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Foreign policy debate: Turns out Romney’s a peacenik

President Obama was on his NoDoz this time, but couldn’t get Mitt Romney to fight.

Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama talking during the final U.S. presidential debate in Boca Raton, Fla.
REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Last night, Mitt Romney came out of the closet as a great admirer of President Barack Obama’s work, at least on foreign policy. Turns out, Romney agrees with and would continue the great majority of Obama’s policies, except Romney would be a bit more of a peacenik, except he would spend more on the military and never apologize.

Romney: “We want a peaceful planet. We want people to be able to enjoy their lives and know they’re going to have a bright and prosperous future and not be at war. That’s our purpose. And the mantle of leadership for promoting the principles of peace has fallen to America….

“We don’t want another Iraq,” said the only one of the two major party nominees who supported the U.S. decision to start that war. “We don’t want another Afghanistan. That’s not the right course for us.”

After congratulating Obama for killing Osama bin Laden, moderate Mitt the Peacenik added: “But we can’t kill our way out of this mess.” So how do we get a happier, more loving, more fulfilled planet? Pretty simple.

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Romney:  “We’re going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the world of Islam and other parts of the world reject this radical, violent extremism.”

Instant polls

The snap polls by CNNCBS and Public Policy Polling all found that most debate watchers felt Obama had “won,” but – as the experience of the past two debates has demonstrated — that doesn’t necessarily translate into a change in whom the voters plan to support on Election Day (which, as of today, is two weeks off).

In the first debate, Obama seems to have been caught off guard by Romney’s decision to repudiate many of the hard-right positions he had taken to get the Republican nomination. Romney did the same last night on foreign policy and, while Obama seemed more ready for it, it made for a tame evening of rope-a-dope.

Obama was on his NoDoz this time, but he couldn’t get Romney to fight.

James Fallows of the Atlantic wrote: “As a matter of substance, on virtually no issue did Romney make an actual criticism, of any sort, of Obama’s policy or record. Including topics where he used to disagree, like the timeline for withdrawal for Afghanistan! Instead it was, ‘I agree, but you should have done it better.’”

Less charitably, live blogging on The Daily Beast, Andrew Sullivan wrote: “Romney is endorsing Obama’s foreign policy. Simple as that. Amazing. You cannot believe it of course. You can believe nothing that comes out of that mouth.”

Even on Fox, Stephen Hayes put it thus: “In his effort not to look like George W. Bush, [Romney] ended up sounding a lot more like Barack Obama.”

The rest of the Fox crowd rallied behind their man. Charles Krauthammer declared that Romney had won the debate “tactically, strategically” and in that Romney “by going large” had succeeded in making Obama look “shockingly small.”

Political perceptions

One last thought. Partisan stereotypes play an enormous role in political perceptions. Democrats are suspected of being weak. So Obama has to talk a lot about killing bin Laden and being tough in other ways. Republicans are suspected of being perpetual hawks, always seeking a new war. The electorate is particularly war-weary, and in the previous debate Obama warned, apropos of nothing much, that Romney had said last night but playing into that stereotype, “we don’t need another war.”

It’s quite possible that Romney believed his biggest risk heading into last night was that the public would see all his previous efforts to portray Obama as a weak apologizer as suggesting that Romney would get us into another war. So he decided to come to the final debate as Gandhi.