The “who won the debate?” question is a kind of second-tier issue, compared with which of the two candidates is more likely to manage the foreign affairs of the United States more competently and in a manner likely to preserve and extend the values of the West. These are momentous issues that, so far as Obama is concerned, have been comprehensively answered over the past four years. In every way, so far as the preservation of our way of life is concerned, we have been moving backwards and his policies are a large part of the reason why.
But to the extent we have not been driven farther back than we have, to the extent that there has actually been some advance made on four years ago, it is only because of the continuation of policies introduced by President Bush following 9/11. Guantanamo remains open, attacks on al Qaeda have continued, Osama bin Laden has been killed, Iraq has been stabilised and Afghanistan is on its way to being able to maintain an army in the field to defend itself against further attacks by jihadists. All of the policies to achieve these ends were in place on the day of Obama’s inauguration. The only step he needed to take was to do nothing at all but allow the past to roll into the future.
So when I see the usual crowd on the left say that Obama won the debate, you have to wonder what they mean, since everything Obama said represented exactly the kinds of things that would have been said by George Bush eight years before and by John McCain in 2008. Obama, who became president on the back of his promise to unwind all of the war efforts commenced by President Bush, now argues for re-election because he has been able to complete each of his predecessor’s initiatives. Had Obama run on promising to continue the war in Iraq, extend the war in Afghanistan and prosecute a war in Libya, those who support Obama now as they did then cannot explain their support other than because Obama is a man of the left. It’s certainly not because he did what he promised to do.
But on issues that arrived on Obama’s watch or needed to be dealt with by him, each has been badly mishandled. The Green Revolution in Iran was an opportunity to strike back at the jihadists who run the Iranian state. Nothing was done. In Egypt, the Democracy Movement (of whatever kind it was) has ended in a takeover of the state by the same anti-American types who run Iran, the same people who support the Assad regime in Syria. And there is, of course, Obama’s statement addressed to Russian Premier Medvedev, picked up by that live mike, to tell Putin that he will have “more flexibility after the election”. If that doesn’t worry you then nothing will. And the question really is, where else does Obama think his extra flexibility will be able to count once he is re-elected — if he is re-elected — and how will this flexibility play out?
These Presidential debates are not like debates in the Oxford Union. These are deadly serious discussions about who can better manage America’s domestic and international affairs, and on that score, given both past performance and the policies enunciated by each of the candidates, I cannot even remotely see how Obama has “won”.
If he gets another four years, they are likely to be as disastrous as the past four. By contrast, Romney provides every evidence that he represents a major step in the right direction. That is my certain takeaway from listening to the two of them debate.