Mark Weisbrot
The Guardian Unlimited, October 23, 2012

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The presidential debate on foreign policy is always a painful and disgusting spectacle for any reality based viewer.  Both candidates play into the fantasy that the United States needs to spend more on its military than most of the world combined because we face grave threats; the rest of the world knows that U.S foreign and military policy is all about power and empire.  But this debate was somewhat less painful than past debates because the candidates were forced to recognize that Americans are tired of war and that it was time to “do some nation building here at home,” as President Obama said more than once. Even Romney had to say, “we don’t want another Iraq, we don’t want another Afghanistan,” and both candidates were eager to turn the conversation to domestic policy, which is of course what more than 90 percent of the electorate will base their vote on.

Although Obama tried to blur most distinctions between himself and Romney, there are some significant differences. Most importantly, Romney is more likely to go to war with Iran, despite the fact that Obama shifted his position (during the debate) to Romney’s position that Iran will have to give up its “nuclear program” (Obama started out saying “nuclear weapons” would not be tolerated). Romney’s assertion that he wants to make “pariahs” of Iranian diplomats reflects a substantive difference, that he is less likely to seek a negotiated solution and more likely to start another disastrous war. Romney was also forced to acknowledge that he would pay for an additional $2 trillion in military spending with cuts to domestic spending, something that most Americans don’t want.

Anti-war organizations petitioned moderator Bob Schieffer to ask a question about drones and he did. Drones have killed hundreds of civilians in Pakistan, building a groundswell of hatred against America. The existence of the program is officially classified and the Obama Administration does not publicly acknowledge it, so it was something of a victory just to have it mentioned.

On the technical side, Obama was combative and did very well, as he did in the second debate. If he loses this election – which is not likely but still possible – it will be due to his failure to confront Romney on an issue that is most important to senior citizens, the only age group where he is losing. That issue is Social Security. Both Romney and his party are on the record in favor of cuts to Social Security, but Obama from the first debate has pretended that there is no difference on this issue. This is an enormous tactical and political blunder.