Debate Summary: Who Won the Obama Romney Debate


I didn’t catch the show’s interview with Governor Romney, but as reported in the Huffington Post:

“For the record, when Mitt Romney was asked the eternal ‘Boxers or briefs?’ question on ‘LIVE! Kelly and Michael,’ he answered, ‘I think the best answer is as little as possible’."

The article then went on to say:

“There you have it, folks: the one thing Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have in common.”

I beg to differ and this brings me to what I’d like to blog about.  There is really not much difference between the candidates when it comes to Foreign Policy.  Both candidates do a lot of political “trash talking” but when you cut through the rhetoric, they identify the same concerns: terrorism, Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea, Cyber, Iran, Israel, China, improving relations with our allies, size of the defense budget, etc.  What differences there are exist in how each proposes to solve these problems, but even in that area, neither side provides a lot of detail during their speeches. When I was on active duty in the military, we called this giving a presentation at the 50,000 feet level.

As I mentioned in my last blog, I believe there are a couple of reasons for this.  The President has a tremendous advantage.  First, foreign policy and national security are areas the President doesn’t have to ask “Mother may I” of Congress for a great deal of his actions as Commander-in-Chief.  Congress has budget approval but, as head guy in charge the President has tremendous leeway.  Generally speaking, it’s been my experiences that except for exceptional operations like the Bin Laden Navy Seal raid or; if you believe the leaked reports in the press armed drone attacks against terrorists, the President delegates operational authority to the military commanders.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.  Speaking this summer at the Aspen Institute, Admiral William McRaven, U.S. Special Operations Commander, said the night of the Bin Laden raid, his forces conducted 11 other raids inAfghanistan.  The Admiral also stated make no doubt, “it was the President who ordered the raid”.  He also said the President and his national security team (which included Secretary of Defense Gates and Secretary of State Clinton) were “magnificent” in how they handled things from start to finish of planning and execution.  I’m sure the President and his staff were briefed on the 11 other raids but were not as heavily involved.  That is the role of the military chain of command.

The second advantage any President has over his opponent is a good deal of the information he receives and the decisions the President makes are classified.  It’s my understanding Governor Romney and his team started receiving access to some information after he was formally nominated but as I’ve mentioned in other blogs the intelligence community collects a mind boggling amount of data.  A 2007 figure I have is every 24 hours the intelligence community collects one billion pieces of information.  I’m sure it’s gone up since then.  I doubt the Romney team has access to most of this information.  This is the reason I believe up until theBenghazi situation you have not heard much out of Governor Romney on foreign and national security policy.

As mentioned earlier, a similar view of the threat does not mean they have the same approach to solving the problems.  On 6 September, the Romney team released a memorandum listing 10 foreign policy and national security failures of the Obama administration:

" - No Results In Slowing Or Stopping Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program

 - Endangering Our Mission In Afghanistan And Weakening Our Relationship With Pakistan

 - “Unconscionable” Leaks Of Classified Counterterror Information From The White House That Have Been “Devastating”

 - “Devastating” Defense Cuts That Will Cede Our Status As A “Global Power”

 - A Damaged Relationship With Israel And A Moribund Peace Process

 - No Coherent Policy To Stem The Humanitarian And Strategic Disaster In Syria

 - A “Reset” With Russia That Has Compromised U.S. Interests & Values

 - Emboldening The Castros, Chávez & Their Cohorts In Latin America

  - Getting Beaten Badly By Competitors On Trade

 - Putting Our Interests At Risk By Mismanaging The Transition In Iraq"

The Romney team gives very little information in the memorandum of how they would differ in solving the problems.  In various speeches and papers on his web site, Governor Romney has said he would increase defense spending to 4% of the GDP and listen to the counsel of his military commanders on the ground in Afghanistan on what’s needed.  He particularly signals out the U.S. Navy stating it hasn’t been this small since World War I.

