Monday night’s final presidential debate between U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney was surprising in more ways than one. The first was the behavior of the moderator, CBS “Face the Nation” anchor Bob Schieffer. Though known to be a liberal, and undoubtedly an Obama supporter, he was extremely professional and courteous to both candidates throughout. Nor did he shy away from asking questions that were certain to put the president on the spot. In fact, though Fox News analysts were worried that Schieffer might avoid challenging Obama on the Benghazi debacle, it was the Libya issue with which he began the questioning.
Herein lay the second surprise of the evening: Romney’s strategic stance. Rather than attacking Obama on individual policies, including the administration’s appalling actions following the murder of four Americans on the anniversary of September 11, he focused on the bigger picture — the need for United States leadership in the world. As a result, he appeared to be agreeing with the president on too many points. This was particularly apparent when he was asked whether he would have done things differently with respect to the Arab Spring revolts.
The third surprise was the fact that, though this was a debate on foreign policy, much of the focus went to the economy. This is partly because Romney is clearly much more comfortable in that realm. Moreover, since Obama’s ploy is to try to persuade voters that the free market is at fault for their plight, he was also happy to discuss economics. The way he repeatedly related it to foreign affairs was to hint that America would be better off espousing isolationism. After a decade of nation-building elsewhere, he said, “it’s time we start doing it at home.” Ron Paul couldn’t have said it better himself.
The fourth surprise was the response of studio audiences, who gave Romney a higher score on the economy, and Obama a better foreign policy mark. Since the United States' standing in the world has deteriorated at an alarming rate over the past four years, it is peculiar that Obama would be perceived as a preferable commander in chief.
The only explanation for this is that Obama is a smooth liar. With uncanny ease, he takes credit where it is not due, and shirks responsibility where it is.
The most blatant example of this during the debate was Obama's claims that he was tough on the Iranian regime and its race for nuclear weapons. Listening to the appeasement king of the West assert that he laid down the law to the mullahs from the get-go, that his sanctions have been working, and that he will never allow Tehran to proceed toward completing the bomb, one might conceivably be lulled into forgetting what he has been up to.
Romney did make an attempt to counter Obama’s claims here, by reminding viewers that Obama had abandoned the Iranian revolutionaries when they tried to topple President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his ayatollahs. But the Republican contender had neither the time nor the tactical approach that would allow for throwing the president’s bald-faced prevarications in his face.
Let us review some of the Obama administration’s actual positions on this subject:
Two months after taking office, the president prepared a video-taped message to the “people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” This is what he conveyed: “We have serious differences that have grown over time. My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran, and the international community. This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek, instead, engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.”
That was in March 2009. In June, Ahmadinejad stole the election from opposition leader Mohammad Mousavi. Iranians of all walks of life took to the streets to protest. The Islamist regime arrested activists, gunned down demonstrators, jammed Internet access, and prevented the foreign press from covering the brutality.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs stated on June 13, 2009 that the American administration was “impressed by the vigorous debate and enthusiasm that this election generated, particularly among Iranians.”
On June 15, Obama gave a TV interview in which he said, “… As odious as I consider some of President Ahmadinejad’s statements … the use of tough, hard-headed diplomacy … is critical when it comes to pursuing a core set of our national security interests.”
As the violence against the Iranian people increased, so did Obama’s pious rhetoric. “It is not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling,” he claimed.
Then, at a press conference a few days later, he fielded a question about Moussavi’s contesting of the Iranian election results. “We can’t say definitively what exactly happened at polling places throughout the country,” he said. “What we know is that a sizeable percentage of the Iranian people … consider this election illegitimate … ultimately, the most important thing for the Iranian government to consider is legitimacy in the eyes of its own people, not in the eyes of the United States. And that’s why I’ve been very clear: ultimately, this is up to the Iranian people to decide who their leadership is going to be … I think it is not too late for the Iranian government to recognize that there is a peaceful path that will lead to stability and legitimacy and prosperity for the Iranian people. We hope they take it.”
We have all seen what a “peaceful path” Iran has taken since then. We have also been witness to the “peaceful path” of the Arab Spring revolutionaries in whose internal affairs Obama had no trouble “meddling.” The former is on the verge of regional nuclear hegemony; the latter — Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, and other jihadist forces — are soon to follow suit.
If Obama was able to dominate a debate on his foreign policy “successes,” he ought to be in show business. But then, being in the business of show is his forte. This is what landed him in the White House the first time around. Let us hope that Romney’s real record is recognized as just that — real — and as the only option on the table of the Oval Office right now.
Ruthie Blum is the author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring,’" available on Amazon and in bookstores in Europe and North America – and now on sale at Pomeranz Bookseller in Jerusalem.