The Middle East Debate

Last presidential debate focuses on foreign policy, sort of

Jack Rodolico By Jack Rodolico

U.S. President Barack Obama listens as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speaks during the final U.S. presidential debate in Boca Raton, Florida October 22, 2012. (Reuters/Rick Wilking)

It’s almost over! To the beleaguered American voters who have endured an epic, scorched-earth political campaign, you’ve got two more weeks of attack ads before you can breathe a sigh of relief. Last night’s presidential debate on foreign policy was the final in a series of three. Undecided voters: time to make up your mind.

The foreign press scrutinized the foreign policy debate, although you could exchange the words “foreign policy” with “Middle East.” Here’s a list of continents that essentially went all but unmentioned in last night’s debate: Europe (debt crisis, anyone?), Latin America (they’re just below us), Africa (south of Libya and Egypt, that is). Russia made it into the talking points, as did Poland. Romney brought up trade with Latin America, but it was a brief talking point he’s hit on time and time again.

Polling suggests President Obama dominated Governor Romney in the debate, although only time will tell if that turns into more votes for the POTUS on November 6. And analysts seem to agree that foreign policy won’t have much of an outcome on voter opinions. Latitude News asks: Why not?

The president has at least as much influence over our foreign policy as he does over the American economy. And while most U.S. voters are more concerned about their paying their bills than an attack on our Libyan embassy (for the obvious reasons), a look around at the global headlines this morning is a sober reminder: the world still awaits America every move, sometimes with doubt and skepticism.

  • “Obama savages Romney foreign policy in last debate,” according to Asharq Alawsat, a London-based Arab daily. “The Republican, who has spent months attempting to paint Obama as weak and as an appeaser, actually backed much of the substance of the president’s global strategy,” says the paper. “Obama looked bemused, puzzled and exasperated by Romney’s tactics, staring intently at him as he spoke, apparently trying to keep frustration in check.”


  • Poland was one of the few countries mentioned in last night’s debate outside China and in the Middle East – a fact pounced upon by the Polish media. “Romney and Obama clash over Poland and reviving Cold War rhetoric” is the headline on, a service from Poland’s public service radio. But there was little commentary as to whether Romney was actually right in his judgment that scrapping the anti-missile defense program — originally due to be installed in Poland — had damaged relations between the two countries. Rather the focus, as elsewhere, was on how this last encounter between the two presidential candidates is going to play with voters. “Obama makes fun of Romney,” comments the leading daily Gazeta Wyborcza referring to the president showing Romney how airplanes land on an aircraft carrier. But the subhead was more circumspect: “President Obama dominated the debate…but…Mitt Romney achieved what he wanted: to show he isn’t a pro-war hawk.”


  • For Gregor Peter Schmitz of the Spiegel Online, last night’s debate produced one clear loser: America’s foreign policy. Schmitz writes that the candidates failed to address several important topics like the rise of Asia and climate change, which was not mentioned in the presidential debates for the first time since 1984. “Most of all,” he adds, “they declined to discuss how they intend to address the country’s central foreign policy conundrum: Americans no longer want their country to be a global police force, but they still want to continue believing in American exceptionalism.” Instead of looking forward, Obama and Romney sounded “trapped in the world of Bush.”


  • American politicians tend to agree that drone strikes are one of our best tools for fighting Al Qaeda. But that doesn’t alter the fact that, around the world, the U.S. drone war is one of the most controversial aspects of our foreign policy. Nowhere is this truer that Pakistan, as noted by Dawn. Pakistan’s leading English-language newspaper points out that Pakistan was mentioned 25 times in the debate, and the story gets right to issue many Pakistanis care most about. Romney “endorsed the drone strikes, saying that he supports the Obama administration’s policy on this key issue. Mr Obama did not directly address this issue but when confronted by the moderator, CBS anchor Bob Schieffer, he said he was also engaging the countries where the United States was fighting terrorists.”


  • Another country that was not mentioned in last night’s debate: Canada. And at least one Canadian noticed, although he didn’t seem to mind the omission. Referring to the debate’s heavy focus on the Arab Spring, Israel and China, the Canadian paper points out, “We’re just not on that plane, praise be. Yes, the word ‘Canada’ was never mentioned, unlike in the previous two debates. But only parochial narcissists would consider that an affront.” The writer goes on to point out that, “If a poll asked Canadians who won the debate, they would probably say Mr. Obama, in hopes that wishing could make it so….Canadians like Democrats in general and love Mr. Obama in particular.”