Election 2012 is a horse race. And by turning on their televisions last night, millions of Americans entered the stable, where they were promptly greeted by the overwhelming stench of modern-day presidential debates. The foulness stemmed from the evident disconnect on display, not between Obama and Romney, but between both candidates and reality; between what they both said and what steps must actually be taken to strengthen American security and values.
Although debates usually display the stark disagreements between opponents, the vociferous head nodding this time around could have easily confused those who believe there is a clear-cut difference between these candidates’ foreign policy plans. That is, if it wasn’t shielded from view with such duplicity.
Last night, there wasn’t a single discussion on the merits of policy. We merely reaffirmed the increased militarization that has been a frightening yet overzealous truth in the post-Sept. 11 world. It is a reality that has seen more red ink etched on the Constitution than a failing student’s term paper and more red blood shed on the battlefield than many care to admit. Instead of confronting this reality, the candidates just stuck to their usual scripts.
So what was covered? For one, President Obama restated his desire for a significant decrease of troops in Afghanistan, with complete withdrawal by 2014, but avoided answering “Why now?” Turning a blind eye to the facts that troop levels are double what they were when he took office and that recent months have seen a significant rise in troop casualties seems to dispel the reliability of his exit strategy.
The president was also able to avoid showing his math on the moral calculus that devalues civilian casualties in Pakistan and Yemen through an incredibly aggressive drone war that knows no bounds. It is a bellicose policy that lacks proper oversight, as it creates more enemies than it kills. But as long as we just call the terror we’re instilling collateral damage, or don’t acknowledge it at all, it needn’t be thoroughly debated, right?
So while he tried framing himself as the morally sound pacifist throughout the night, Obama’s actions show that he is as credible an expert on matters of non-intervention as a needle is on the tensile strength of a balloon.
Not that Romney fared much better. His suggestion to increase economic sanctions against the Iranian people could be pawned off as some quick-witted Juvenalian criticism of Obama’s own deadly sanctions — a policy that unjustly targets ordinary Iranian citizens but not their unscrupulous leaders. That is, if it wasn’t all too serious and thus, all too sickening.
Obama smartly asserted that unilateral military aggression against Iran would produce more harm than good and must be held off. And he is correct. But the precedent he established in our Libyan intervention makes it easier that a President Romney could do just that sans Congressional approval.
And while Romney can champion American exceptionalism and the belief that military strength translates to peaceful stability, both his and the President’s plans, whether they be in Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan or Iran, strive to turn that defensive might into an invasive offensive weapon more often than not. This has been a significant problem of the post-Sept. 11 world, and few are willing to fight it as it clashes with our ideals. Romney just wants you to know that potentially remedial defense cuts would be disastrous for our security. I envy his fiscal conservatism.
In between the jingoistic chest-beating for “moving heaven and Earth” to kill him, it’s tough not to see how Osama bin Laden, the Obama administration’s metaphorical dead horse, would be laughing maniacally in between the beatings he was taking at the hand of the president. The wars the United States has started and the policies enacted in response to al-Qaeda have crippled our economic, international and moral standing during the past decade, while allowing us to place equally pressing foreign policy matters — the Eurozone crisis, Latin America and the war on drugs and civil wars in Africa, to name a few — on the backburner.
Admittedly, last night’s debate was difficult to watch. When a consensus already exists between both candidates, discussion seems unwarranted and important positions go unchallenged. Manufactured conflict on a stage where none exists inevitably leads to actual conflict overseas.
Nobody, least of all those within the political cadre, wants to accept the fact that the policies that both Romney and Obama want to enact, or continue to enact, are the same ones that have buried us in the moral quicksand we are desperately trying to climb out.
The emperor’s been running around naked for a while. And both candidates continue to pretend he’s still wearing clothes.
Chris DiNardo is opinion editor. Email him at email@example.com.
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