During the first debate, Mitt Romney became a sudden defender of Medicare. On Monday night, he suddenly became a man of peace.
“We can’t kill our way out of this mess,” he scolded Obama, in reference to assassinating terrorists.
But on matters of substance, it was striking how many times Romney agreed with Obama’s policies: on the surge in Afghanistan, the impending withdrawal, sanctions on Iran, and the decision not to use the US military in Syria.
His criticisms were only on the margins: Why didn’t we get to crippling sanctions sooner? Why weren’t we chummier with Israel? And the most bizarre — he pledged to indict Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for genocide, even though the United States isn’t a party to the International Criminal Court.
Foreign policy has never been the former governor’s strong suit, and Monday night was no exception. His best argument was that the Middle East is in turmoil and that peace has not broken out yet in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He talked as if they issue you a magic peace wand when you arrive at the White House and Obama had failed to make good use of it. Romney called for a “comprehensive strategy” to support moderate, liberal forces in the Middle East, but failed to let us in on what it exactly was.
At his best, he came off sounding like a diluted version of the president we already have.
By contrast, Obama sounded comfortable with the material. My favorite moment was after Romney brought up his often-repeated line about the US Navy having fewer ships now than it did in 1916, Obama said: “We also have fewer horses and bayonets . . . We have these things called aircraft carriers. Planes land on them.”
Farah Stockman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @fstockman.