Following up on Marc Goldberg’s excellent post, here’s a reality check from last night’s foreign policy debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney. Believe him or not (and I know some people think he is engaged in an elaborate deceit), but this is what Obama actually said:
“Now, it is absolutely true that we cannot just meet these challenges militarily. And so what I’ve done throughout my presidency and will continue to do is, number one, make sure that these countries are supporting our counterterrorism efforts.
“Number two, make sure that they are standing by our interests in Israel’s security, because it is a true friend and our greatest ally in the region.”
“[The Egyptians] have to abide by their treaty with Israel. That is a red line for us, because not only is Israel’s security at stake, but our security is at stake if that unravels.”
“I will stand with Israel if they are attacked. And this is the reason why, working with Israel, we have created the strongest military and intelligence cooperation between our two countries in history.
“In fact, this week we’ll be carrying out the largest military exercise with Israel in history, this very week. But to the issue of Iran, as long as I’m president of the United States Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. I made that clear when I came into office.
“We then organized the strongest coalition and the strongest sanctions against Iran in history, and it is crippling their economy. Their currency has dropped 80 percent. Their oil production has plunged to the lowest level since they were fighting a war with Iraq 20 years ago. So their economy is in a shambles.
“And the reason we did this is because a nuclear Iran is a threat to our national security, and it is a threat to Israel’s national security. We cannot afford to have a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world.
“Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. And for them to be able to provide nuclear technology to non-state actors, that’s unacceptable. And they have said that they want to see Israel wiped off the map.
“So the work that we’ve done with respect to sanctions now offers Iran a choice. They can take the diplomatic route and end their nuclear program or they will have to face a united world and a United States president, me, who said we’re not going to take any options off the table.
“The disagreement I have with Governor Romney is that, during the course of this campaign, he’s often talked as if we should take premature military action. I think that would be a mistake, because when I’ve sent young men and women into harm’s way, I always understand that that is the last resort, not the first resort.”
When Romney mentioned that Obama did not visit Israel during his visit to the Middle East as president, Obama responded:
“If we’re going to talk about trips that we’ve taken — when I was a candidate for office, first trip I took was to visit our troops [as Romney didn't]. And when I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn’t take donors. I didn’t attend fundraisers [as Romney did]. I went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.
“And then I went down to the border town of Sderot, which had experienced missiles raining dowm from Hamas. And I saw families there who showed me there where missiles had come down near their children’s bedrooms. And I was reminded of what that would mean if those were my kids. Which is why as president, we funded an Iron Dome program to stop those missiles.”
Romney continues to make an issue of the fact that the Navy has fewer ships than it did in 1916. To which Obama responded:
What struck me most about the debate (aside from how eager both men were to talk about domestic policy in a foreign policy debate) was how often Romney’s response to Obama was, basically, “Me too.” He frequently repeated the essence of what Obama said, while trying to make it sound different– especially on Syria. (I think they’re both wrong, and the US should establish a no-fly zone.)
Update: Romney the peacenik?
Romney used the word “peace” or “peaceful” 11 times during the debate. Obama didn’t use them once.
Further update: Romney said:
“[W]hen the students took to the streets in Tehran and the people there protested, the Green Revolution occurred, for the president to be silent I thought was an enormous mistake.”
The main problem with this oft-repeated claim is that it’s not true. Whether Obama could have done more to help the Iranian freedom fighters in 2009– and if so, what exactly he could have done– are reasonable questions. I would have been pleased if Romney had addressed them.