Debate Summary: Obama Convincing Winner of Foreign Policy Debate


Update, 10:29 PM EST: Closing statements. 

Obama: "We have to make the wealthy do a little more." CNN lines soar. Amazing debate from President tonight. 

Romney: "Washington is broken. I know what it takes to change it back." CNN lines flatline. 

Great debate from Obama; solid enough from Romney. This won't change anything--but not because of one side's performance or another...but because, as I said at the beginning, nobody care about foreign policy.

My drunk friends: "Can you believe this guy is our President? Brack Hussein Obama. It's so amazing. And pretty awesome."


Update, 10:26 PM EST: Obama, on Romney's "Let Detroit Do Bankrupt" editorial: "Look it up."

Romney: "Yeah, look it up."

Obama: "Well they should look it up."

How I end every debate with my friends. 

Incidentally, my drunk friends on Romney:


Update, 10:18 PM EST: Romney: "It's not government that makes business grow and hire people." Maybe one of the widest-held misunderstandings of economics in current politics--and something I think Governor Romney actually doesn't believe. Government does create jobs. It just does. It gives subsidies for companies, gives out billions in private contract, and, is one of the bigegst employers in country! Cutting government hurts the economy.

This attack on government is nonsense. And it's nonsense that neither side will touch with a 15-foot pole. 

Update, 10:08 PM EST: Republican reaction tells the story so far: 

Mary Katharine Ham @mkhammer Everyone agrees it's in America's best interest that in 23 minutes, I can watch football. #debates 22 Oct 12 Reply Retweet Favorite


John Podhoretz @jpodhoretz Why does Bob Schieffer sound as though he's asking them about the weather? 22 Oct 12 Reply Retweet Favorite


Jason Van Inwegen @JasonVanInwegen @EWErickson Fun fact: my wife (who is undecided) fell asleep 30+ mins ago 22 Oct 12 Reply Retweet Favorite


Josh Putnam @FHQ Pick it up gents. Some folks at the Davidson College watch party are bailing on you. #fhqdebate 22 Oct 12 Reply Retweet Favorite


Update, 10:03 PM EST: And, one hour and four minutes later, we begin talking about the current land war that we're engaged in. 

Good job, everyone.

Update, 9:58 PM EST: Romney trying to attack Obama on Israel:

Obama responds incredibly strongly. Exactly the response he needed to Romney's "you didn't go to Israel" quip: "well, I did go, and I didn't take donors."

Update, 9:51 PM EST: Obama: "Governor, you're saying the same things as us, but you'd say them louder." Bang! 

Obama clearly superior so far. Too bad foreign policy is a non-issue for most voters. 

Romney: "Apology tour." 

Update, 9:48 PM EST: Romney complaining about "poor people healthcare"is like this dude complaining about his Segway battery:

Update, 9:38 PM EST: Fine, let's talk about this. Romney ran full-force away from foreign policy, but has managed to shift the debate to "health care for the poor." Obama moved the debate back to foreign policy--and even to SPACE! (follow the Georgetown Space Law Society on Twitter @GTownSpaceLaw). Romney back to domestic policy, and has been completely unable to respond to Obama's critiques. 

Obama has sounded crisp, perhaps his best oratorical performance in any of the debates; Romney, on the other hand has vacillated, stuttered, jumped around. 

Obama: "You've looked at the navy, governor. You say we have fewer ships. But we also have fewer horses and bayonettes. The nature of the military has changed." Maybe the best line of the debate. 

Update, 9:34 PM EST: Romney, stuttering, rambling: "We're all focused on China. Latin America has an economy almost as large as China." OK OK OK OK cool. It's true, man, you totally care about Latin America. I totally believe you. 

Obama, in a totally non-response: "Women, and stuff." Basically: 

Update, 9:28 PM EST: "What is America's role in the world?"


Update, 9:22 PM EST: Obama still doing well, Romney still agreeing with everything he says. The President even managed to get in a couple jabs even on this topic, where both sides completely agree.

Meanwhile, Josh Romney:

Update, 9:20 PM EST: So wait, they just 100% agree on Syria. There have literally been no differences in the two statements. 

For people who are interested, here is Human Rights Watch's page on Syria. I dunno, figured I'd mention that.

Update, 9:18 PM EST: FIGHT! Everyone who thinks we should just solve our political issues with MMA fights drink! OK, fine, Putin would probably win, amirite?!

Here's a .gif of Putin made by a high school tween:

Update, 9:07 PM EST: President Obama stronger on foreign policy so far. He's hammering Romney on Romney's incomprehensible policy "distinctions." Governor Romney somehow, incomprehensibly, defending his "Russia is our number one geopolitical foe" remark. The United State's relationship with Russia and China is incredible hard to handle, and requires a lot of balance; Romney's responses to Obama's attacks do not reflect this. 

The President's response to Governor Romney's policy ideas: 

Romney response: "My strategy is to go after the bad guys."

YEAH AMERICA! (Wait what does that mean?)

Update, 9:04 PM EST: Libya! Who had Libya as first question? DRINK!!

Update, 8:58 PM EST: Some lady on Fox News: "Iraq, which was clearly a win when Obama took office, is now an Iranian territory." WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?! OH GOD SOMEONE TELL ME WHAT THAT MEANS?


Seconds later on Fox: "Mitt Romney: is he cool on foreign policy?"

Me: Cool story, bro.

