William Astore: America Lost Last Night's Presidential Debate





Astore writes regularly for TomDispatch.com and can be reached at wjastore@gmail.com.

There were times during last night's presidential debate on foreign policy when the key question seemed to be which candidate loved Israel more. There were other times when it seemed that the key question was which candidate wanted to make our already steroidal military even more muscle-bound. President Obama appeared to win the debate on points, but Governor Romney also won in the sense that he appeared knowledgeable and steady on national defense and foreign policy, areas in which he lacks experience.

The real winners in last night's debate were not the candidates, but hardliners on Israel and the U.S. military-industrial complex. The real loser in last night's debate was also very clear. It was America. You and me.

And here's why. Clearly, whichever man wins the election in November, the following will continue to be true:

1. The U.S. will continue to spend vast sums on its military, upwards of $700 billion a year, more than the next ten countries in the world combined. Neither candidate proposed a single weapon system that could be cut to save money, with Mr. Romney promising to spend countless scores of billions more on Navy ships and Air Force planes that the military itself has said it doesn't need.

2. The U.S. will continue a losing war effort in Afghanistan at least until the end of 2014, with residual U.S. "training" forces remaining in-country long after the so-called "withdrawal" of U.S. combat troops, which both candidates promised would happen.

3. The U.S. will continue to remain deferential to Israeli desires in the Middle East, with the Israeli tail wagging the American dog, notably with respect to policy against Iran.

4. The U.S. will continue to promote democracy around in world, except in despotic countries that do our bidding.

5. The U.S. will continue to escalate drone strikes on assassination missions of dubious legality, all in the name of killing the bad guys. Neither candidate bothered to address civilian casualties, blowback, or whether they accept the right of other countries to launch their own drones on assassination missions. (In this case I'm guessing that imitation by China or Russia or Iran would not be considered the sincerest form of flattery.)

6. Trade and profit and strutting machismo will continue to drive U.S. foreign policy, not concerns about human rights or planetary health.

7. Despite our wars, our robotic assassination missions, our vast military spending, and our dominance of the international weapons trade (where America truly is number one), both candidates insist that America will remain a beacon of democracy and freedom to the world, the one indispensable nation that is dedicated to peace.

Certain subjects were in essence taboo and left unaddressed, including the perils of global warming and the danger of economic destabilization due to unwanted and unwise fiscal austerity programs in Europe and elsewhere.

True, there were marginal differences between the candidates. Obama stressed the advantages of building coalitions (as with sanctions against Iran) rather than unilateral action by the U.S., whereas Romney stressed "strength" and no apologies. Obama declared terrorism to be the most pressing threat to the U.S., whereas Romney declared it was a nuclear-armed Iran.

Otherwise, both candidates were largely in agreement. And more's the pity to America -- and to the world.



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