Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The "horses and bayonets" debate


Basically, Romney’s only real foreign policy experience was running the Winter Olympics.  Other than that, all his talk is pure hypothesis and rhetoric.  Nor can our current president tell all.  There’s too much at stake in the areas of national security since 9/11, how foreign governments might interpret the debates, what the military is doing to keep America safe, especially in the Middle East and Northern Africa. 
Photo: www.latimes.com

Could the president, for example, have come out and told about the SEAL raid on bin Laden’s home before it happened?  Can he talk about covert operations?

It would be nice if he could, and the American people eventually learn these things, as they should, but I understand the nuances, especially since 9/11 and up to the recent tragic death of Chris Stevens.  Will a presiding president tell everything he knows during a debate, from his briefings and meetings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with the Secretary of State, with commanders in the field, about what security measures he’ll approve in Benghazi or other foreign missions?

The current president and commander-in-chief, in other words, has to walk a fine line in discussing foreign policy in such a setting.      

And he did at the 3rd debate last night. He was presidential.  Romney was appropriately more subdued than in the first two debates.  He doesn’t know enough (how could he?), which showed in his rant about the size of the military, giving Obama the opportunity to tell how the military has changed over the years: we no longer have “horses and bayonets” either. 

I don’t always agree with US foreign policy, have often been a critic (from the Vietnam war on up to what we’re doing in Iraq and Afghanistan), but I do believe we need steady, moderate, thoughtful leadership that takes into consideration all sides, all ideas, all options.  Seat-of-the-pants reactions, over-reacting, and rants about keeping America strong don’t constitute a foreign policy.  

In this area, experience and practice are more important than theory and rhetoric, as well as trust in a candidate’s temperament, style of leadership, and vision.  

Obama’s had four years of on-the-job experience, four difficult and very challenging years.  You can’t beat that.  Hopefully Obama will build on that experience to promote peace in the world.  He might start with rekindling the Israel and Palestine talks, where Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton left off.  I think the ripple effect would resonate throughout the Arab world.

I’m all for open dialogue, we don’t like secrets in a democracy, and they have gotten us in trouble, often into war and on the brink of war, as in Vietnam, as in Cuba, as in Iraq.  But is a presidential debate the place for the indepth exploration and dialogue required?

Maybe we don’t need a 3rd debate focused only on foreign policy. I’d like to see more debate between the White House and Congress on issues as they are happening, for example. More public discussion of the effects of foreign policy on domestic policy.     

In this regard, moderator Bob Schieffer asked one great question: What is the greatest threat to our national security? This would be a good question for debates 1 and 2.  In this 3rd debate, though, neither candidate hit the nail on the head.  

It’s a question that implies the relationship between foreign and domestic policy, each affecting the other. Perhaps this should be the topic of a third debate. 

One could say, for example, that the greatest future threat to our national security is not a foreign foe, but a domestic one:  Not strengthening the middle class in America, not turning the economy around, not keeping jobs at home, not closing the gap between the very rich and the 99%, not ensuring a level playing field for all Americans.  I think this is the greatest threat to our national security. And getting that balance right is the greatest task for the next president. 

The "horses and bayonets" debate raised more questions than it answered, which is not too surprsing under the circumstances, but I think in this case experience trumped rhetoric. 


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