October 22nd marked the final debate between incumbent President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Governor Mitt Romney. The topic of this final debate was foreign policy. Questions ranged from broad interpretations as to what both candidates believe the role of America should be in the world to specifics such as the instance in Libya regarding the death of four Americans. The debate was moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS News.
These three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate have impacted nationwide polls and predictions regarding this election. In addition, these debates offer ‘first-time’ opportunities for both candidates to sit/stand side by side and discuss topics that concern the state of America. It has been widely accepted that the intention of these debates is to target so-called “undecided voters”; therefore, these debates serve as chances for both President Obama and Governor Romney to explain their plans of government if elected.
The entire debate was filled with topics I could address and it is incredibly hard to choose, but I’ll try my best. First of all, let me just state that even though I’ve only been aware and knowledgeable of three elections (this one included) in my lifetime - I still believe this has been the most peculiar and anomalous. This is not because of the candidate’s stances, but because of the American reaction to them.
There were several issues that irritated me this past debate.
Let me begin with Governor Romney remark that President Obama began his presidency "with an apology tour." A review of Obama’s foreign travels and remarks during his early presidency shows no evidence to support such a disparaging claim. Obama made two formal apologies as President, but they were not at the start of his presidency and not part of a "tour". While Obama's speeches contain criticisms of past U.S. actions, he typically combines those passages with praise for the United States and its ideals, and he frequently mentions how other countries have erred as well. Calling those remarks "an apology tour" is a ridiculous charge. Nonetheless, what makes an apology bad? My parents always taught me to apologize if I made a mistake. The notion that "Americans shouldn't apologize for their values" is misleading. Has anyone ever entertained the idea that perhaps "other countries dislike us" because we're always stuck up on the idea that "we're the greatest country on Earth"? Since when does being a patriot mean we can no longer be realistic in our judgments of our country?
The reason the notion of “America apologizing” bothers me is because I don’t know what is wrong with it. America, as a country, CAN apologize, and has apologized (though we may not have used the word itself). Candidate Mitt Romney has stated he will “never apologize for America” – and I don’t know why he never would. America is not a bratty child that, when she does something wrong and knows it, she doesn’t apologize. America is a democratic nation. America is a nation that has survived the test of time, but also made mistakes along the way that have had global effects. America is the child that is not afraid to look back at her own mistakes and criticize and learn from them. That is how our democracy has survived – through the courage of admitting our failures and moving on past them. Any argument against that is regressive.
“Well, my strategy is pretty straightforward, which is to go after the bad guys, to make sure we do our very best to interrupt them, to — to kill them, to take them out of the picture.”Yet earlier in the debate, in his opening statement, he stated:
“But we can't kill our way out of this mess. We're going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the — the world of Islam and other parts of the world, reject this radical violent extremism, which is — it's certainly not on the run.”Call it changing your viewpoints or “flip-flopping” – but the fact is those are two completely different strategies. And no, Governor Romney, none of them are “straightforward”.
Secondly, regarding that same quote, what irritates me is the diction of “the world of Islam”. The last thing the “world of Islam” needs is American help. I hate to say this because I feel I may sound redundant - but to me there is no “world of Islam”. Let’s assume Governor Romney is implying the Middle East. If the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khameini, says in a televised speech that the reason Iranians view America unfavorably is because of its intervention in their politics, then what message does it send when on American television a presidential candidate is stating that is exactly what his foreign policy initiative is?
In addition, it seems that when many Americans view foreign policy, they perceive the “Muslim world” as their primary focus. Mitt Romney said that his principle for foreign policy if elected President would be to "help the world of Islam reject radical violent extremism". Am I the only one that finds that incredibly sad? Is it only because I’m a Muslim that makes me inclined to feel that notion is erroneous?
Sure, there are things that should be criticized about President Obama’s foreign policy as well – I’m not singling out Governor Romney. On his campaign trail in 2008, President Obama promised an end to torture, extraordinary rendition and secret prisons. But since taking office he has in fact doubled-down on some of the more insidious policies he inherited from the George W. Bush administration. President Obama has surrounded himself with war hawks, relied on targeted killing, and acted unilaterally to defend US interests. The common misconception is that Obama is completely drawing down the two major ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet he has shifted combat to special operations units, prolonging US engagement. It is important to realize that, though in rhetoric (and, to the President's credit - in some forms of actions) the President has taken measures to decrease American presence in these countries; however, the war itself is still alive and has actually just entered another dynamic.
The fact of the matter is: President Obama’s foreign policy to me has at least followed pluralism and diplomacy, whereas Governor Romney’s strategy outlined in his debate came off as overtly interventionist. Even the fact that President Obama can pronounce "Pakistan" correctly just shows how even paying attention to a small facet of speech matters in the scheme of diplomatic discussion.
Back to the quoted comment earlier - to be completely honest - it's this exact politicization of Islam that creates and enforces an antagonism and distorted view of a purported "Muslim world". What frustrates me is when Pakistan, Iran, Palestine - all these Eastern countries - are fundamentally viewed as "threats". The solution isn't isolationism - but the problem IS the picture being painted of the United States of America as a world police. America as a country does have a responsibility to the world but it’s just as equal as any other nation's. To even discuss foreign policy with diction of "threat" or "adversary" contributes to the conflict we claim to be fighting against.
Oh, and contrary to popular belief, to most Middle Eastern countries dominated by a population of Muslims, America was viewed as a benevolent nation of opportunity and equality. It hasn't been until recent images, misnomers, and blemished interpretations regarding the faith of Islam and the beliefs of its followers that have led to the rise of both anti-American and anti-Islamic sentiment.
The fact is Islam is a religion, and those who have chosen to use it as a catalyst for political change in the modern world have both misinterpreted its religious purpose and misrepresented it to the public eye.
Look, there are 7 days left. I know I'm not a political analyst and my perceptions regarding government are limited to studies over my academic career and personal experiences over my 17 years of existence. In addition to the reasons my opinion may be unqualified or invalid is that I'm not even old enough to vote. But my intention by sharing my viewpoint regarding this election isn't an attempt to change or confirm other's political beliefs. My intention is to explain what I believe is right or wrong while challenging that exact ageist stereotype.
These past four debates should have served not as lectures of each candidate's policies, but as confirmations to which candidate voters are hoping to elect for the next four years. Gov. Mitt Romney said in this debate, "Look at my website", and in context, he was correct. It is up to a voter's initiative on whether he/she wants to be informed.
President Obama's presidency has not been perfect. His leadership has been validly criticized. His administration's policies haven't always worked. But between these two candidates, the choice for Americans should be clear. Americans should know which candidate they wish to elect as their representative and foreign diplomat. No voter should be undecided - and if someone is, then they probably should not be voting this election. And the voters that are decided - must. That is all I have to say.