Tuesday night was the tenth Republican presidential debate athis year nd the second to focus on national security and foreign policy. One would think that after this many discussions among the GOP aspirants, voters would have a clear sense of how a Republican commander-in-chief would deal with the myriad foreign-policy issues he (or she!) will find on his plate in January 2013.
Think again. Maybe this is the penalty one pays for watching too many of these dog-and-pony shows; maybe it was the numerous and occasionally inane questions about foreign-policy topics that seemed more relevant two election cycles ago (TSA patdowns? Really?); or maybe it was the parade of former Bush administration officials asking questions (David Addington and Mark Thiessen both weighed in; apparently John Yoo had made other plans).
In any case, those Americans looking for answers to questions about foreign policy issues the next president will actually be dealing with on foreign policy were likely to be disappointed. China and the Far East in general didn't come up -- and this just after President Barack Obama had returned from a weeklong visit to the region. There was nothing on the boiling Eurozone crisis, the current violence in Egypt, or climate change -- and surprisingly little on defense cuts or the future of the military, despite the recent meltdown of the congressional "supercommittee" charged with carrying out such cuts.
What we got instead could best be summarized by Mitt Romney's answer to a question on Somalia's al-Shabab terrorists:
"President Obama feels that we're going to be a nation which has multipolar balancing militaries. I believe that American military superiority is the right course. President Obama says that we have people throughout the world with common interests. I just don't agree with him. I think there are people in the world that want to oppress other people that are evil. President Obama seems to think that we're going to have a global century, an Asian century. I believe we have to have an American century, where America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world. President Obama apologizes for America. It is time for us to be strong as a nation."
Besides being a rather blatant mischaracterization of Obama's foreign-policy views (and, no, Obama has not apologized for America), this chest-beating answer provided zero insight into how Romney would achieve his goal of a strong, exceptional, and unapologetic America -- and certainly not into how he would pay for it. It was simply red meat for Republican partisans -- as was his amazing claim that there is "no price that is too expensive to stop an Iranian nuclear weapon." Romney can't possible believe this.
But such simplicity was par for the course. Indeed, to listen to the GOP candidates on Iran is to think that an American president can use a little military force here, drop a few sanctions there, and voilà, the Iranian nuclear program will be stopped dead in its tracks. It took poor former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to make the somewhat obvious point that there is little the United States can do, even with stronger sanctions, to stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb.