOP has lost one of its great historical strengths. This does not bode well for a Romney campaign running on a promise of making American stronger abroad.

Also: no talk of Mexico, or of the 50,000 casualties during the last six years of drug wars. It’s a shame that the Middle East overshadows our politics so deeply that we ignore the crisis next door.

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