Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ruminations on the FINAL Presidential Debate (can I get an amen?)!

I love the body language and presence in this picture!

Here's a little secret for you-
When it comes to foreign policy, I am not a Republican. Nor am I a Democrat.  My personal foreign policies have never found a good political home and probably never will, unless Mother Theresa and General Schwartzkopf ever decide to form a party together.

I'm sure you want to know what my foreign policies are, so I'm going to tell you, in my roundabout sort of way. Have you ever read the book, The Ugly American? Well, to put it mildly, this 1960's novel had a profound effect on my political views. But it wasn't just the novel, it was traveling and volunteering in places like Haiti, Romania, and Cambodia and seeing scenes from the book play out in real life.

My political views on international affairs begin with humanitarian aid, and education. I give just as much weight and importance to issues such as sex trafficking and education in low-income countries as I do to sanctions against Iran. Educate and feed the poverty stricken countries now, and you'll improve the world economy and have more peaceful allies in the future. Putting a higher emphasis on bringing clean water and education to countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, and large portions of Africa, can help prevent regimes like Gaddafi's in the future. 

Want to create more American jobs? Send Americans overseas to work in third world countries!

Now, back to the debates-

One man had a record to prove and defend; the other had an opinion to defend. And the one with the opinion often had no choice but to give his opinion to journalists before he ever had all of the facts. Of course I say this assuming that a sitting president has far more intel and details about world affairs than a former governor who until recently got his information from the media.

In short, the debate could be summed up as such- Governor Mitt Romney wants the U.S. to play a stronger role in international and peacekeeping conflicts, and would spend more money on the military. President Barack Obama believes the U.S. plays a strong role in the world theater, and tried to show that his leadership is working, and that Romney’s ideas would not work. The problem is that the two men want the same outcome, but their plans to get there are barely different from the other’s.

Shh! I can hear all of you Romney supporters screaming at me from here! I know you hate to hear anyone suggest such a thing, but it’s the truth. Romney and Obama are not that different when it comes to foreign policy. I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I kind of missed Ron Paul tonight. He would have at least brought some color and a different opinion to the table.
Both candidates are firmly against Iran getting a nuclear weapon. (But then, is there any candidate, other than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who wants Iran to have an nuke?) Both favor sanctions against Iran, and want to form better allies in the fight against Iran. Romney tried to set himself apart by saying he would take a harder line than Obama, and would indict Iran’s president for inciting “genocide.” Whether or not that is actually a feasible or possible plan, I do not know. It sounds exciting and strong, but may not actually play out well at the United Nations.

The facts of the matter are that we only have so many options in dealing with Iran- turn a blind eye and hope for the best, or military actions, sanctions, and strategic alliances. To the best of my knowledge only Ron Paul favors the blind eye approach.

On the subject of Libya, President Obama said he has taken a leadership role in the changing Middle East, including the ousting of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi from power.
"I and Americans took leadership in organizing an international coalition that made sure that we were able to—without putting troops on the ground, at the cost of less than what we spent in two weeks in Iraq—liberate a country that had been under the yoke of dictatorship for 40 years, got rid of a despot who had killed Americans," he said. (And English teachers everywhere cringed.)

For some reason Romney didn’t take that opportunity to attack the President on the Benghazi assassination. He has not been shy about criticizing Obama on the issue in recent weeks. It was surprising that he didn’t do it in this debate. In my opinion, this was a big mistake.

The one place the two candidates differ significantly is on defense spending, and these differences aren’t just their differences, they are deep down to the core party differences. Democrats don’t like to put money into the military, Republicans do. It is that simple.

Here’s some food for thought: Democrats like to “create jobs” within the federal government. Republicans like to create jobs with military spending (the jobs come both within the military and in civilian contracts with the military). There is a well defined line between federal and military jobs. The biggest difference is that federal jobs don’t help the overall economy, they help the government. And it creates a finite number of jobs. Military sector jobs not only help the military, they help foster research, inventions, development, and improvements from the commercial sector, and help the economy. Not all military spending goes to bullets and bombs. Much of it goes to create new technology that starts out as a need for the military, and gets adapted for civilian use. Case in point- the internet (regardless of what Al Gore may have told you), microwaves, cargo pants, and duct tape.

Both men declared their support for Israel when asked what the U.S. should do if Israel were attacked by Iran. Obama said, “I will stand with Israel if Israel is attacked.” Moments later Romney declared, “If Israel is attacked, we have their back.” But again I ask, is there anyone who plans to turn their back on Israel?

Both candidates also oppose U.S. military involvement in Syria. Obama did try and make some points on his leadership efforts in Syria. However, most of these points failed to hit home, and will not resonate with anyone. The U.S. population overall has remained disconnected to the Syrian conflict, with most of the major news outlets (excluding CNN) largely ignoring it.

A CNN poll released right after the debate showed no clear “winner” for the night. An MSNBC poll showed 59% of viewers were more likely to vote for Obama after the debate (no surprise there). The ABC poll showed the candidates in a virtual tie on international affairs. And a CBS poll showed 53% of the people feeling Obama “won” the debate, 23% felt Romney won, and 25% felt it was a tie. As of midnight, there was not a Fox News report on who “won” the night. But I'm pretty sure we can all predict what their poll will inevitably say. 

It is unfortunate that international affairs and foreign policy will continue to stay the American people’s shortcoming. Equal or adequate time is rarely given in classrooms or the media when it comes to the subjects. There are enough domestic issues to fill newspapers and news reports, without needing to invest much in conflicts and stories in faraway lands. And so we are often misinformed and under-informed. We are naively guided by biases, rumors, and third hand ideas, rather than facts and figures. We build opinions on what another country needs having never been to that country, met someone from that country, or listened to the voice of the people in that country. All too often we assume that what they need is a little dose of our American medicine and trample our military in to give it to them. I am happy that both presidential candidates shy away from this approach, and instead lean to negotiations and sanctions first.

All this talk about Iran has me thinking of one of my favorite Saturday Night Live digital shorts- 

Don't miss my new novel, "You Heard It Here First!" on Amazon, Nook, and Kindle!

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