October Surprise: Romney Endorses Obama!
On Monday evening, we witnessed the third and final debate between President Obama and former Governor Romney. Perhaps the most striking thing about it was how often the Republican candidate supported the policies of the Democratic president. One might think there was little, if any, daylight between them, almost as if Romney would, in an emergency, have the President’s back.
Let’s look at a few highlights of that debate, and see where the differences lie in a few important issues. Lest I be accused of making things up, be aware that I’m taking these excerpts from the full transcript of the debate as provided by FOX News.
First, on the question of American withdrawal from Afghanistan, our longest-running war, Romney said:
Well, we’re going to be finished by 2014, and when I’m President, we’ll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014. The commanders and the generals there are on track to do so. …
We’ve seen progress over the past several years. The surge has been successful and the training program is proceeding apace. There are now a large number of Afghan Security Forces, 350,000 that are ready to step in to provide security and we’re going to be able to make that transition by the end of 2014.
So our troops will come home at that point.
He certainly seemed to be declaring a date by which our troops would be gone. I suppose one could make the argument that he didn’t say it would be a good idea, just that he was promising to do it. On the matter of a setting a firm withdrawal date, Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) confirmed Monday night that Romney has “always said that it shouldn’t be publicly announced because it helps our enemies…” Presumably, however, there’s a good reason for helping our enemies in this particular case. Portman also said, “I thought when Governor Romney [agreed with President Obama], it was refreshing to a lot of undecided voters who are tired of the attacks back and forth and the politics. Look, when Governor Romney thought the President was right, he said so.” The political benefit from making voters feel better clearly matters more than helping America’s enemies, in the minds of elected Republicans.
Let’s look briefly at Israeli-Palestinian relations. Romney had this to say Monday night:
Is — are Israel and the Palestinians closer to reaching a peace agreement?
No, they haven’t had talks in two years. We have not seen the progress we need to have, and I’m convinced that with strong leadership and an effort to build a strategy based upon helping these nations reject extremism, we can see the kind of peace and prosperity the world demands.
This certainly is no ringing endorsement of anything like a two-state solution, but it just as certainly is a statement of support for some kind of negotiated peace process. On May 17 of this year, in a secretly-taped meeting with private donors, Romney expressed a belief that peace between the two was not possible, insisting Palestinians have “no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish.” He went on to say, “I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there’s just no way.” One must wonder then why he was critical on Monday night of there having been so little progress toward a negotiated settlement. Perhaps this, too, is what he believed voters wanted to hear.
On the matter of drone attacks in Pakistan and other places, Romney was asked Monday night by the moderator, Bob 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?” The former Governor answered,
Well I believe 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 and 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 that represent a threat to this nation and to our friends. But let me also note that as I said earlier, we’re going to have to do more than just going after leaders and — and killing bad guys, important as that is.
I couldn’t find a prior position from Romney on the use of drones. But we have here some clear support for President Obama — undoubtedly, as Senator Portman said, because Romney is convinced the American public wants agreement rather than rancor. But interestingly, Romney seems to want something of a gentler tone, as if use of drones was going perhaps a bit too far. We shouldn’t merely be “killing bad guys.” Romney’s answer here prompted the Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock to comment, “It is striking to hear the Republican candidate advocate for a parallel, softer approach to combating terrorism while criticizing the Democrat for embracing an overly militaristic strategy.”
It seems almost as if Republicans are ready to become the party of peaceful doves, spreading love and flowers, as opposed to the strong and militant Democrats, who are all about using America’s aggressive might to spread democracy through the world.
Speaking of Pakistan, Romney was quick to defend the President on his involvement there, even making sure nothing Romney said would be inadvertently taken as criticism:
I can tell you at the same time, that we will make sure that we look at what’s happening in Pakistan, and recognize that what’s happening in Pakistan is going to have a major impact on the success in Afghanistan. And I say that because I know a lot of people that feel like we should just brush our hands and walk away.
And I don’t mean you, Mr. President, but some people in the — in our nation feel that Pakistan is being nice to us, and that we should walk away from them. But Pakistan is important to the region, to the world and to us, because Pakistan has 100 nuclear warheads and they’re rushing to build a lot more. They’ll have more than Great Britain sometime in the — in the relatively near future.
That Pakistan is a nuclear armed state and may at some future time build more nuclear weapons clearly implies, to the former Governor, that we should indeed continue the President’s course of engagement there, and not “walk away” as “a lot of people” have urged. It is very good to see the Republican candidate giving such a full-throated defense of the policies of his supposed rival.
Another area of wide agreement is to be found in discussing Egypt. Schieffer asked, “Governor Romney, I want to hear your response to that, but I would just ask you, would you have stuck with Mubarak?” This question would have given Romney a chance to differentiate himself, and to stand behind a long-time American ally, now-deposed former dictator. Romney’s answer?
