“You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting slips. It’s what are our capabilities….” – President Obama
IT MAY not be a game of battleship, but it’s obviously one big game. How else could Mitt Romney completely turn his position upside down on Afghanistan? During the 90 minutes, Obama roughed Romney up without looking back. Romney, meanwhile, shadowed Obama. On the politics, however, Mitt Romney did what he planned to do, but it was done ugly.
Before the debate, Wolf Blitzer commented on his interview with Mitt Romney, saying he was “tentative,” “nervous” on foreign policy. In the debate, Romney clearly was practiced and had his lines, but Barack Obama has been commander in chief for four years and used it to beat Romney over the head at every opportunity.
If nice guys finish last, Barack Obama shouldn’t worry.
Obama was on the attack, at one point saying Romney had been “all over the map” on foreign policy, pressing, obviously trying to rattle Romney, which at one point worked, with Romney faltering badly. “Every time you have offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong,” Obama landing insult after insult.
Romney regrouped, kept coming, and as I predicted before the debate, rolled right into his position on “peace” [Tweets here] and did so with purpose, several times saying “peaceful planet… peace… principles of piece.” (PAUSE) More “peace… peace..”
“We can’t kill our way out of this mess.” – Mitt Romney
The message being sent was to women: I’m not George W. Bush, you won’t get preemption from me.
What eventually evolved was extraordinary.
ROMNEY: Well, we’re going to be finished by 2014, and when I’m president, we’ll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014. The commanders and the generals there are on track to do so.
We’ve seen progress over the past several years. The surge has been successful and the training program is proceeding apace. There are now a large number of Afghan Security Forces, 350,000 that are ready to step in to provide security and we’re going to be able to make that transition by the end of 2014.
So our troops will come home at that point.
Mitt Romney saying he’d get the U.S. out of Afghanistan by 2014, going to the left, leaving his base in the dust was an epic act of political expediency. It was an ode to convince women he can be trusted not to mimic Bush.
Romney’s flip on Afghanistan should put this debate in the proper context. It wasn’t a debate of differing viewpoints on foreign policy philosophy. It was about Obama taking Romney out after losing points across the board to his opponent. While on the other side it was a re-positioning of Romney, who dropped the Afghanistan line like he’d never said otherwise, walking away from his previous neconservative strategy that won him the nomination.
Mitt Romney’s strategy and tactics may be a brilliant political calculation that also backed up his “peace” patter, but it wasn’t grounded in any foundation other than to win the election.
Will the American voter who hasn’t decided even notice? Team Romney is counting people won’t and they may be right to do so, but it doesn’t negate the cynicism involved in plotting the move.
One moment with Obama on Pakistan and Osama bin Laden was extraordinary:
OBAMA: And you said we should ask Pakistan for permission. And if we had asked Pakistan permission, we would not have gotten him. And it was worth moving heaven and earth to get him.
There is a lot of lip service about Pakistan being an ally, but President Obama disabused anyone of this notion.
Ten minutes before the end, Twitter exploded with reports of Romney’s people already hitting the spin room. It was followed by Bill Kristol’s post “President Romney.”
It’s a spin war from here on out.