Foreign Policy Debate Omits Most of the Globe

Mitt Romney was in the odd position tonight of arguing that President Barack Obama’s foreign policy is a failure, while advocating a substantially similar one.  Given the impossibility of that task, it’s no surprise the president soundly won tonight’s debate, according to CBS News's instant poll.

From Libya to Afghanistan to China, Romney sketched out positions virtually indistinguishable from the president’s. In some cases, that meant abandoning his past positions, most notably by endorsing the 2014 deadline for Afghanistan withdrawal that he previously opposed.

Obama seemed to delight in pointing out the changes, saying repeatedly that Romney has been “all over the map” on foreign policy issues and couldn’t be trusted to provide steady leadership. He also repeatedly thanked the governor for endorsing his foreign policy actions.

On MSNBC, Chris Hayes expressed concern about the agreement-fest, noting that some of America’s biggest foreign policy errors have been accomplished by bipartisan agreement. But I think in this instance the consensus reflects the fact that Obama’s foreign policy is mostly good, improving America’s relations with its allies and making the world a safer place.

The biggest problem with this debate, as with the previous ones, is what wasn’t discussed. There was no discussion of Europe or sub-Saharan Africa and only a brief mention of Latin America by Romney (who, as Matt Yglesias notes, got his key factoid wrong). The candidates did not discuss immigration, the drug war, global health, climate change or the international financial system.

Apparently “foreign policy” has come to mean “places in the Middle East and North Africa where we are or might be bombing people, plus some really stupid and demagogic discussion of trade with China.”

As with the vice presidential debate, tonight’s debate felt like a trip back to 2004. If the euro crisis and the ongoing horrors of Latin American drug interdiction aren’t enough to convince the media that some foreign policy occurs outside the Middle East, I’m not sure what will.

(Josh Barro is lead writer for the Ticker. E-mail him and follow him on Twitter.)

Read more breaking commentary from Josh Barro and other Bloomberg View columnists and editors at the Ticker.

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