- By Jamie M. FlyJamie M. Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.
The conventional wisdom coming out of last week’s presidential town hall debate is that it is Gov. Romney, not President Obama that has a foreign policy problem going into today’s third and final debate on foreign policy.
Gov. Romney supposedly got the worst of a dispute over President Obama’s willingness to concede that the September 11th attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi was a terrorist attack. Obama campaign official Jen Psaki went so far as to call the exchange "one of the best moments in recent debate history."
Libya is important because it has revealed several uncomfortable truths about the Obama foreign policy. Despite the emerging narrative, Gov. Romney should double down on Libya and foreign policy more broadly. He’s got a good case to make about the failures of President Obama’s leadership when it comes to world affairs.
The real story of the two presidential debates and the vice presidential debate is the insight they have provided into the Obama worldview. What President Obama and Vice President Biden have put on display has been little more than spin and bluster, backed up by trite sound bites — accusations that Gov. Romney wants to spend $2 trillion on the Pentagon that the generals don’t want, talk of ending wars to fund projects at home and bumper sticker slogans about bin Laden being dead, as if that alone means Americans are safe.
This has been the Democratic Party’s playbook for decades. As Jim Mann writes in his book The Obamians, the party elite has struggled since the Vietnam War to reconcile an antiwar progressive base with their desire for the opportunity to control the nuclear codes.
In recent years, this has resulted in the spectacle of Democrats overplaying their hand, whether it was Sen. John Kerry saluting the crowd and "reporting for duty," at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004 or this year’s veteran and war-themed convention of a party that doesn’t know the difference between foreign and American military materiel and is presiding over $1 trillion in defense cuts and pledging to end wars to fund their domestic agenda.
Despite the spin, President Obama’s record is clear.
His doubling down in Afghanistan in 2009 has been replaced by an increasingly uncertain and under resourced strategy that he has failed to explain to the American people. His trumpeting of the killing of bin Laden and the narrative that "al Qaeda is on the run" has been undermined by the very real gains that the terrorist organization is making in North Africa and other regions.
His policy of "leading from behind," which we were told by administration officials was the better, safer, and cheaper alternative to the policies of George W. Bush, deposed a dictator but has led to proliferation of weapons throughout the region and the very instability that resulted in the deaths of four American officials on September 11th. His humanitarianism supposedly on display in Libya has now been shown to be nothing more than rhetoric as tens of thousands are dead in Syria and America stands idly by as the Syrian people and our allies in the region plead for American leadership.
He has serially alienated allies and failed to speak out on behalf of those oppressed by despotic regimes, even as he engages the tyrants who threaten U.S. interests and crush dissent. As Iran gets closer to a nuclear weapons capability by the day, the gap between the United States and our ally Israel, grows and terrorist plots and attacks on U.S. personnel ordered by Tehran go unanswered.
With the polls tight and the last debate on foreign policy, this could now be the decisive issue in this election. Earlier this year, Gov. Romney consistently trailed President Obama, often by double digits, when voters were asked who they trusted more on national security. Now, with the administration’s bungling response to the Libya attack, Gov. Romney, with no firsthand foreign policy experience, has narrowed the gap and in many polls, rates better than President Obama.
Gov. Romney needs to ignore the chattering classes and continue to make the case against another four years of "weakness, indecision, mediocrity, and incompetence," and ask "Is the world today a safer place in which to live?" just as Reagan did in 1980 when he smartly described Carter’s foreign policy.
Squabbling over transcripts and who said what when will not win Governor Romney the presidency. Reminding Americans that they — and the world — deserve a president that is willing to unashamedly stand up for our values and interests overseas might.