Was last night even necessary?

On the scope of last night’s debate on foreign policy (via WonkBlog):

Most of the familiar themes were touched upon; the corporato-verbage of spatial leadership on dealing with Iran – wherein Romney revealed he’d do nothing different than the president but by golly he’d do it tougher and more leader-ly. Of course there was also the too-late by four years tough talk on China.

Then there was the usual talk on Israel. Which is to say, shorter this:

Yet there was some talk of differences. At various points Romney even seemed to lean rhetorically leftward of the president (emphasis mine):

Let me — let me step back and talk about what I think our mission has to be in the Middle East, and even more broadly, because our purpose is to make sure the world is more — is peaceful. We want a peaceful planet. We want people to be able to enjoy their lives and know they’re going to have a bright and prosperous future and not be at war. That’s our purpose. And the mantle of — of leadership for promoting the principles of peace has fallen to America. We didn’t ask for it, but it’s an honor that we have it.

[…] And so what we’re seeing is a — a — a pretty dramatic reversal in the kind of hopes we had for that region. Of course, the greatest threat of all is Iran, four years closer to a nuclear weapon. And — and we’re going to have to recognize that we have to do as the president has done. I congratulate him on — on taking out Osama bin Laden and going after the leadership in al-Qaida. But we can’t kill our way out of this mess.

So we’re all for “[p]romoting the principles of peace,” and going after the bad guys while recognizing that “we can’t kill our way out of this mess.” Great! That could also be any Democratic national candidate speaking about foreign policy in this regard. Except this is the Republican candidate speaking. But don’t worry hawks, Romney has no intention of altering the trajectory of drone usage:

MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you, Governor, because we know President Obama’s position on this, what is — what is your position on the use of drones?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, I believe that we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world. And it’s widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that entirely and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology and believe that we should continue to use it to continue to go after the people who represent a threat to this nation and to our friends.

Of course the president wouldn’t even touch the drones question, so there’s that at least (sorry NatSec libertarians!). The one thing Obama very much wanted every American to know is that he prevented our exposure to the terror of cheap Chinese tires, which did save around 1,200 hundred jobs (at a cost $1.1 billion in higher prices – PDF).

Then there’s the matter of defense spending, which while the president would like to see grow at roughly the rate of inflation, Romney would have it grow by 2 trillion more over the next ten years (h/t WonkBlog):

So to recap the debate winners: More expensive tires, Israel, defense spending, drones, and the word “tumult” (five mentions via a rare pander by Romney to the “expanded vocabulary” bloc of voters).

For the losers: the 95 percent of the non-American world that wasn’t mentioned, the entire anti-war left/libertarian crowd, substantive disagreement, and the meaning of the word “apology.”

Sigh. It’s striking to me how far we’ve come in the matter of national defense and foreign policy since my proverbial birth as an 18 year old anti-war liberal under the Bush administration. A few years later I remember weekly anti-war protests at a post office in Columbia, MO when I was in AmeriCorps NCCC at the height of the Iraq war. While I was there I also volunteered at the local Catholic Worker house – staffed by folks passionate in their commitment to non-aggression in the world. After last night I couldn’t help but wonder what they thought.

A little over eleven years later – no longer a teenager – and my priorities of concentration have changed. Perhaps for the worst I am now numb to the inexorable expansion of executive power, weary of constant war, and effectively infirm against the morally nebulous use of drones. After last night the national conversation on such things, once of such utter and dire importance, appears unnecessary too.

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