The final presidential debate will almost certainly be more interesting than the mad scramble witnessed last week between Romney and Obama as they jousted for preeminence on the same ol’ tired US foreign policy positions. And no, that's not a typo. The last presidential debate will be between Libertarian Gary Johnson and Jill Stein from the Green Party on November 5th. Few will be watching and more’s the pity. As long as it doesn’t degenerate into a marijuana love-fest, any discussion there of foreign policy will almost certainly be more interesting than the one which took place last night since the “foreign policy” of both Romney and Obama seems to be significantly shaped by “jobs in America”, and “nation-building at home”.

First of all, domestic issues are, well, closer to home and should rightly be the focus of any leader's policy, which is why the first two debates were devoted to domestic policy. The polls must have told the candidates' handlers that Americans weren't that interested in foreign affairs or that America is the world and everyone else could roast in Hades because at every opportunity the two candidates turned the focus back to domestic policy.

President Obama said more than once that instead of more foreign military intervention we needed to be doing some "nation-building right here at home". This is, of course, exactly the thing Republicans have been complaining about all along. They don't like his architect, his blueprints or his contractors. Still, the comment no doubt resonated with the millions of Americans looking for work.  

Governor Romney would not be out-done. He too constantly brought up domestic issues throughout this foreign policy debate. If this had been 1992, his campaign slogan would have been, “It's the economy, stupid.”

But that jab is already, er, stained with Democratishness, so he was left with “I know how to get this country working again.”

President Obama was clearly bettered prepared for this debate than the previous two. Voters around the country agreed. President Obama was the clear winner in post-debate polls. One is tempted to wonder if four years of intelligence briefings might be an unfair advantage for any sitting president, but it is what it is.

And what it was was a race to claim the coveted “champion of freedom” titles up for grabs in this coliseum we call planet Earth.

Prince of Peace

Governor Romney’s began the night talking about the importance of peace as a cornerstone of foreign policy. He said, “We can’t kill our way out of this mess.” It sounded like the beginnings of a Republican paradigm shift. For a moment, he seemed wiser, his shoulders dropped, he looked older, frailer, with gray hair and a slight Texas accent. The apparition passed, and neocons breathed a sigh of relief as he promised to “kill the bad guys” and spend more money on the military.  

President Obama, winner of the Nobel Peace prize in 2009, seemed to feel like he was a shoo-in for this one as he hardly contested it. Besides, the American people love a winner, i.e. a fighter. Doves can’t scare up enough votes and he had the capture and elimination of Bin Laden in his ledger. It was not the time to go dovish.

What both candidates alluded to on more than one occasion was support for "democracy". Democracy? It was "democracy" that brought Hamas to power in Gaza, "democracy" that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt. Democracy is such a buzzword we forget that it can also mean “mob rule”. Without a culture that understands basic human rights and the rule of law, democracy may be nothing more than popular dictatorship.

President Obama did touch on these issues briefly, but that was where the discussion should have centered. How does the US intend to support the oppressed peoples of the Middle East?

Governor Romney almost got there. “America has to stand on its principles,” he said. Informed observers might have wanted him and the President to explain how American principles allowed us to support regime change and the Arab Spring in Egypt, Libya and Syria, all relatively secular, while remaining mysteriously silent about protests in other Arab countries, for example Bahrain, where a Shiite majority is ruled by a Sunni monarchy. These protests were eventually squashed with occupying Saudi forces.

Where was our commitment to freedom and democracy then?

King of the Mountain

If you missed the debate and are wondering which mountain, the answer is simple. Mount Zion. Both of the candidates were in a verbal shoving match desperate to knock their opponent off of “The Hill of Zion.” A tweet from Kathryn Delong said, “The winner of this debate is Israel.”

The atrocities of WWII have profoundly shaped the American psyche, so much so that support for Israel has become one of the few policies both parties fervently espouse. However, Israel is only safer if the Middle East is less radical. America's policies have clearly failed to achieve this, and this debate did not include a discussion about why.

The vitriolic rhetoric from Saudi and Egyptian mosques was never addressed, nor was Saudi funding of terrorist groups like Hamas, or foreign aid from the US to Israel’s enemies, or the deteriorating relationship between Israel and Turkey, or the growing power of the Muslim Brotherhood in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.   


What the American voter heard instead was, “We've got Israel's back.” It became clear as the debate went on what both candidates meant. It means America opposes a nuclear Iran.

Governor Romney tried to find an opening, an advantage on this issue and thereby clinch the “Goliath-slayer” title. On more than one occasion he said, “We are four years closer to a nuclear Iran.”

We are also four years closer to the next Ice Age and California dropping off into the ocean, neither of which sounds horrible to those of us who have just come out of another blistering Texas summer. But, like all dire predictions, such as global warming, Ice Ages, the disappearance of Hollywood, and the end of sugary drinks, reality often turns out to be far less scary than predicted.

Even if Iran were to get a nuclear weapon, the US, Israel, and its allies have thousands and the Iranians know this. If mutually assured destruction (MAD) kept crazies like Khrushchev from using nuclear weapons during the Cold War, and still holds a tight rein on the Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan and the lunatic of Pyongyang, it might work with Iran too. That was not part of the debate. Why?

The Iran-is-four-years-closer-to-a-nuclear-weapon claim was simply posturing. Governor Romney made it clear that a military strike was the last option, that diplomacy had to be tried first and that the best course was “crippling sanctions,” which of course moved him down a notch in the running for the Prince of Peace title.

President Obama lost no time in pointing out that Governor Romney’s position on this and many other issues were essentially identical to those his administration had been following. Romney’s response was that he would have moved more quickly. Paraphrase - I’m the hare you’re the tortoise?

Both candidates vowed to end the Afghan war though the President clearly had the advantage and pressed it, referring to Romney's changing positions on both Iraq and Afghanistan. Fundamentally, however, their positions were, once again, the same.

The issue that was not brought up in the debate was how a tiny, relatively powerless group of Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters had succeeded in drawing America, the world’s only super power, into the longest war in American history.

The answer is simple and has nothing to do with Afghanistan. It’s all about Iran. The world’s super power has been sitting on Iran's border for over ten years and for much of this time Iran was sandwiched between American forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s all about the Goliath-Slayer title and both sides want it!

Romney then advocated for more military spending and intimated that our military was in a historically vulnerable position (fewest number of ships in Navy since 1916, weakest Air Force since 1947). He clearly needs a new fact checker as this left him wide open for the most poignant moment of the evening.

President Obama said, “We also have fewer horse and bayonets.” Though lost on most neocons, the President was right. We are the Death Star on planet Earth. Everybody but the neocons seems to know this. Not only has Obama increased military spending every year, but he pointed out that the United States spends more than the next 10 largest military forces in the world combined. (Emphasis mostly his).

Swords into Plowshares

Though neither candidate would have used such dovish language, probably for fear of turning off Bible-toting voters (I love irony), there was an underlying theme in the debate. America needs to start producing something other than war. We need to structure an economy that puts Americans to work.

This is what most voters care about. Romney and the President know this. But it’s time for the leaders of the free world to implement this common sense strategy. It's time to end the pursuit of Empire, let the rest of the world take a bit more responsibility and start beating some of our swords into plowshares.

Read more: Swords or plowshares - the "domestic" foreign policy debate | Washington Times Communities
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Luke had the pleasure of an interview with Turkish news agency ANKA last week and it ran today in Milliyet. It is only available in Turkish but for those of you fortunate enough to speak this beautiful language, we invite you to enjoy the exchange here.