WASHINGTON - It was amusing as well as a bit amazing to hear President Barack Obama denigrate his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, as short on foreign-policy experience, a man in a "time warp" who still believes Russia is our No. 1 enemy.
This followed Vice President Joe Biden's declaration that Romney had once said it wasn't worth spending the money to track down Osama bin Laden, which fact-checkers found was a blatant distortion of what the Republican nominee actually said. Biden conveniently dropped much of the Romney statement that we should spend most of our money and effort eradicating al-Qaida as a whole and not just hunting for one person.
The decision to attack Romney on foreign policy came because the former Massachusetts governor had mentioned very little about any plans for Afghanistan or other thorny problems during his acceptance speech in Tampa, an omission the Democrats immediately saw as an opening in this increasingly discursive presidential campaign. It was a gap in Romney's presentation that most observers found surprising.
But what made first Biden's and then Obama's attacks equally surprising was the fact that, four years ago, the president was vulnerable to the same charges. In fact, it would not be wrong to say he knew squat about the subject; he had to rely on Biden's experience as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the Democratic ticket to legitimately claim any knowledge of world affairs.
That didn't stop Obama from promising to overhaul the nation's foreign policy, beginning with an end to the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, to neutralize Iran as a nuclear threat, to close the prison at Guantanamo, to promote both Israeli and Palestinian justice, and on and on. None of these promises has he come close to fulfilling, with the exception of a withdrawal from Iraq that was already under way.
Despite the tireless efforts of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- who is constantly trying to patch together what is, at best, her boss's ragged policy -- the president's record of overseas achievement ranges between F and C minus. And that is after an unprecedented initial acceptance of Obama by the world's diplomatic community, which regarded him as a breath of fresh air following George W. Bush.
Four years ago, Clinton clearly was more up on foreign policy than her primary opponent, but the then-U.S. senator from New York was dumped by a primary system that often fails to choose the right candidate. Under the current conditions, which minimize the worth of professional politicians in the selection process, flash usually wins out.
The conventions, previously so important to the business of finding a leader, are a breeding ground for silly claims and false information, mainly disseminated by cable television stars who believe they are more important than those they are covering.
Little wonder that there was no challenge to Obama's rhetoric or that of his running mate, no effort by the pseudo journalists or downright phony ones like the Rev. Al Sharpton on MSNBC to point out the irony of the president's attack. The same lack of objectivity existed in the Fox version of both conventions. Since the broadcast networks now all but ignore these increasingly silly pep rallies, leaving them up to cable, disingenuousness and show business reign supreme.
This is among the most acrimonious presidential campaigns in modern history, and it is likely to get worse. It is a dream for the legion of fact-checkers who parse every word and phrase and then tell us who is lying or distorting and who is coming close to the truth, with the latter trailing badly in the assessments.
Nailing Romney on foreign policy isn't likely to get Obama very far in a nation beset by domestic problems. For him to announce that he is the president and therefore qualified to speak on foreign policy while his opponent isn't is a real hoot.
Email Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at DanKThomasson(at)gmail.com.