Edit, 8:50 PM EST: President Obama and Governor Romney are about to take the stage inq Florida, so it's time for the obligatory if-you-can't-watch-it-on-TV link. Here's a YouTube embed:  

Oh, and here's a catch phrase I didn't use in the first update: "Bin Laden." Yeah, we'll hear that name a lot. 

Definitely more than "flying killer death robots" or "human rights." (For what it's worth I'm actually pretty much pro-drones, but it's still a topic I think deserves serious debate, not some sort of throw away "we all agree on this so let's move on" kinda thing). 

It's about to start, and I'm pretty excited, in spite of myself. So brace yourself for a lot of this from me: 

And my friend is very drunk so he should get ready for some of this tomorrow: 


Edit, 8:27 PM EST: President Obama and Governor Romney take the stage in Florida in just over half an hour, giving me a perfect opening to remind everyone about the major "topics" they'll be "covering" tonight. And by "topics" I mean "watered down versions of real issues" and by "covering" I mean "providing unintelligible soundbites that have little to do with the actual way they'll govern."

Libya: Despite the bluster coming from the Romney campaign, there's little that has made me believe that a theoretical Romney administration would have handled the crisis surrounding the 9/11 anniversary-coupled-with-the-horrifying-YouTube-video controversy any differently than the Obama administration. Sure: it's unclear whether the higher ups in the Obama administration were being completely forthright with the American people when they reviewed the facts the day after the attack. But first, Romney's attempt at a preemptive attack was genuinely premature and misguided, and secondly, the President surrogates acted on recommendation from senior military officials, and, if anything, Romney has acted as if he will be more beholden to the military establishment than Obama. If anything, Obama fell to the right on this issue--which is why I am unhappy about it, but why Mitt Romney should tread cautiously. 

Iran: The President and Governor Romney actually haven't shown huge differences on completely-isolated-but-yet-somehow-still-considered-to-be-our-main-enemy Iran. President Obama has projected American power while still retaining strong ties with the UN; a theoretcal President Romney could not get any "tougher" on Iran without literally beginning a war. But I bet they'll say "Iran" more than "human rights."

China: Another word that the President and Governor Romney will say more than "human rights." You can take that one to the bank. And they'll both accuse each other of being "soft" on China. Because, you know yeah! AMERICA! Needs to be strong! Yeah! But will they actually talk about any real east Asian policy? No chance. Zero. Because the actual way the US needs to deal with China can be summed up in a few words that have graced so many warning labels: handle with care. This is a fragile, hyper-important relationship that the States needs to foster. It's an incredibly nuanced, incredibly sensitive thing. 

Other: The European debt crisis would be a fascinating topic, because the President and Governor Romney probably hold hugely different views on how to deal with the international financial crisis. But whether we actually hear about this is unlikely. Governor Romney might say something about "Spain" or "Greece" (which, for him, are theoretical concepts far removed from the real countries--and I say this as a proud Spaniard who lived in Spain last year). Additionally, we might hear something about "Mexico" (because Governor Romney thinks it's very, very easy to be a Mexican in America nowadays), "outsourcing" or some other nonsense international creation that the two candiates decide to mention. Listen: this debate is going to be all about style, and not at all about substance, and I don't think I can hide my feelings any more--I'm a person who cares deeply about foreign policy, and the state of international relations in Presidential debates is only one small step up from people WRITING IN ALL CAPS ABOUT THE GOVMNET ON THE INTERNET. 


When President Obama and Mitt Romney take the stage on Monday night at 9:00 PM EST, they will already be fighting an uphill battle: not only will they be trying to differentiate themselves from an opponent who has very similar views, but they will be trying to draw distinctions about a topic that almost no one cares about. The conventional wisdom about foreign policy — and foreign policy debates — is that people watching at home will tune out when it comes up; this conventional wisdom is backed up by studies that have examined the amount of time on local news broadcasts devoted to international events (way less than you’d hope).

In general, politicians expect their audience to have a very shallow understanding of international affairs. And in general, they’re right — according to those same studies, only a tiny percentage of people rank “international news” as a topic they follow “very closely.”

The problem with these studies, and with the attitude that has gotten us into this situation — where people don’t follow international news, for whatever reason — is that it is a self-perpetuating cycle, a negative feedback loop. News stations won’t cover international news because people won’t watch, and people won’t watch because they don’t understand, and people don’t understand because news stations don’t cover it.

Yeah, I know this is a pretty simplistic way of examining the problem that the two candidates face when trying to explain the nuances of their policies on Libya, nuclear proliferation, and the European fiscal crisis. But that’s what the candidates are going to have to do: simplify. And that’s because, as President Obama saw in the first debate, you never win with details — and that becomes doubly true for foreign policy.

Because of everything I said about people not really caring about (or understanding) foreign policy, the most important thing to watch for tonight is style. Which candidate can say “tough on China” more (because, you know, it’s a really good idea to be “tough” on a country that holds so much of our debt, and that we need to keep doing business with for the global economy to exist)? Who can make the other look worse about the Libya fiasco? And what about some quips about Iran actually being a country that exists in time (they’re “four years closer” to a nuclear bomb)? And who can use the word “Israel” and the phrase “best friend forever” more? And what about the oldies-but-goodies “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” and “weaken America”? 

These two guys don’t differ dramatically in their foreign policy — at least not at a level that they will be willing to explain during the debate. So the distinctions we’ll see will be superficial — who should take the blame for Benghazi? Was Romney disrespectful to some foreign leader or another?

Whatever happens, count on these superficial distinctions leading to some stylistic fireworks; but don’t count on an informed policy debate breaking out — it’s a non-starter for both sides. 

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