If flip-flopping were made an Olympic sport, Mitt Romney would have won the gold. The governor continued to shape-shift himself to center-right in the third and final presidential debate, moderated by Bob Shieffer of CBS, in Boca Raton, FL on Monday night. Well, Shieffer was the official moderator, but Romney didn’t seem to notice; as in last Tuesday’s town hall, Romney intermittently admonished President Obama, “Listen, I’m talking right now — you’ll get your turn.” Okaaaay, Mitt!
Sarcastic zingers were volleyed back and forth by Romney and Obama. The one which delighted the twitterverse most, making “horses and bayonets” trending, came during this exchange:
ROMNEY: Our Navy is older — excuse me — our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We’re now down to 285. We’re headed down to the — to the low 200s if we go through with sequestration. That’s unacceptable to me. I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy.
Our Air Force is older and smaller than any time since it was founded in 1947. We’ve changed for the first time since FDR. We — since FDR we had the — we’ve always had the strategy of saying we could fight in two conflicts at once. Now we’re changing to one conflict.
Look, this, in my view, is the highest responsibility of the president of the United States, which is to maintain the safety of the American people. And I will not cut our military budget by a trillion dollars, which is the combination of the budget cuts that the president has as well as the sequestration cuts. That, in my view, is — is — is making our future less certain and less secure. I won’t do it.
And President Obama replied:
Bob, I just need to comment on this. First of all, the sequester is not something that I proposed. It’s something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen. The budget that we’re talking about is not reducing our military spending. It’s maintaining it.
But I think Governor Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works. You — 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 — (laughter) — 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 ships. It’s — it’s what are our capabilities.
And so when I sit down with the secretary of the Navy and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we determine how are we going to be best able to meet all of our defense needs in a way that also keeps faith with our troops, that also makes sure that our veterans have the kind of support that they need when they come home. And that is not reflected in the kind of budget that you’re putting forward, because it just don’t work.
It seemed, through most of the debate, that Governor Romney’s strategy was to agree with the majority of President Obama’s foreign policy decisions…then attempt to ‘one-up’ Obama in the process by re-tossing the word salad. For example, according to Mr. Romney, “Crippling sanctions were number one (in dealing with Iran). And they do work. You’re seeing it right now in the economy. It’s absolutely the right thing to do to have crippling sanctions. I’d have put them in place earlier, but it’s good that we have them.” Umm..how early? Maybe during the administration of the president who wasn’t invited to the Republican National Convention?
In Romney’s zeal to properly recite all of his rehearsed talking points, he left out a geographical detail in speaking about Iran’s relationship with Syria:
…Syria’s an opportunity for us because Syria plays an important role in the Middle East, particularly right now. Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea. It’s the route for them to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon, which threatens, of course, our ally Israel. And so seeing Syria remove Assad is a very high priority for us. Number two, seeing a — a replacement government being responsible people is critical for us. And finally, we don’t want to have military involvement there. We don’t want to get drawn into a military conflict.
Okay. To be fair to Mitt Romney, I’m sure he’d meant to insert ‘Mediterranean’ before ‘sea.’ Hopefully, Romney knows that Iran also has access to the Arabian Sea via the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Then, of course, there’s another country between Syria and Iran…you know, Iraq. Ah, details… Oh, and Mitt? Just a reminder: the people of Iran are not Arab, they are Persian; they speak Farsi, not Arabic. Iranians really, really hate it when they’re called Arabs. Okie-doke?
One of my favorite snarky comments of the night from President Obama (proving that when you continue to interrupt Barack Obama, duck when the sarcasm begins to fly):
Governor Romney, I’m glad that you recognize that AL-Queda’s a threat because a few months ago when you were asked, what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia — not AL-Queda, you said Russia. And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.
But, Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s. You say that you’re not interested in duplicating what happened in Iraq, but just a few weeks ago you said you think we should have more troops in Iraq right now.
And the — the challenge we have — I know you haven’t been in a position to actually execute foreign policy, but every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong. You said we should have gone into Iraq despite the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction. You said that we should still have troops in Iraq to this day. You indicated that we shouldn’t be passing nuclear treaties with Russia, despite the fact that 71 senators, Democrats and Republicans, voted for it.
You’ve said that first we should not have a timeline in Afghanistan then you said we should. Now you say maybe or it depends, which means not only were you wrong but you were also confusing and sending mixed messages both to our troops and our allies.
So what — what we need to do with respect to the Middle East is strong, steady leadership, not wrong and reckless leadership that is all over the map. And unfortunately, that’s the kind of opinions that you’ve offered throughout this campaign, and it is not a recipe for American strength or keeping America safe over the long term.
And barbs kept coming…
ROMNEY: Mr. President, the reason I call it an apology tour is because you went to the Middle East and you flew to — to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to — to Turkey and Iraq. And — and by way, you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region, but you went to the other nations. And by the way, they noticed that you skipped Israel. And then in those nations and on Arabic TV you said that America had been dismissive and derisive. You said that on occasion America had dictated to other nations. Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators.
Oops. Then this:
OBAMA: Bob, let me — let me respond. You know, if we’re going to talk about trips that we’ve taken, you know, when I was a candidate for office, first trip I took was to visit our troops.
And when I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn’t take donors, I didn’t attend fundraisers, I went to Yad Vashem, the — the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself the — the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.
And then I went down to the border towns of Sderot, which had experienced missiles raining down from Hamas. And I saw families there who showed me where missiles had come down near their children’s bedrooms, and I was reminded of — of what that would mean if those were my kids, which is why, as president, we funded an Iron Dome program to stop those missiles.
So that’s how I’ve used my travels when I travel to Israel and when I travel to the region.
And the central question at this point is going to be, who’s going to be credible to all parties involved?
And they can look at my track record — whether it’s Iran sanctions, whether it’s dealing with counterterrorism, whether it’s supporting democracy, whether it’s supporting women’s rights, whether it’s supporting religious minorities — and they can say that the president of the United States and the United States of America has stood on the right side of history. And — and that kind of credibility is precisely why we’ve been able to show leadership on a wide range of issues facing the world right now.
Ouch. I do believe these two guys really don’t like each other much.
We also learned that Mitt Romney doesn’t like to weigh in on possible scenarios that he hasn’t rehearsed an answer for. Shieffer asked the governor, “What if — what if the prime minister of Israel called you on the phone and said: ‘Our bombers are on the way. We’re going to bomb Iran’ What do you say?” To which Romney dismissed the question with: “Bob, let’s not go into hypotheticals of that nature. Our relationship with Israel, my relationship with the prime minister of Israel is such that we would not get a call saying our bombers are on the way or their fighters are on the way. This is the kind of thing that would have been discussed and thoroughly evaluated well before that kind of action.” Yeah, but Mitt…Bibi Netanyahu won’t be prime minister forever. Besides, didn’t he show a crude chart at the United Nations general assembly recently with a red line “which cannot be crossed?” You know what he means by “red line,” right?
Eventually Romney turned the subject from foreign policy to the economy, since he believes that is where his strength lies. Well, Mitt does excel at complaining about the state of the economy, it’s just that he’s lacking in coming up with bold, creative solutions beyond tax cuts and deregulation. But some people like complainers, I reckon. I would like to have heard a discussion on the affects of climate change and its connection to foreign policy, particularly as it relates to feeding an ever-growing global population. Ah, so many possible sub-topics, so little time.
Most polls and pundits after the debate pronounced President Obama the overall winner of this last round. Will this give the president a bounce? I hope so. I’m just glad the debates are over.