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The last word

John Cameron | Tuesday, October 23, 2012

With just two weeks remaining before Election Day, President Barack Obama and former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney squared off in the final of three presidential debates last night. Students tuned in to hear the presidential contenders’ views on foreign policy and offered praise and criticism of both performances.

As much of the debate focused on military intervention in the Middle East, senior Greg Doonan said he felt Romney’s reference to foreign intervention as a “mantle of leadership” and “honor” may have painted too rosy a picture of the American reputation abroad.

“I think it’s a little misleading,” Doonan said. “I think Americans get a lot of flak for immersing ourselves in situations we shouldn’t necessarily be involved in. I don’t necessarily agree with Romney on that one.”

Senior Ben Kim praised Romney’s assertion of economics as a threat to American security.

“My personal opinion is that [intervention] should be more economic than military,” Kim said. “When Romney said one of the greatest threats to the [United States] is the budget deficit and the economy, I think he’s right. We can’t help others if we can’t help ourselves.”

When the topic of military spending arose, Romney criticized the reduced size of the Navy’s fleet, to which Obama responded with what Kim called one of the president’s best lines of the debate: “Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military has changed.”

“I think he had one of the best one-liners of the night,” Kim said. “I think what Obama said about [military] spending will appeal to voters. … Romney’s playing a dangerous game. He wants to seem pro-American and pro-military but that’s also very expensive, to maintain that kind of military prowess.”

Doonan said he felt the president may have crossed the line with this and other quips.

“I kind of think he crossed the line toward being a little petty, that he was belittling Romney too much,” he said. “But he was also trying to enforce the notion he has way more experience in foreign policy than Romney does as a former governor. I think it was a little too patronizing but that’s not totally foreign to a debate atmosphere.”

As the debate shifted to the controversial topic of the country’s policies toward Israel and Iran, Romney suggested increased sanctions on Iran, while advocating containment of the situation with the hope of Iran being able to eventually “reenter the community of nations.” Soon after, Romney alleged the Obama administration had left an impression of weakness among foreign foes.

Doonan gave some credit to Romney’s accusation, but didn’t take issue with the president’s handling of the Middle East.

“I think possibly Obama’s come off too weak on Iran. … I think overall Obama’s built up our reputation in the Middle East,” he said. “I don’t think either is promoting the perfect policy. It’s a very touchy subject.”

Kim said he didn’t feel either candidate distinguished himself on the issue.

“I think neither [candidate] really came out on top. Their policies are very alike,” he said. “They both want sanctions, neither wants a nuclear Iran.”

In the end, Doonan said he thought Obama emerged as the victor.

“I definitely think Obama won the debate,” he said. “I thought he came out on the offensive, and Romney was agreeing a bit too much with him. I thought Obama did a good job with pointing out things Romney said in the past that he kept denying. It was a good third debate for Obama.”

Kim, who plans to vote for a third-party candidate, said the president won based on performance and greater foreign relations experience from his time in office, not for the content of his policies.

“I think Romney didn’t seem as confident as he did with domestic policies, and I think that makes sense,” he said. “Romney could win that [domestic issues] debate. But in terms of composure and articulation, I think Obama won. In terms of foreign policy, I can’t really tell the difference.”

Contact John Cameron at jcamero2@nd.edu