President Obama and his team have been pretty open about some of the problems they’ve faced in this area.  I’ve participated in numerous press conferences the Department of Defense sets up for bloggers with the military leaders conducting the war in Afghanistan.  They’ve been pretty consistent in saying the surge halted the momentum of the Taliban but the gains are fragile.  The major problems they cite to success are corruption within Afghanistan, safe havens for the terrorists and Taliban in Pakistan, and literacy.

The Obama Security team has also put out a Department of Defense publication called “Enduring Lessons from the Past Decade of Operations”, detailing mistakes made in conducting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  One could article it’s a Defense Department thing.  They work for the President so his team put it out.  Here are the key points:

  "Understanding the Environment: A failure to recognize, acknowledge, and accurately define the operational environment led to a mismatch between forces, capabilities, missions, and goals.

Conventional Warfare Paradigm: Conventional warfare approaches often were ineffective when applied to operations other than major combat, forcing leaders to realign the ways and means of achieving effects. Battle for the Narrative: The US was slow to recognize the importance of information and the battle for the narrative in achieving objectives at all levels; it was often ineffective in applying and aligning the narrative to goals and desired end states. Transitions: Failure to adequately plan and resource strategic and operational transitions endangered accomplishment of the overall mission. Adaptation: Department of Defense (DOD) policies, doctrine, training and equipment were often poorly suited to operations other than major combat, forcing widespread and costly adaptation. Special Operations Forces (SOF) – General Purpose Forces (GPF) Integration: Multiple, simultaneous, large-scale operations executed in dynamic environments required the integration of general purpose and special operations forces, creating a force-multiplying effect for both. Interagency Coordination: Interagency coordination was uneven due to inconsistent participation in planning, training, and operations; policy gaps; resources; and differences in organizational culture. Coalition Operations: Establishing and sustaining coalition unity of effort was a challenge due to competing national interests, cultures, resources, and policies. Host-Nation Partnering: Partnering was a key enabler and force multiplier, and aided in host-nation capacity building. However, it was not always approached effectively nor adequately prioritized and resourced. State Use of Surrogates and Proxies: States sponsored and exploited surrogates and proxies to generate asymmetric challenges. Super-Empowered Threats: Individuals and small groups exploited globalized technology and information to expand influence and approach state-like disruptive capacity." 

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6:37 PM Mountain Time

In just a few minutes President Obama and Governor Romney will go before both the American public and a world audience to debate their views of Foreign Policy.  If this is anything like the last two I believe I would be better served watching Monday Night Football. If it were up to me, what I’d really like is to have each candidate give a 30 minute, uninterrupted speech.  I would have them cover three basic areas.

 1. What is their foreign policy philosophy?

2.  What are the major threats toU.S.national security?

3.  How would you go about solving them and under what circumstances would you decide to go to war?

 After each has given their presentation, I would have the moderator ask questions.  The questions could be about their speech content or about subjects not mentioned in their talks.  This session would last no more than 30 minutes.  For the last 30 minutes I would give the candidates 15 uninterrupted minutes each to state what they consider to be flaws in the others policy.  

One could argue this information is readily available on their respective web sites.  I would counter by saying, not every one has enough Geek in them to wade through all of the policy papers on those sites.  I think this is an opportunity for each candidate to personally explain to the American public and the rest of the world where they are coming from. 

 I did my undergraduate work atDrewUniversity.  The absolute best lecture I’ve ever heard on Presidential responsibilities was given by the political department head, Dr. Julius Mastro.  He argued that the President had three primary jobs:  Symbolic head of the Nation, head of his political party, and head legislator.  He argued that each job in and of itself was a full time thing.  He then went on to state he believed each President chose one role and delegated the other two. 

