Mitt Romney has in recent weeks unleashed a torrent of criticisms on the Obama administration, much of it focused on instability and looming dangers in the Middle East. At the same time, he touted his foreign policy bona fides from sea to shining sea.
As in the case of Libya, Romney demonstrated a penchant for getting ahead of the facts and thus effectively sullying any credibility he may have had to pose salient questions. In every instance, down to the syllable, Romney has been proven wrong—and often in sharp disagreement with himself.
So then, no one should be surprised by his rambling presentation Monday night on the debate stage in Florida. It is telling when campaign surrogates, including running mate Paul Ryan, refuse to claim victory.
Republicans are predictably (and rightfully) distressed about Romney’s performance. This third and final presidential debate presented a singular opportunity for the candidate to demonstrate an intimate understanding of the issues and articulate with clarity a well-reasoned vision for our leadership around the globe.
He failed. Miserably.
At times appearing pained, a bleary eyed Romney seemed incapable of effectively prosecuting the president’s foreign policy record. There are reasonable questions to be asked. Romney, however, seemed too caught up in the fantasy bubble machine to discern them. When pressed, he was unable to pinpoint meaningful policy differences. That is unless you count hurling epithets at our enemies over the White House fence.
The Romney Doctrine, if one indeed exists, seems largely comprised of chest thumping and bluster.
The former Massachusetts governor spent much of the evening rocked back on his heels, his blanket of arguments in tatters. Controlling the tone and tenor of the debate, President Obama seized every opportunity to belittle his opponent’s lack of national security experience. “When it comes to our foreign policy,” Obama said blithely. “You seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.”
When Romney later chided Obama for an increasingly smaller naval fleet, the president responded with a lesson his opponent will never soon forget. Yes, the U.S. Navy fleet is smaller today that it was in 1917. And it should be.
“Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets,” the president said. “Because the nature of our military has changed.”
Obama went on to explain what an aircraft carrier was. I half expected him to draw Romney a diagram, complete with stick figures and clouds.
Social networks exploded with 105,767 tweets per minute. Republicans were quick to push back. The fact is our American military does still use bayonets and horses. The president said “fewer,” and he is right, of course. But that won’t matter to bubble dwellers.
Our enemies and the landscapes on which we fight are different today. I am certain Romney does not believe we should have rolled up on Osama bin Laden in the USS Nimitz. In an age of increasing technological innovation, bigger budgets do not always equate to a better fight. It is important that our men and women have the right resources, the right tools to get the job done. Bill Clinton’s former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig praised Obama’s characterization of the military and added that the number of ships in the Navy actually shrank under President George W. Bush but have risen under Obama.
It did not seem to matter where Romney took his fight; the president was ready with a litany of facts. Like a scene out of 1993’s Dazed and Confused, Romney resorted to the well-worn “apology tour” attack. The problem is it never happened. “There was no apology tour,” the Washington Post fact checkers note.
But this is a knowable thing: Syria is not Iran’s “route to the sea” as Romney described. This was not a mere slip of the tongue. He has repeated the quip no less than five times, including during the GOP debate in Arizona last February. Iran has roughly 1,500 miles of access along the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman—leading directly to the Arabian Sea.
If he seems quick to redraw geographical boundaries, Romney displayed a brazen ability to re-write his own political history. It is as if he is carrying a spare bottle of spray tan in his breast pocket. msnbc host Rachel Maddow blasted Romney for what she called “soulless shape-shifting.”
After the first debate, Republicans wasted no time celebrating Romney’s perceived win. They called the president “arrogant,” “lazy,” and “petulant.” Romney campaign co-chair and bloviator-in-chief John Sununu perhaps said it best earlier this month: “When you’re not that bright, you can’t get better prepared.”
I wonder if he likes his crow pan fried, broiled, or steamed.