Gaming Out The Final Debate

Andrew Sullivan —  Oct 22 2012 @ 1:32pm

Team Obama is hammering Romney-Ryan on foreign policy:

Walter Russell Mead thinks Romney needs a tie tonight:

Some hope to see Romney deal a series of devastating, knockout blows to President Obama tonight. Anything can happen in this wacky world of ours, but on balance that strategy is unlikely to work. President Obama has thought a great deal about his foreign policy and is well prepared to defend it. It is very hard to play foreign policy gotcha against a sitting president who is well briefed and who, whether one agrees with his policies or not, clearly knows the foreign policy terrain much better than his challenger. That is especially true when the country by and large hopes that the President is right.

Larison agrees that a draw would be a good result for Romney:

To the extent that tomorrow’s debate centers on this question of less vs. more U.S. involvement in the Near East, Romney’s own positions will greatly contribute to his losing the debate. If he can direct attention away from his hawkishness and keep the debate at the level of generic complaints about lack of American “leadership,” Romney might be able to fight his way to a draw.

Zack Beauchamp notes that Romney's foreign policy relies on the "assumption that the way the President speaks and presents himself is a principal determinant of American policy success":

What does this mean for Obama in the last debate? Simply put, force Romney to explain himself. Avoid getting caught up in Romney’s attacks on the administration’s record; keep the spotlight squarely on what Romney would do differently. If Romney won’t defend any specific policy changes, he’ll come off as unprepared to respond to Obama’s arguments; if he does engage, Obama will have strong openings to contrast his own foreign policy vision with Romney’s unpopular Bush III position. That’s the problem with a rhetorical strategy – sometimes, the other guy gets to talk too.

Tomasky gives Obama advice:

Romney will say things that are completely incompatible with each other. He'll talk about encouraging moderate Arabs to step forward and then about no daylight with Israel. If the issue is Palestine, those two goals point in totally opposite directions and can't be pursued at the same time. But most people don't know that, and he may get away with it. A straightforward task for Obama tonight, but a big one and possibly a tricky one, is to point out these contradictions.

Ackerman focuses on the Benghazi debate: 

Whatever the politics surround it, Benghazi is important. It revealed the U.S. doesn’t understand the forces in the Mideast that the Arab Spring has unleashed, and lacks an understandable approach for dealing with them before they jeopardize American lives. Creating one is part of the foreign policy debate the country deserves. Whether Obama and Romney present that debate this evening is a different story.

Massimo Calabresi wants war with Iran to be debated:

As the U.S. limps home from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Romney and Obama should address explicitly whether they think sanctions [against Iran] are working, whether they should be expanded and under what circumstances they would abandon them in favor of military action.

Bruce Riedel sees Pakistan as the most important debate topic:

[W]hat we need to hear from them Monday night is how they will keep the pressure on the terrorists in Pakistan when we bring our troops home from Afghanistan. How will we continue to undertake the necessary counterterror missions from Afghan bases? Will we keep some troops behind to ensure security for our drones and other counterterror assets? How many? How will we persuade Afghans to let us use their bases to help us fight terror? How do we persuade Pakistanis the drones are not their enemy? Should we continue our aid programs? Do we have a plan B if the Afghan Army starts to disintegrate? Do we have a plan to protect the more than 3 million young Afghan girls now going to school in their country who would be treated just like Malala if the Taliban regains power? How do we fight terror and help Malala? These are the really tough questions.

And Michael Crowley puts the foreign policy debate in context:

Here’s something to keep in mind as the candidates debate foreign policy on Monday night: The course of domestic politics is hard to predict. The course of world events is impossible to predict. White House hopefuls make all sorts of claims about what they’ll do at home that wind up on the scrap heap. Obama initially opposed a health care mandate. And he attacked John McCain for wanting to tax health care benefits before embracing such a tax in 2009. He might also have lowered expectations on things like climate change if he’d had more warning about the financial crisis.

Foreign policy is even more unpredictable, and it tends to shape presidents’ agendas–not the other way around.