Former Gov. Mitt Romney knew coming into this debate that foreign policy is not a strong spot for his campaign. He is running on a platform of being the better candidate for the economy, therefore whenever he gets away from economics he loses popularity. So maybe his miserable performance at the Monday night debate in Florida was to be expected.
For the first half of the debate, Romney played the role of the parrot, repeating virtually everything that President Barack Obama said. Obama said that he would not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. Romney agreed. Obama said he did not want to get the military directly involved in Syria. Romney agreed. Obama said it was important to remove Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad and Romney concurred. Romney was given an opportunity to distance himself from Obama’s controversial drone program, and Romney chose instead to wholeheartedly endorse it.
Here’s where the differences are: Obama actually laid out his plans for how he was going to deal with these problems. He talked about the sanctions that his administration has levied against both Iran and Syria and how he is attempting to help organize the Syrian rebellion. He talked about how his efforts to thwart al-Qaida have resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden and a weakening of the terrorist network. Obama pointed to success after success in foreign policy that he accomplished in his administration. He made sure to point out that the Iraq War came to a close under his watch, and that he has been able to strengthen all U.S. alliances throughout the world that were damaged by the Bush-Cheney administration.
Then Romney spoke. His responses sounded like a book report. He listed what all his foreign policy concerns were, from Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, to Iran’s nuclear program, to the Syrian massacres, to instability in Egypt and Libya. He kept listing these problems as if Obama had caused all of these issues, which no intelligent human being actually believes. But then he offered no alternatives. He offered no original ideas for how to deal with these problems. The suggestions he did have were vague and unclear. He said that Assad should be removed, but never said how. He said that encouraging education in the Middle East is important, but never said how he would go about doing that.
Perhaps more importantly, Romney said he wants to increase military spending by $2 trillion without saying how he’s going to pay for it. This is where Obama’s now infamous “horses and bayonets” zinger really struck to the heart of this issue. Conservatives are quick to point out that throwing money at schools is not going to fix problems in the education system, but the door swings both ways. Throwing an extra $2 trillion at our military hoping that it will solve all our foreign policy issues is equally ludicrous. Today’s wars are not fought with battleships and tanks. Our enemy uses Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and suicide bombers, not helicopters and submarines.
The epitome of this ridiculousness is the example of the M1 tank. While Romney can’t find it in his heart to spare the funding that PBS and NPR need, he is prepared to spend $3 billion (seven times the PBS/NPR annual budget) to build more M1 tanks. The Pentagon does not want any more of these tanks because they have proven to be completely useless for modern warfare since they are particularly vulnerable to IED attacks. The only purpose they serve is to destroy other tanks, of which our enemies have none. In fact there is a military base in California that is storing 3,000 of these tanks in a warehouse because they have no use. Money spent on this tank would probably be better spent being burned for heat in the winter.
But this is the GOP plan for foreign policy. They believe that if we waste enough money on big machines that are completely useless, that terrorists will stop being terrorists. Perhaps we could take this a couple steps further. If wasting money intimidates our enemies, we need better methods to do it. After all, if the money is being wasted in some factory in the U.S., the terrorists might not see it. We should provide every one of our soldiers with a stack of $100 bills and train them to light it on fire if there is a terrorist nearby.
On election day, I expect we’ll see the saner candidate win, and it will be another four years for Obama.