Some pundits and instant polls gave President Barack Obama a win in tonight’s presidential debate over Governor Romney, but I believe based on the most important issues – Iran and the economy – as well as how the two men handled themselves in the debate, it was a clear win for Romney.
The amount of agreement between President Obama and Governor Romney was a fascinating aspect of this debate. Romney chose not to go after Obama on the Benghazi consulate terrorist attack, probably because he knew Obama was ready to recite talking points on this issue accusing Romney of trying to politicize a tragedy. Romney didn’t take the bait.
Instead, on Libya and terrorism, the two men gave similar responses. Romney also seemed to disarm the president’s new attack ads that he would get the United States into new wars as president.
The president’s statements that the United States led coalitions to deal with Libya, Syria, and Iran were not accurate. Romney called Obama on this concerning Syria but failed to point out that Western policy on Libya was led by France and the UK, and that Obama’s support for the Libyan conflict was famously described by an Obama adviser as “leading from behind.”
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Romney’s best foreign policy arguments were on Iran. He repeatedly pointed out that Iran is now four years closer to a nuclear weapon. Romney laid out a good plan on how to toughen measures against Iran and noted that it saw the Obama administration as weak in part due to the president’s 2009 apology tour.
Obama’s claim that his administration toughened global sanctions against Iran with support from Russia and China were misleading. In fact, by limiting his administration’s Iran sanctions efforts to the UN Security Council, Obama has allowed Russia and China to prevent meaningful UN sanctions against Iran from passing. Although the Obama administration has taken credit for implementing tough U.S. sanctions against Iran this year, these sanctions were actually passed by the U.S. Senate last December over the president’s objections. In June 2012, the president exempted Iran’s 20 major trade partners from these sanctions, including China.
Most Americans do not know the background of the foreign policy issues raised tonight and may have been won over by the president’s claims on Iraq, Afghanistan, and killing Osama bin Laden. However, the last quarter of the debate was about the economy, an issue that Americans understand and one on which Romney has a decisive edge. Romney’s discussion of jobs lost over the last four years and the skyrocketing national debt was very strong and not effectively countered by the president.
Overall, I think this debate will help Romney because he came off as confident, competent, and presidential. Most importantly, Romney countered the bellicose war monger image that the Obama camp has been trying to pin on him. President Obama generally showed good command of substance, although he made some errors on Romney’s record and his administration’s failure to win status of forces agreement with Iraq. While the president aggressively defended his record, I believe he appeared petulant and snippy compared to Romney’s calm and respectful manner. This probably hurt the president’s likeability and made Romney look more presidential.
Fred Fleitz is Managing Editor of LIGNET.com, a Washington, DC-based intelligence analysis and forecasting service.
Click HERE to read LIGNET’s latest analysis, “Iran Tries to Fool U.S. With Offer of One-on-One Talks.”
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