 As the head of the nation, I believe it is the job of the President to LEAD the nation in the direction he or hopefully one day she, believes is right and tell us why.  I know this is not an easy thing.  Sometimes it takes something like the attack onPearl Harborto change minds. As I’ve mentioned in my blogs, the President and his staff have access to a vast amount of information the general public is now aware of or have access to.  Therefore they have a better sense of current and potential trouble spots.  In spite of that, it is part of the responsibility of the position to keep the public as informed as possible.  Throughout history Americans have shown they are willing to sacrifice for a good and just cause.   I keep on my desk a quote from Abraham Lincoln:

 “A Leader takes people where they want to go; a great Leader takes people where they ought to be.”

 Even if a President chooses to delegate most of his foreign policy role to the Secretaries of Defense and State he needs to let the public know what direction we need to go in.  Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about.  After World War II in response to the Communist threat, President Truman gave a speech to Congress that became known as the Truman Doctrine.  Key passages:

 “The peoples of a number of countries of the world have recently had totalitarian regimes forced upon them against their will. The Government of theUnited Stateshas made frequent protests against coercion and intimidation in violation of theYaltaagreement inPoland,Rumania, andBulgaria. I must also state that in a number of other countries there have been similar developments…

I believe that it must be the policy of theUnited Statesto support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.

I believe that our help should be primarily through economic and financial aid which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes.”

During his inaugural speech, President Kennedy gave a foreign policy speech for the ages.  Key passages:

“We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution.  Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and which are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty…

 To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required—not because the communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right.  If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich…

 My fellow citizens of the world:  ask not what American will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

 During his inaugural address President Reagan stated:

 To those neighbors and allies who share our freedom, we will strengthen our historic ties and assure them of our support and firm commitment.  We will match loyalty with loyalty.  We will strive for mutually beneficial relations. We will not use our friendship to impose on their sovereignty, for our own sovereignty is not for sale.

 As for the enemies of freedom, those who are potential adversaries, they will be reminded that peace is the highest aspiration of the American people.  We will negotiate for it, sacrifice for it, we will not surrender for it – now or ever.

 Our forbearance should never be misunderstood.  Our reluctance for conflict should not be misjudged as failure of will.  When action is required to preserve our national security, we will act.  We will maintain sufficient strength to prevail if need be, knowing that if we do so we have the best chance of never having to use that strength.”

6:47 PM Mountain Time

Just in case anyone wonders why I choose quotes from the above Presidents.  I picked the ones who set a mood that encouraged people to believe in them and then their administrations followed through.  I'm sure everyone out there has at least one President they feel inspired them and/or the nation.

Who's Winning the Debate

7:10 PM Mountain Time

Question on Libyan Contraversy.  Close but Obama won when he got the chance to talk about previous statements Romney make like Russia being the number one threat.  Romney says Russia is a geopolitical threat but he said Iran is greatest threat.  Obama told him his policy is from the '80's.

Who is Winning?


Question:  What is America's role?

I think they both lost this round because there spending most of their time talking about the economy.  Now Romney has moved on to have well his education program worked when he was Governor.  Who are these guys????  If Obama is re-elected or Romney is elected if there is a foreign policy crisis are they going to start talking about the economy and education???

Who is winning?

7:41 PM Mountain Time

Question for Romney on military funding.  Now Romney is talking about medicare and medicaid.  Now Obama is talking about Romney providing money for the military that they haven't asked for.  We spend more on the military than the next 10 countries.  Obama says he worked with military leaders for his budget figures.  Prez is winning because so far he is asking the question.  Prez says we are talking about capabilities.  Budget is driven by strategy.  What do we need to keep American people safe. 

Who is winning?

Romney finally talking specifics.  Navy leaders say they need 313 ships now down to 285.  Air Force is down as well.  Prez says Romney has not spent enough time to see how armed forces work.  He made a mistake and made a few condescending statements on how the military work.  Prez is still winning.

Who is winning?

7:50 PM Mountain Time

Question:  Would you be willing to declare an attack on Israel is an attack on U.S.

