Tonight’s debate on foreign policy promises to be a pretty big deal.
The race is tied, and for undecided voters (who are these people anyways?!?) it will be their last chance to compare Obama and Romney side by side to figure out who is less unlikeable.
For the other 96% of us it’s another opportunity to squirm as we watch our guy pander to those undecideds.
It’s a bit ironic that this last debate could have so much influence on the final outcome of the election, since foreign policy hasn’t gotten much attention in the campaign so far. The dismal economy is a much better jumping off point for Romney to criticize Obama than his pretty solid international record, punctuated by the “remember how I killed Osama bin Laden” trump card.
So tonight debate moderator Bob Schieffer will be looking hard for ways to draw out distinctions between the two candidates, and Romney will likely do his best bring the conversation back to the economy, while picking at Obama’s foreign policy where he can.
We saw some of this in the debate last week. The most contentious moment was probably when Romney criticized the administration’s response to the attack on the embassy in Libya, evoking an icy-death-stare from Obama that is rumored to have actually burned two tiny bald spots into the back of Romney’s head.
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There was also a lot of talk about China, which appears to be even less popular with Americans than the US Congress. Obama accused Romney of shipping jobs overseas and Romney responded by saying as much bad stuff about China as he could without using expletives, and then threatening to impose (gasp!) tariffs. (For those of you born after 1990, a tariff is when a country charges a tax on imports to protect domestic production from foreign competition. Bill Clinton got rid of them all and no one has said a word about them since – until Romney did last week.)
Here are the tentative topics Schieffer plans to cover tonight:
*America’s role in the world
* Our longest war – Afghanistan and Pakistan
* Red Lines – Israel and Iran
* The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism – I
* The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism – II
* The Rise of China and Tomorrow’s World
It’s no coincidence that these sound less like questions and more like the titles of those Time-Life books that would get mailed to your grandma in monthly installments.
Debates, even campaigns in general, are not a very good arena to talk honestly about international affairs. Even the most unilateral foreign policy requires some compromise and acknowledgement of the interests and desires of foreign governments and their people.
But none of those guys are going to be voting in two weeks, Americans are.
So the temptation is there for the candidates to show up tonight wearing those giant foam “we’re number one” gloves and promising four years of kicking ass and taking names around the world.
If they do, we can be pretty sure that’s not what their policy will actually look like.
But at least it will be fun to watch.