B S Raghavan

Obama scores over Romney in final debate

B.S.RAGHAVAN | Updated on October 23, 2012

The final debate between the Democratic Party candidate and incumbent President, Barack Obama, and the Republican Party challenger, Mitt Romney, on the overarching theme of the foreign policy of the US was held at the Lynn University, Boca Raton in the swing state of Florida on October 22, with Bob Schieffer of CBS News as the moderator.

A whole host of issues came up in the debate, which Schieffer neatly divided into five segments: West Asia with special reference to Libya; America’s role in world affairs, particularly in relation to Afghanistan and Pakistan; Israel and Iran; Rise of China; and future security challenges.

A feature that stuck out like a sore thumb was the absence of even a single reference to India, however fleeting, in all the elaborate expositions of both candidates during the entire 90 minutes exchange. Even Male came in for mention (for the al Qaeda build-up there), but nary a word about the US-India strategic partnership and its supportive role in combating terrorism. It was clear that it was not even a blip on the radar of either Obama or Romney.

OVERALL IMPRESSION

At different stages of the discussion, going beyond the confines of foreign policy, both Obama and Romney managed to reiterate the criticism of each other’s stand, already voiced in the previous two debates, on matters of domestic importance, such as the need for a strong economy, increasing job opportunities and maintaining military superiority, on the ground of their having a bearing on a successful and effective exercise of America’s influence in foreign affairs.

The overall impression left in my mind at the end of the debate was that Barack Obama scored over his rival with his convincing and eloquent exposition of the various dimensions of American foreign policy.

Obviously, he had made special efforts, both as the chief executive and the commander-in-chief, to go in depth into the repercussions and ramifications of developments affecting the US interests abroad, and done his homework in respect of their impact on national security and defence.

Apparently, the American people too had recognised this to be his forte. Even before the debate, an Associated Press-GfK poll of voters conducted in September gave a six-point lead to Obama over Romney on “protecting the country”.

Likewise, as per a Washington Post-ABC News poll also, Obama enjoyed a 10-point lead over Romney as the one who commanded greater trust in handling “international affairs”. However, in regard to capacity to make “wise decisions about foreign policy”, in an opinion poll by the Pew Research Center at about the same time, the respondents among voters differed more narrowly, with Obama getting 47 per cent and Romney 43 per cent.

TOUCH-AND-GO

Whether it was Afghanistan, Pakistan, West Asia, or China, Romney had little to add to the foreign and defence policy framework already put in place by Obama.

He was in agreement with Obama in the use of Drones on the al Qaeda hideouts in Pakistan, and, like Obama, he ruled out a military attack on Iran except as a last resort, although, in his view, Iran was “four years closer to nuclear weapons” and represented the “greatest security threat” to the US.

Traditionally, foreign policy is the blind spot of the average American voter. For instance, according to a survey made by the Pew Research Centre some months ago, 83 per cent of Americans were of the opinion that the US should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems of immediate concern within the country.

Almost two-thirds of Americans are against the US being involved in regime changes in West Asia and only 23 per cent are for the US to take a larger role in that region.

If anything, the Americans would want the Administration, whatever its complexion, to turn its back from entanglements abroad to achieve ends of no relevance to their daily lives.

This debate can, in that sense, by no means be called a clincher. The total effect of the entire series of debates on the American voters’ minds is also a matter of conjecture. They may at best help wavering voters to make up their minds.

As at this moment, it seems touch-and-go. Any way, the election day, November 6, is not far off. We will soon know. May the better person win!

Published on October 23, 2012

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