Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Presidential Debate: Round Three

I am coming to this post having seen absolutely no analysis of the debate by any of the talking heads or "post-survey-polls-of-people-who-don't-think-they-have-anything-on-their-schedule-for-November-6-but-need-to-check."  I've noticed that my friends on both the right and the left are declaring overwhelming victories for their guys.  My view, personal preferences incorporated, is that the President had the more impactful night in terms of media (they will eat up the "horses and bayonets" thing), but that your take-away from the debate depended entirely on your worldview.

Romney successfully, almost flawlessly, played on the insecurities of the American people in regards to foreign affairs.  That may be perceived as a slight, but in terms of tactics, it was his only route to avoid saying "I agree with the President" for 90 minutes.  Our economic and "soft" power is weakening.  Our military isn't big enough.  No body thinks we're tough anymore.  China is scary.  Countries are forming in the Middle East that we had no say in creating.  Israel is going to fall into the Sea.

Meanwhile, the President was faced with the ever-present "that's all?", which follows him around wherever he goes.  "You received the Nobel Peace Prize in the first year of your Presidency, yet our stature in the world is diminishing."  "I saw those crowds in Europe during your 2008 campaign trip.  Why couldn't we parlay that into something, anything, in terms of greater international coherence?"  Personally, I don't agree with those criticisms, and think we have seen a significant amount of collaboration in a time when most countries would be shutting down their borders, but the President will not be able to avoid those critiques in most circles. 

No matter how you saw the debate go, it did provide an opportunity to think critically about subjects that Americans are just not that interested in - other countries.  That's why I imagine this debate will have little to no affect on the Election.  I doubt many people were watching, certainly not the whole thing.  Nonetheless, let's look at some of the big topics.

Defense Spending

Mitt Romney has the unenviable position of being a deficit hawk neocon.  These positions are mostly incompatible, unless you are willing to be a complete hypocrite.  Within two sentences, I heard the Presidential Challenger say that our debt is our "greatest security weakness", but that we cannot allow sequestration cuts on Defense spending, which makes up 25% of the budget, has grown 81% since 2001, and corresponds with 4-6% of the US GDP (depending on whether you include Homeland Security, which, to me, is synonym for "Defense").  I would respectfully suggest that anyone looking to cut the federal deficit without any interest in addressing the runaway growth of defense spending should not be taken seriously.


The President's most fervent supporter would have a hard time describing Obama's China policy.  It is either nonexistent, or so subtle as to avoid detection.  Nevertheless, if you've been following along, the United States has struggled with any aggressive approach towards China since the 1990's.  Remember when Clinton was constantly pilloried for awarding China "Most Favored Nation" as they were spying on us and committing human rights abuses right and left?  George W. Bush, for good or bad, essentially ignored the Country and missed opportunities for long lasting diplomacy with the next super-power. 

But let me paint this scenario for you - A new President wins with a little over 50% of the vote.  His country's economy is recovering, but still very weak.  He is known for "evolving" on positions of substance.  He has a slim majority with Congress.  By way of ownership, you have significant control over this Country's currency and inflation.  You also consider yourself the world's next great superpower.

Ok, now that President has just declared you a currency manipulator and placed punitive tariffs on 80% of the goods you export to the United States.  Do you really tuck tail and concede?  Would you at least attempt some counter-blows before even thinking about cooperating?

As for the American consumer, how long does it take for our other trade partners to fill the gap left by China?  Aren't we assured some measure of inflation?  Will we just grimace and nod while wearing "America Strong" hats and paying 50% more for most manufactured goods?

As you can tell, Mitt Romney's China policy concerns me a great deal.  Playing tough is not always the right answer, even when the alternative is to seem weak.  These decisions have serious consequences.

Middle East

I will acknowledge that I could not make heads or tails of Mitt Romney's policy towards the Middle East.  I heard him say that he would arm the rebels in Syria, which (by now) really should be recognized as arming our next enemy.  The most basic understanding of Middle East history and policy will indicate that it is a tinderbox.  Flooding weapons into a conflict should never be considered a good idea.

I know that Romney blames the President for not picking out his favorite style of government for the nations that went through revolution over the past two years, but the banana republics of the 1970's and 80's are over.  In fact, the hand of the United States is a destabilizing force in the region, which tends to be suspicious of any government that cooperates with our diplomats.  And the idea that there could have been peaceful transitions for those overthrowing dictators is...well...I don't curse on this blog, but you can Mad Lib that one.

Yet again, the President does not seem to have a full control of the situation, but it takes an Ugly American to think that he should.  This isn't Risk.  Then again, a Presidential Challenger can get a lot of mileage out of noting a "lack of leadership" and the geopolitical risks that come out of instability to suggest a correlation between the two.

As you can see, I was very critical of Mitt Romney on this one, but that doesn't mean I think he did badly in the debate.  I just disagree with his positions.  I think that many folks who chose the Presidential Debate over the NLCS and Monday Night Football may have turned off their TV's thinking about how awesome it would be to be the World's Policeman once again.  Whenever you get to talk about the power and grandeur of the United States as a Presidential Candidate, you do so, and you do it loudly.  That's what Mitt Romney did.  I only hope that if he wins, he hires someone who knows something about these countries he's talking about.

That's all for today.  Have a great Tuesday doing what you love.