No. I believe, as the president indicated, and said at the time that I supported his — his action there. … once it exploded, I felt the same as the President did, which is these freedom voices and the streets of Egypt, where the people who were speaking of our principles and the President Mubarak had done things which were unimaginable and the idea of him crushing his people was not something that we could possibly support.
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, not be at war. That’s our purpose.
Once more, not only agreeing with the President, but stressing his own conviction that America should be a force for love and peace, not a nation that should “be at war.” Speaking in February of this year, Romney was more critical of the President, and refused to call Mubarak a “dictator”. This certainly is a question as least as serious as whether President Obama called the attacks on Libya “acts of terror”, is it not? No matter. The public, apparently, wanted a softer, gentler Romney, and he was eager to oblige.
On another matter, one commentator noted yesterday,
Romney said Monday, “We don’t want another Iraq.” He said it in the context of diplomatic efforts to convince Muslims to abandon radicalism. He seems to be admitting that the Iraq War was an error. But in 2003, Romney supported the Iraq War.
The new, improved, peaceful Romney was certainly on display Monday night, as in his comments on Iran:
It is also essential for us to understand what our mission is in Iran, and that is to dissuade Iran from having a nuclear weapon through peaceful and diplomatic means. And crippling sanctions are something I called for five years ago, when I was in Israel, speaking at the Herzliya Conference. I laid out seven steps, crippling sanctions were number one. 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 would have put them in place earlier. But it’s good that we have them.
“Through peaceful and diplomatic means.” The “crippling sanctions” that the President has put in place “do work. You’re seeing it right now in the economy. It’s absolutely the right thing to do.” There is, perhaps, an implied criticism here of President Obama for not having put the sanctions in place “five years ago” — long before he became President, not to mention the necessity of needing to get the rest of the world to participate, since one single country imposing sanctions would have no effect whatever — but the President most assuredly is doing the right thing now, and Obama has Romney’s full support.
Gone, and apparently consigned to the dustbin of history, is the old Romney, who said in March that the Iranians “have to understand that we will take military, kinetic action if they continue to pursue a nuclear option.” Now, it’s all about “peaceful and diplomatic means” and “crippling sanctions” which are certainly “working” and are “absolutely the right thing to do.”
Perhaps Romney’s new bromance can be summed up by the beginning of his answer on American relations with Israel:
Well, first of all, I want to underscore the same point the president made which is that if I’m President of the United States, when I’m President of the United States, we will stand with Israel.
It’s all about giving voters what they want, and in matters of foreign policy, voters certainly want President Obama. So Romney has dedicated himself to giving them exactly that.
And why should he not? Up until now. Romney and his Vice Presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, have been standing with Republicans who have claimed that Obama has “worsened” American’s relations with the rest of the world, that America has “lost respect” in the eyes of other nations. It seems, however, that they may have been mistaken. A BBC poll, released on Monday, surveying 22,000 people in 21 countries finds President Obama preferred over Governor Romney by 50 percent to 9 percent (only 16 percent had no opinion, showing how deeply the rest of the world cares about American politics).
Despite (or perhaps because of) Romney’s missionary work in France, the French prefer Obama over Romney by a whopping 72 percent to two percent. Canada likes the President over the Governor by a margin of 66 to nine. Even China prefers President Obama, though by a mere 28 to nine.
Romney got over 20 percent support exactly nowhere. Surprisingly, the place he did best was Kenya (!) with 18 percent to Obama’s 66 percent. Romney was preferred in precisely one nation — Pakistan would rather have him as America’s president, by a less-than-ringing endorsement of 14 to 11. (It’s worth noting, perhaps, that while Romney did not anywhere break 20 percent, nowhere did Obama fall below 20 percent but in Pakistan; the next two lowest scores were China and Malaysia, tied at 28 percent.)
Of course, foreigners don’t vote in America, but the poll puts American foreign policy under Obama into some perspective. Perhaps Governor Romney’s performance on Monday night does as well. This is not to say that the two candidates agreed on all matters. Still, the major differences seemed to be between Romney and a former Romney from weeks past. Since the President’s policies are “absolutely the right thing to do,” it would make sense to keep him in charge of running them for the next four years.
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About dcpetterson (186 posts)
D. C. Petterson is a novelist and a software consultant in Minnesota who has been writing science fiction since the age of six. He is the author of A Melancholy Humour, Rune Song and Still Life. He lives with his wife, two dogs, two cats, and a lizard, and insists that grandchildren are the reward for having survived teenagers. When not writing stories or software, he plays guitar and piano, engages in political debate, and reads a lot of history and physics texts—for fun. Follow on Twitter @dcpetterson