The epic third and final presidential debate: Romney and Obama on foreign policy

It’s the final policy pitch for voter converts, and Danny de Gracia isn’t impressed. Photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP

WAIKIKI, October 22, 2012 — Amidst chatter of the possibility of bilateral negotiations with Iran and a continuing political row over the deadly attacks on our Benghazi consulate in Libya, the presidential nominees of the Democratic and Republican parties will clash one last time tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern in Boca Raton, the spoils of which will be the final holdouts of still-undecided voters.

I’m reminded of the scene in the 1983 spy movie Never Say Never Again, where James Bond battles the wealthy industrialist Maximilian Largo in a holographic video game called “World Domination” in which, holding on as long as possible, they fight with imaginary AGM-86 ALCMs and lasers for the simulated fate of various nations around the world. Whoever is the first to let go of the video game’s controls, loses.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are holding on as tightly as they can to their foreign policy positions in the hope of appearing tough, decisive, and presidential, but the topics they discuss and the talking points they deliver might as well be a video game rather than a debate; neither of them offers substantive, discerning platforms on matters that count.

We will certainly see an entertaining performance tonight, but don’t expect Obama or Romney to actually broach important topics, like whether or not America’s post-9/11 model of warfare is fiscally sustainable, whether or not the United States has competently enforced its territorial and airspace sovereignty (especially along the southern U.S./Mexico border), what the game plan for our aging nuclear inventory will be over the next ten years, or even the implications of our continuing use of armed drones.

There are questions that no one seems to be willing to ask and none of the candidates are courageous enough to discuss in public. For example: why is it when Russia develops and tests a brand new intercontinental ballistic missile that has a warhead throw weight of 5 tons, contemporary Beltway pundits say things like “All Russian stuff is junk, it’s far inferior to even our oldest Minutemen missiles, it probably wouldn’t even launch”; however, when minor regimes like Iran or North Korea develop experimental missiles that are at best shoddy 1950s technology, the alarms of impending apocalypse are sounded and calls for imminent attacks are shouted from the rooftops? Why do we have a double standard for the way we handle Russian or Chinese proliferation and Iranian or North Korean weapons?

Why is it no one seems to be distressed by the fact that America’s deployments abroad have been so expensive and all-consuming that, as the General Accountability Office report 09-184 Actions Needed to Improve Management of Air Sovereignty Alert Operations to Protect U.S. Airspace warned, “The Air Force has not implemented ASA operations in accordance with DOD, NORAD and Air Force directives and guidance, which instruct the Air Force to establish ASA as a steady-state (ongoing and indefinite) mission. The Air Force has not implemented the 140 actions it identified to establish ASA as a steady-state mission, which included integrating ASA operations into the Air Force’s planning, programming, and funding cycle. The Air Force instead has been focused on other priorities, such as overseas military operations”? Why is no one talking about how paying for war has dismantled our nation’s defense at home?

Why is no one discussing the bizarre way America’s defense acquisitions works or how by the time our weapons platforms are brought to initial operational capability, we’ve already wasted billions of taxpayer dollars and these programs are soon terminated with nothing to show for them?

Why is neither presidential candidate willing to discuss the impact on readiness and psychological health that having our troops deployed for so long to so many combat areas is having? Why is no one discussing the number of military servicemembers who are afflicted with PTSD, or those who come home and resort to domestic violence as a result of combat stress, or even the number of suicides and self-inflicted injuries that occur as a result of pressure over going to war? Isn’t that an important part of policy?

Why has no one brought up the implications of what our increasing military “jointness” will mean for the way that America’s defense model works? Why has no one brought up the slippery slope that is quickly developing before us, which if unchecked and combined with fiscal instability, may give rise to a single unified service which lacks the specialization and balanced perspective that separate services provide?

Can you honestly say to yourself that Barack Obama or Mitt Romney are addressing the issues that really matter? There used to be a time that presidential campaigns asked voters to judge whether or not either candidate could be trusted with “the red button.” We don’t ask that anymore, but with so many reckless wars and rumors of war, maybe we should start asking that again.

Niccolò Machiavelli wrote in The Prince, “a Prince who is ignorant of military affairs, besides other disadvantages, can neither be respected by his soldiers, nor can he trust them.” He also warned “a Prince should read histories, and in these should note the actions of great men, observe how they conducted themselves in their wars, and examine the causes of their victories and defeats, so as to avoid the latter and imitate them in the former.”

America is collapsing, both at home and around the world. Our way of doing things has repeated all of the mistakes of fallen empires. If Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are truly the only two choices we have as partisans claim, they best start focusing on the issues that really matter and turn our country around before it’s too late.


Rich Stowell

Rich Stowell



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Danny de Gracia

Dr. Danny de Gracia is a political scientist and a former senior adviser to the Human Services and International Affairs committees at the Hawaii State Legislature. From 2011-2013 he served as an elected municipal board member in Waipahu. As an expert in international relations theory, military policy, political psychology and economics, Danny has advised numerous policymakers and elected officials and his opinions have been featured worldwide. Now working on his first novel, Danny resides on the island of Oahu.

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