Throughout Monday night’s presidential debate on foreign policy, President Obama used past positions that Mitt Romney has taken over the course of the campaign to depict him as the wrong candidate to run U.S. foreign policy.
Obama used the tactic both to defend his own initiatives — particularly his Libya policy — and to characterize Romney as an untrained foreign policy hand who has been wobbly and inconsistent.
“I know you haven’t been in a position to execute foreign policy,” Obama said, in summarizing his theme of attack, “but every time you have offered an opinion, you have been wrong.”
Obama took the chance to needle Romney on his adversarial position on Russia. “I’m glad that you recognize al Qaeda is a threat. Because a few months ago when you were asked the biggest threat facing America, you said Russia,” Obama said. “The Cold War has been over for 20 years. But governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.”
Later Obama said directly to Romney, “You indicated that we shouldn’t be passing nuclear treaties with Russia, despite the fact that 71 senators, Democrats and Republicans, voted for it.”
Regarding Romney’s campaign positions on the revolution in Libya, Obama said, “[T]o the governor’s credit, you supported us going into [L]ibya and the coalition that we organized,” Obama said. “But when it came time to making sure that Moammar Gaddhafi did not stay in power, that he was captured, governor, your suggestion was that this was mission creep.”
Responding to Romney’s call for arming Syrian opposition and his critique of the Obama administration’s more cautious policy, Obama noted that “to get more entangled militarily in Syria is a serious step. And we have to do so making absolutely certain that we know who we are helping, that we’re not putting arms in the hands of folks who eventually could turn them against us or allies in the region. I’m confident that Assad’s days are numbered. But what we can’t do is simply suggest that as governor at times as suggested that giving heavy weapons, for example, to the Syrian opposition is a simple proposition that would lead us to be safer over the long-term.”
Osama bin Laden
Obama reprised a familiar line based on Romney’s position in the 2008 campaign that locating and killing Osama bin Laden would not be a top priority.
“[Y]ou said we shouldn’t move heaven and earth to get one man,” Obama said. “If we would have asked Pakistan for permission, we wouldn’t have got him.”
“You say that you’re not interested in duplicating what happened in Iraq, but just a few weeks ago, you said you think we should have more troops in Iraq right now,” Obama said pointedly. “You said we should have gone into Iraq despite the fact there were no weapons of mass destruction. You said that we should still have troops in Iraq, to this day.”
You said that first we should not have a timeline in Afghanistan, then you said we should. Now you say maybe or it depends. Which means not only were you wrong, but you were confused and sending mixed messages to our troops and allies.”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.