Call it American exceptionalism. Despite a mandate to cover the global issues left out of the first two debates, the sole foreign-policy argument between the country’s two presidential candidates stuck to America’s parochial obsessions: Its Middle Eastern entanglements, its relationship with Israel, and its own troubled economy. Left out? The European crisis, India, Mexico, international tax law and host of other major issues. The two candidates’ strategies were clear: Romney tried to distance himself from his neoconservative statements on foreign policy and talk about domestic problems, while Obama set out to define Romney as both the inheritor of George W. Bush’s legacy and an untrustworthy public face for the nation. Pundits (and Intrade) suggest Obama won another narrow decision, but Romney’s cautious performance likely didn’t cost him much.
The styles set the scene.
Romney wearing single-vented suit; Obama, European-style double vents—
Joshua Green (@JoshuaGreen) October 23, 2012
Obama kept reminding voters that he has been running US foreign policy for the last four years.
Interesting that Obama plays experience card, which was his own greatest weakness last election.—
David Grann (@DavidGrann) October 23, 2012
Because the debate was in the critical swing state of Florida, where Jewish voters have a significant voice, Israel was mentioned early and often:
Obama the first and second one to bring up israel. in boca.—
Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) October 23, 2012
All across the world, presidents and prime ministers are asking themselves, "How do we get mentioned half as much as Israel?"—
Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) October 23, 2012
Other topics were avoided:
No Europe, no Latin America, no sub-Saharan Africa, no immigration, no global health, no drug war, no international financial issues.—
Josh Barro (@jbarro) October 23, 2012
Countries mentioned less than Mali: Brazil, India, China, and Mexico—
Matthew Zeitlin (@MattZeitlin) October 23, 2012
But the Middle East got plenty of attention, and also some gaffes. Obama didn’t explain the subtle nuances of America’s support for the Saudi monarchy and Arab democracy activists, while Romney suggested that Iran saw Syria as its road to the sea, though the countries aren’t contiguous and Iran already has seaports.
Romney often found himself echoing Obama’s positions on everything from the Syrian civil war to deterring Iran’s nuclear ambitions, including a contest-within-a-contest where each man attempted to describe the “crippling sanctions” their administration would level against the latter country as often as possible.
"I want to underscore the same point the president made." — Mitt, summarizing the foreign policy part of this debate—
(@AdamSerwer) October 23, 2012
Always great to strangle a young, educated, modern population with “crippling sanctions” to punish the Mullahs. What could go wrong?—
(@amaeryllis) October 23, 2012
With the economy at the top of voters mind in the US, candidates never missed an opportunity to pivot to domestic policy, though not always with consistent results:
Our debt makes us weaker. I will not cut our military budget. Repeat that enough times, and it works.—
(@daveweigel) October 23, 2012
A strong U.S. economy is probably the best thing we could do for the world right now.—
Zachary A. Goldfarb (@Goldfarb) October 23, 2012
Obama even made some news:
Obama: "The sequester will not happen."—
Ben White (@morningmoneyben) October 23, 2012
Finally, the end, China got some attention from the two candidates, largely negative and a little misguided:
Apparently we all hate China because they sell us stuff cheaply and lend us money cheaply. For some reason, we wish it were more expensive.—
Justin Wolfers (@justinwolfers) October 23, 2012
Meanwhile, among the financial press…
And an instant verdict on the debate’s winner:
PRIMARY SOURCE: Here is a transcript of the third and final presidential debate of 2012, on foreign policy.