by Nidra Poller
The real reality check is lurking in the wings, hanging over our heads, creeping up behind us. It didn't really appear in Monday night's presidential debate. Why? Was it, in fact, a debate? Or more like two gentleman on the riverbanks, fishing and chatting about the state of this troubled world. BBC World's mid-morning newscast today went from "Obama more or less won the debate" to "the Emir of Qatar visits Gaza." There's reality for you. Qatar greasing palms up front and fueling jihad in the background. Does the commander in chief have a plan for that contingency? Never mind. It doesn't matter to the majority of citizens, commentators, and media hacks. All he had to do to score points was repeat his job title -- commander in chief -- at regular intervals during the 90-minute session and tally up his foreign policy achievements. The majority of post-debate commentators didn't question his figures, they chatted about his attitude. Did he look calm, cool, and collected? What does the undecided voter think?
The undecided voter who has not chosen Mitt Romney after the September 11th anniversary jihad attack in Benghazi will not be deciding on the basis of foreign policy, period. Maybe that's why Romney took every opportunity to link the sorry state of the U.S. economy to our loss of power on the international scene. I suppose his strategy was aimed at winning the election, not winning the debate about the debate... a hopeless cause. Not only because of the stubborn subjectivity of mainstream media commentators but because that heads or tails contest is even more superficial than the debate itself.
Important foreign policy issues were indeed raised yet became weightless as they were tossed from Bob to Mitt to Barack and then dropped. The conversation bobbed on the surface of grave and urgent questions.
At the risk of contradicting what I said about last week's town hall show I would say that Obama did fine without a teleprompter last night. But, I am wondering if the collusion of Candy Crowley on the Benghazi fiasco in last week's debate explains Romney's decision to avoid that issue last night. Did he have feedback suggesting he would look unpatriotic if he tried to "exploit" the way the administration handled an enemy attack in which four Americans died? Was he afraid to be labeled a warmongering conspiracy theory whacko if he insisted that the administration had shamefully bungled the operation and then tried to cover its tracks with clumsy lies? But then why did he miss the golden opportunity to go back to Benghazi as a blatant contradiction of Obama's claims to be handling the Syrian crisis with the same exquisite finesse he had employed in Libya? Obama explained at great length why he has been, so to speak, leading so far behind on Syria that he doesn't even have a tiny carbon footprint on the scene: it's because it has to be done just right, we have to be sure we aren't backing the wrong people, people who would later turn against us. Precisely. As they did in Benghazi. (If, as reported, the Obama administration is gun running for Syrian jihadis, the "exquisite finesse" argument is doubly damning.)
The president, whose favorite theme is self-congratulation, said we got it right in Libya and even though it's heartbreaking to see all those victims in Syria, we have to get it right there. He never even tried to reply about why he didn't get it right when Iranian citizens revolted in 2009. He tossed that one off with his hallmark "I made it clear..." Boasting about his success in Egypt, the president said he wasn't going to let Mubarak's forces run tanks over protestors in Tahrir Square. One wonders why he lets the successors of the rais run over Copts. And the great defender of women's rights is proud of his contribution to the "liberation" of lands where women are now being wrapped up in niqab and delivered into the hands of morality squads.
Romney made a good point about Obama's Middle East apology tour that skipped Israel, a telling gesture that was not lost on the collective mind of the region. Needing no help from a moderator cum secretary, Romney quoted the newly elected President Obama's mea culpa: "We were dismissive and derisive and, on some occasions dictated to other nations." In one of his strongest moments, he concluded, we do no dictate to other nations we free them from dictators. When Barack Obama retorted that he had visited Israel as a candidate, it might have been opportune to hammer that one in: yes, as a candidate, not as a president. He might have added something about Vice President Biden going to Israel to have a hissy fit about building construction in the "settlements," thereby effectively giving Abbas a concrete argument for refusing to hold talks "as long as construction continues."
On this point Obama did make his position clear, though not everyone will notice it. The central issue, he said, is that we have to be credible in the eyes of all concerned. Yes, in fact, his policy has been honed to restore what he sees as a credibility deficit on the Palestinian side of the equation. Isn't this what Romney means in saying the president has acted to put daylight between the United States in Israel?
No, says the president, our relationship with Israel is perfect, better than ever. No, says the president, Iran will not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. No, says the president, al Qaida is no longer poised to attack, it is on the run. And we don't need a bigger navy any more than we need horses and bayonets. See Mark Steyn on coldsteel.
The president killed Osama bin Laden about twenty times last night. Shouldn't that be enough?
Then who exactly were those bad guys in Benghazi? Who are they when they're in Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Mali, Nigeria, Tunisia, Egypt, France and, it seems, visiting the White House? (Though they wipe their feet before stepping on the carpet there. They aren't bin Laden, they don't have to be al Qaeda, they are divided against each other and united against us and they don't need a strong navy because they have swords and IEDs and... nuclear weapons. What is the unifying principle? It's not bin Laden, it's not al Qaeda. And I don't know if Mitt Romney really believes that we are going to tame those dark forces by encouraging progress in the Arab-Muslim world or if he takes that position today in order to get into the driver's seat tomorrow and start rebuilding our strength to counter them. Is he a shrewd businessman/politician whose tactics are designed to close the deal rather than to prove that the competitor is incompetent and dishonest?
Whatever dissatisfaction I might feel about not hearing the rock bottom truths on everything from the Arab Spring to Benghazi, to the Cairo speech, and all the way to the impossibility of negotiating Iran out of its genocidal nuclear ambitions, the fact is that Mitt Romney, slammed with a narrow defeat on mainstream scorecards and dismissed as a total flop by the Obama camp, would have been soaked in boiling oil if he had gone any further into the harsh realities left at the door of the debating studio like guns outside the saloon.
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