So the debate season of the 2012 presidential election has drawn to a close, capped by a foreign policy debate that centered mostly on jobs, education, tax policy and deficits in the United States.
Mitt Romney -- who first endured 19 Republican primary debates before doing three with Obama -- delivered an unusually subdued, and early on, stumbling, performance. Several times at Monday's debate in Boca Raton, Fla., he chided President Barack Obama for criticizing him, saying such critiques were not substitution for policies. It was an oddly delicate and, I think, inappropriate strategy in a debate that largely centered around military might and the threat of terrorism.
One of the oddest, densest assertions by both men was the idea that "the Middle East must reject extremism." Or what? Many people don't want to reject extremism, or empower women, as the two men demanded, or accept the Western style of liberty. Is that a lesson we are truly, entirely incapable of learning? Or do we think we're going to have better luck winning hearts and minds in the next series of wars?
This is true in Egypt, and Lebanon, and Libya, and Syria, and Afghanistan, and Pakistan and across the region. Significant numbers of people have no interest in what we preach. Everything we preach is right, and those who oppose it are entirely wrong, but so what? Do we really think we can impose our will?
On issue after issue the two men seemed to agree on what the policy ought to be, but Obama held a decisive advantage for a couple of reasons: First off, it looks much more powerful to be implementing foreign policy than suggesting it. That's the incumbent edge.
But Obama also came off far better in talking about the auto bailout, again, because he actually bailed out the auto industry.
And where Romney had real opportunities to score, particularly on the White House confusion of the Benghazi attacks, he chose not to. Romney's strongest point in the debate was his arguments that we must crack down on China, but even here Obama didn't lose, making a strong case that he has cracked down, and is generally handling the relationship well.
The third and final debate goes to Obama, fairly decisively, in the midst of an election that is a dead heat. Will the votes follow?