The defining image from the October 22 debate between President Obama and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is of the two candidates passionately disputing their prescriptions for the U.S. domestic economy. The moderator, veteran TV journalist Bob Schieffer, caught the spirit of the evening with his final words before inviting the debaters to make their closing comments — “I think we all love teachers.” A visitor from Mars might be forgiven for not realising that this was a debate on foreign policy.
Schieffer’s choice of subjects for the debate is revealing, and sheds light on the most immediate voter concerns. Three of the themes had to do with the Middle East: Libya; Syria; and Israel and Iran. Despite America’s political polarisation and Romney’s months-long drumbeat for a more muscular approach to Iran’s nuclear programme, there was striking similarity in the views of the two candidates.
A fourth theme, Afghanistan and Pakistan, extended the discussion of America’s difficult relationships in the Muslim world. Both candidates stressed that the United States was leaving Afghanistan; gone were Romney’s earlier hints that he would slow down the departure and “consult the military commanders.” Despite a provocative question from the moderator, neither wanted to “divorce” Pakistan. Again, little discernible difference.