Americans who watched the final presidential debate last night met someone new: “Me Too Mitt.”
On issue after issue, from Iran to Iraq, from Egypt to Syria to Afghanistan, Mitt Romney did more than just agree with the Obama Administration. He tacitly but clearly admitted that President Obama’s record as Commander in Chief is, well, commanding — a striking reversal from a Republican Party that used to think of foreign policy debates as a chance for their nominee to appear as an expert, not an echo.
Romney’s performance was uncertain and nervous. And that should make uncertain voters nervous.
“Me Too Mitt” may not have much of a worldview. But many of his advisers do — and it’s the old, failed foreign policy of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, with all the bluster, clumsiness, and crudeness that cost our country so dearly.
Let’s remember what President Obama inherited from Bush-Cheney in January 2009. The brave men and women of the U.S.military — the finest fighting force in history — were bogged down with no end in sight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were free to plot mass murder against American civilians. Voices of moderation and democracy in the Arab world were on the defensive. And Iran was on the march, expanding its regional influence unhindered by effective global pressure. Tehran was cocky, not cowed, having gone from no centrifuges to spinning thousands of them, without strong American leadership to rally the world against the gathering threat.
What a difference four years makes. President Obama said he’d bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end — and he has. He said he’d wind down the war in Afghanistan– and he is. He said he’d go into Pakistan if Pakistan would not move against al-Qaeda’s leaders — and Osama bin Laden is dead. He said he’d train our firepower on the people who attacked us on 9/11 — and al-Qaeda has been hammered like never before. He said he’d have the back of our ally Israel– and Israel’s top generals and intelligence community leaders have made clear that U.S.-Israel security ties have never been stronger. He said he’d rally the world against Iran– and he has, leaving the Iranian regime isolated, squirming under sanctions so crippling that its currency collapsed by 40 percent in one week, and confronting the stark reality that U.S.military force is very much on the table. And he said he’d reinforce the foundations of our global power by bringing the U.S. economy back after the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression — and while there’s more to do to recover fully from the Bush-Cheney meltdown, unemployment is down from 10 percent to 7.8 percent, more than 5 million new jobs have been created, the stock market has nearly doubled, and the auto industry has been brought back from the brink.
But the next four years will make a big difference too. Romney is quite right that the next president will face a turbulent world, especially in the Middle East after the revolutions of 2011. This is an awkward moment for a ticket like Romney-Ryan, whose foreign policy expertise, it’s now clear, consists largely of late-night cram sessions before the debates. And given the void of leadership that Romney showed onstage in Boca Raton on Monday, one has to worry about how he would handle the most important aspect of his job.
Romney is, in a sense, reminiscent of both George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter — men without national security experience (unlike Richard Nixon or George H.W. Bush) or a guiding worldview (such as Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama). The absence of instincts that he showed at the debate suggests that he will have to borrow the expertise he’s failed to cultivate — and his campaign advisers include a troubling number of Bush-Cheney retreads, including prominent hard-liners with demonstrably faulty judgment, such as former UN ambassador John Bolton, the former Spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq Dan Senor, and former State Department official Liz Cheney (who so far seems to be very much a chip off the old block).
The world’s indispensable nation cannot afford the type of leadership vacuum that Romney showed last night. The point of debates is not to seem presidential. It’s to pick someone to be president. Between a president who’s restored America’s global leadership and an empty vessel of a challenger, for those who are serious about foreign policy, it seems clear which choice they will make.