Pres is winning.  Both candidates said yes, they did the political thing yet but yes.  Romney is trying to show how he differs making the economic sanctions stronger, and now allowing ships carrying Iranian oil in ports but not really making progress on it.

Who is Winning?

7:53 PM Mountain Time

Question on red lines on Iran.  Prez winning so far.  Says its simple Iran has to end their nuclear program.  Will not let up pressure until it happens.  Reports of potential negotiations with Iran are not true.  Clock is clicking for Iran.  Romney says Iran sees weakness where they have expected to find strength.  Is now talking about Pres's apology tour.  Says Prez didn't step in when Iranians were doing anti-government demonstrations.  Says its essential for a president to show strength.  Weal argument.  Pres detailed what he has been doing including this weak holding the largest exercise we've ever had with Israel.  Pres is now saying everything Romney is saying is untrue.  Let America people decide who is going to be more effective in dealing with Iran.

Who is winning the debate?

8:00 Mountain Time

Prez is doing a slam dunk at the moment.  In response to Romney's "apology tour" comments.  Prez said his first trip was to visit troops and when he traveled to Israel he didn't travel with donars but met with average people that had been the victim of weapons attacks.  Romney trying to regain ground by saying US influence is down around the world.  Prez accusing Romney of being all over the map with his foreign policy.

Who is winning the debate?

8:09PM Mountain Time

Afghanistan question.  Prez winning explaining his transition policy.  After a decade of war time to do nation building at home.  Saying making sure returning Vets get medical care and jobs.  Vet unemployment lower than rest of America.

8:11 PM Mountain Time

Time for us to divorce Pakistan?

Romney says no they got 100 nukes and has terrorist groups, intelligence branch of military is most powerful. If it becomes a failed state we have problem.  Technically an ally.  Not acting like one.  Doesn't blame administration on strain caused by going after Bin Laden.  Inside Pakistan you have a large number of Taliban that will come back into Afghanistan as we live.  Romney asked about drones.  Says we should use any and all methods says Pres is right to up usuage of drones.  Pres is winnning this round because Romney has not been able to differentiate himself that much from the Pres's policy.

8:16PM Mountain Time

Pres is still winning talking about be one of the first to stand with Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya uprisings.

8:17PM Mountain Time

Who is Winning the debate?

Question on China

Pres currently tying in how we need to make investments in education to be able to compete with China. Romney says greatest nuclear threat is Iran.  Now he says we can be a partner with China.  We don't have to be an adversary.  Speaking on trillion dollar cuts on military is devasting.  Says Pres's on SecDef said that.  China doesn't play by the same rules so we loose jobs.  Says China is a currency manipalator and will do so on day one of his presidency. They're hacking into our computers, stealing our intellectual property.  Question:  will that not cause trade war. Romney refutes that.  Romney is winning this round because of specifics on some of the practices of China.  China can be our partner but that doesn't mean they can cause problem for us.

Pres is trying to refute him but I think Romney is still winning.  Pres says if we don't make investments in education and research technology we won't be able to keep up.  Says exports to China have doubled. Currency situation best since 1993.  Says we're showing we're a Pacific problem.  I think he made it closer but I'd still score this round to Romney.

Who is winning?

8:27PM Mountain Time

Pres says Romney said hke would not invest in auto companies.  Romney tried to refute it.  Romney says he doesn't believe in investing in research accuses the Pres of investing in companies not research.  Both are off topic.  I say they both lost this round because they are off topic.  I feel like switching to Monday Night Football.

8:30PM Mountain Time

Who is winning?

Closing Statements.  

So far the Pres is only talking about economy not foreign policy.  Now he's saying he will maintain the strongest military in the world but after a decade of war we have to do nationa building at time.  Still say he's off topic in his last statement.

Romney now talking.  Says he wants peace and real leadership to promote principles of peace to make the world a safer place.  Now he off topic and talking about economy.  I say they both lost this round.

 8:34PM Mountain Time

Who won the Debate?

Obama by a large margin.