There is a tension at the heart of Obama's foreign policy, which no Republican candidate would find politically beneficial to point out. On the evidence of the final debate, Obama's main foreign policy insight is the need for "nation-building here at home." The killing of Osama bin Laden and the retreat from Afghanistan are presented as the last exertions of an overcommitted nation, ready to reduce defense spending and turn toward domestic needs. Yet promoting a just order in Middle Eastern chaos, or skillfully countering the rise of China, will require more engagement, and perhaps more resources. Al-Qaeda is not on its heels. The president himself seems to be leading America toward a messy confrontation with Iran. In these circumstances, the rhetoric of retrenchment is a failure of candor.
But this critique was beyond the scope of Romney's debate strategy. If reassurance was enough, the hurdle is cleared.
Michael Gerson's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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