Four debates, including the Veep debate. Four wins for Romney-Ryan.
Everyone had said about this debate that Romney needed to show we could trust him as commander in chief and head of our foreign policy. He cleared that hurdle and then some.
Given the political moment, the incumbent needed to look far superior to his challenger on those scores, leading us all to say the national security would be set back a few notches if we were to switch presidents. The president failed at that task and then some.
On Monday night, we saw a challenger who demonstrated a greater knowledge of countries that matter to us — and some that are marginal — than the sitting president. If the president has the same grasp of both detail and strategy as Governor Romney, he didn’t show it.
Instead he tried to belittle Romney’s knowledge and understanding, most notably with his comeback on the current warship count, after Romney said that the Navy has fewer ships today than in 1917. We don’t have horses and bayonets either, the president responded. The trouble was, the president came off as dismissive of the legitimate needs of the military, strategically clueless.
The U.S. Navy keeps to global sealanes open. It responds to natural disasters near shore areas. It is a major diplomatic as well as military presence. And it is the most globally versatile branch when we face a security challenge. Technology helps. But if we have trouble in the South China Sea or have to go into Afghanistan after 9-11-01, we must be able to put forces on the scene with dispatch. Only the Navy can do both and only if it has enough ships.
We are already seeing what a small navy means to global stability. Chinese challenges in waters long considered belonging to the Philippines, Japan and Taiwan are in many respects challenges to us, tests to see if we can and will respond. If we had a 600-ship fleet today, as we did or nearly did in the early 90s, it is hard to imagine the Chinese making such challenges – or if they tried, creating so much anxiety in the region. Anxiety, such as we have seen among our regional allies during those confrontations, is one route to conflict — or alliance shifts that work against the long term interest of a free and open international system.
This is a fact about which the president has appeared to demonstrate very little awareness in his four years at the helm or tonight. In a thousand subtle ways, the peace and stability of the world depends on a strong United States. I am not saying that our military should rush to arms every time two countries come to blows. Just the opposite. I am saying that peace and American weakness are not the same thing. In fact, they are opposites. And when our strength – particularly the strength of our navy, the one truly global branch of our military – starts to falter, bad things start to happened.
Again and again, Romney pulled back the camera of discussion and talked about the strategic context of this or that issue or country or region. If the president could go there, he didn’t demonstrate it. Romney key theme was unanswerable, “America must be strong. America must lead…. We must strengthen our military long term. We don’t know what the world is going to throw at us.”
So now we have had four debates, with one side clearly outclassing the other, not just on debating points but on style and even something that speaks of character. I spent an hour this morning with a Republican White House veteran, a senior political thinker and strategist. Like many on the GOP side in this town, he was guardedly optimistic about an election sweep: White House, House of Representatives and Senate.
The apology tour, the abandoning of the Iranian freedom protestors early in the term, the shutting down of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and refusal to approve the Keystone piping when energy independence is essential to our long-term national security: all of this and more are catching up with the president and his administration.
I asked the political veteran how big a factor might be the Chicago-style voting. Big, he replied, but he gauged the movement of opinion away from the president as even bigger.
Last night Romney did the job he needed to do. The president failed what he had to do, as he did in the prior meetings. Repeatedly, it has been Governor Romney, not Mr. Obama, who has looked and spoken like the true president.