The conventional wisdom was that Mitt Romney thrashed Barack Obama last night, and I'm part of that conventional wisdom today. In essence, Obama's biggest problem was that he perfectly portrayed Romney's version of Obama -- nice guy, but overmatched by the circumstances. I mean, not as overmatched as Jim Lehrer, but still...
By design, foreign policy did not get mentioned all that much during this debate -- though Spaniards might differ. There was Mitt Romney's riff about not wanting to borrow from China, which was pretty stupid. There was Barack Obama's discussion of sending jobs overseas, which was really stupid. I'm unfortunately used to this level of IPE stupidity in presidential debates, so let's just skip over that unpleasantness. Also, regretfully, both candidates agree with these sentiments, so depressingly there's nothing to debate about.
Still, looking at the transcript, there was one teaser of disagreements to come that seems pretty big to me -- the difference between the two major party candidates on defense spending. It's not quite as good as other teaser trailers -- but it is interesting.
Here was Obama on Romney's five-point plan, a point that he made repeatedly:
I would just say this to the American people. If you believe that we can cut taxes by $5 trillion and add $2 trillion in additional spending that the military is not asking for, $7 trillion -- just to give you a sense, over 10 years, that’s more than our entire defense budget -- and you think that by closing loopholes and deductions for the well-to-do, somehow you will not end up picking up the tab, then Governor Romney’s plan may work for you....
I think it’s important for us to develop new sources of energy here in America, that we change our tax code to make sure that we’re helping small businesses and companies that are investing here in the United States, that we take some of the money that we’re saving as we wind down two wars to rebuild America and that we reduce our deficit in a balanced way that allows us to make these critical investments (emphasis added).
Now, here's Romney on the same question:
We have a responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of our people, and that means a military second to none. I do not believe in cutting our military. I believe in maintaining the strength of America’s military....
The president’s reelected you’ll see dramatic cuts to our military. The secretary of defense has said these would be even devastating.
I will not cut our commitment to our military. I will keep America strong.
Now there was zero discussion of what President Obama thinks the right amount of military spending should be -- but it seems clear that it's much smaller than what Romney wants.
I hope this question comes up in the next two debates, because it really is a significant difference between the two candidates.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.