Monday’s third and final debate between President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger saw Romney’s transformation from a more hawkish to a more moderate position. The GOP nominee, who had advocated a muscular foreign policy throughout the campaign and during the primaries, rebranded himself Monday night as an advocate of peace. “We can’t kill ourselves out of this mess,” he said early during the Monday night debate in Boca Raton, Florida.
Those who have followed Romney’s foreign policy positions over the past four years know that there’s a clear disconnect between the candidate who was on stage and the candidate who has been on the trail until now.
The only two issues where Romney sounded somewhat like his former, hawkish self were on China and Iran. On China, he reiterated that he would name Beijing a currency manipulator on his first day in office, which would pave the way for additional US actions and could a spark a trade war that Romney has said he doesn’t want.
And on Iran, Romney vowed to name its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a war criminal for suggesting that Israel should be wiped off the map.
On virtually every other foreign policy item, Romney changed his positions to resemble those of President Obama and appeal more to all-important constituencies – women voters, Americans tired of what seem like endless wars, and independents.
On the question of troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, Romney now agrees with Obama that US troops should leave in 2014. Leading up to the debate, Romney blasted the deadline, saying it would encourage the Taliban to wait until the Americans leave to unleash more violence.
On Iraq, he disavowed his previous assertion that it was wrong to clear out all US troops from Iraq. Romney had called for as many as 30,000 US troops to be left behind, but as of Monday night he was completely on board with Obama.
Drone attacks? The newly-minted candidate of peace would continue Obama’s controversial policy of using unmanned drones to kill potential terrorists.
Apart from Romney’s move to the middle, the third and final debate was also notable for the subjects that were not addressed by the contender. While China figured prominently and Russia was mentioned a few times, none of the other major US allies was mentioned at all. That list includes India, Britain, Germany, France, Japan, Mexico, Canada and Brazil.
What makes Romney’s latest pronouncements especially curious is that he has surrounded himself with the neoconservative hawks of the Bush-Cheney era who successfully argued for two wars.
After Romney clinched the Republican presidential nomination last summer – following a primary election in which he took hardline positions – one of his top advisers said Romney would reset his campaign, much like children erase their previous work on the Etch-A-Sketch toy and begin anew.
That remark was taken to mean that Romney would move toward the centre in the general election. He did precisely that on Monday night, just as he reset his domestic policies during the first two debates. All of these shifts call to question Romney’s constancy of purpose and perspective – a fundamental requirement for a commander in chief, world leader and President of the United States.