Special Report

How to Win the Final Debate

Give 'em hell, Mitt! -- because foreign policy matters.

By 10.19.12

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"Mr. President, with all due respect, why are American boys still dying in Afghanistan?"

With that question, Mitt Romney positions himself to seize the high ground in the third presidential debate, programmed to focus on foreign affairs, and lead the Republican party to victory on November 6.

The whole point of foreign policy is to protect America and Americans, regardless of what the rest of the world thinks, wants, expects. America first, last, and always -- and American interests always take precedence over American principles, though in reality a foreign policy well conducted will be reinforced in almost all circumstances by American principles.

And with a question taking the debate squarely into the Afghan quagmire, the governor can underscore a simple and grim fact, which is that the Democrat administration and its allies in the media, in the academe, in the chattering la-la classes, do not subscribe to this fundamental proposition -- a Constitutional proposition, note ("…assure the common defense…") -- and have been pursuing dangerously suicidal policies in the one area of government, outside the postal service, where it really is indispensable. "A well regulated militia…" may well be an absolutely crucial second line of defense of the home ground, our critical linebackers (not that I care much for sports analogies in this realm, but you see the picture), but in the world such as we know it, the militia and the armed citizenry are insufficient.

We need our military services, and we need to use them wisely, prudently. That means we do not waste them. We do not sacrifice the best of our breed in losing wars.

The governor can show he is a leader, which means fundamentally an educator, by asking, with all due respect, why Barack Obama, who voted against the intervention in Iraq, finds himself still a war president, and a losing war president at that.

The governor can say, with all due respect, that it is perfectly legitimate to change one's mind on security policy. It is quite possible that Mr. Obama, who belonged to the defeatist party when he sat in the Senate, changed his mind once he acceded to supreme responsibilities in 2009. He could have perceived the world differently, understood better the threats and the global situation our republic faces, and he could have decided we have to see a war through, and win it, if we want to insure the safety and well-being of our posterity in the new century.

But then, the governor can say, facing his political adversary directly, you should have said so, Mr. President. You should have explained the nature of this war to our fellow-citizens. You should have advised the world ("… a decent respect to the opinions of mankind…"), you should have advised our friends and warned our enemies that you were in this conflict to see it through to victory.

For which there is no substitute.

And, quite the man of honor that he is, the governor can eschew partisan pusillanimity and concede -- in debate terms a clever move, pre-empting the other side's attacks -- that the last Republican administration fumbled the ball (another one of those sports metaphors, sorry), did not see the job as clearly as it might have been expected to after its running and ardent start in the wake of the attack on our territory in 2001. Misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan based on dead-end -- though generous -- notions of nation-building, when the object of war is to win, caused unnecessary and terrible losses to our side, pardonable only to the degree we learn from them. The American people had every right to expect the new administration had learned from its predecessor, based on all the president-elect and his men said about foreign policy.

After four years in command, what have they learned? We are being rolled in Kabul, betrayed in Baghdad, attacked in Benghazi -- by political thugs who owe their positions and their very lives to us and our heroic servicemen. This is totally crazy and what is more, we have a leadership that denies it. It makes up excuses and changes facts as it goes along, breaking one of the cardinal rules of American foreign policy: politics must stop at the water's edge.

Why? Because as soon as we leave our shores, we are all Americans, not Democrats and Republicans, pacifists and warhawks. As soon as we leave home, we extend the hand of friendship to everyone, our word engages our honor. But that means we cannot accept for one moment that we should be crossed.

Why then has the administration, the governor can ask, permitted false allies who despise us to stay in power? Why are we funneling billions in aid to them and letting our young men be sacrificed to their treacheries and connivances?

Why, Mr. President, are we still in Afghanistan? Why are we, politically and diplomatically, in Iraq, whatever brought us to Libya?

Mind, maybe we should be in those places -- but under very different conditions, with very different purposes, on very different terms, than the ones you seem to view as honorable and to our republic's advantage. You have given the American people no indication that you know what serves American interests in those places. You have shown repeatedly that you are more concerned with winning the regard of anti-American Saudi potentates, of Pashtun con-men, or of Shiite clan leaders, than with defending our soldiers' and diplomats' safety and insisting that our interventions in those barbaric lands redound to our advantage. Foreign policy is not philanthropy.

Mr. President, the governor might ask in conclusion, after four years and billions and how many lives -- can you tell us exactly, Mr. President, how many American boys have died on your watch, advancing your foreign policy? Can you tell us why our enemies can get through to a diplomatic compound and kill our ambassador? How can you allow this? How can you not have punished them already?

Then, if he really wants to drive the point home, the governor can say this:

Nation building, if it means anything, means protecting the people who will build a decent nation. Nation building under military cover means they can prosper and evolve in security -- as the Germans did, for example, in the decades following World War II -- showing how much better a nation built on principles of liberty is than one built on tribal despotism and political gangsterism, tyranny and fear and the hatred of counterfeit religious teaching. Your policy, sir, has been designed to win friends and build decent societies and nations, and what is the result? The result is that our enemies, with the connivance of our so-called friends, can with impunity shoot in the face a child who proclaims that she wants to go to school, precisely the kind of child on whom her nation must rely if ever it is to be built into something decent and civilized.

This happened on your watch, Mr. President. You can take credit if you want for the killing of a top terrorist, even though it is clear to anyone who follows even remotely current affairs that Osama bin Laden was brought down by American commandos whose skills, training, search for the enemy, and execution of their mission owes nothing to the defense-budget cutting policies you promote. You cannot avoid credit for the shooting of this little girl, a shooting that symbolizes as well as anything else the failure of American foreign policy in our time. Why were you not the first one to call the bedside of little Malala? Why was the U.S. envoy to Pakistan not the very same day warning the government of that vile country that we bomb them unto damnation if they fail to do the necessary -- whatever that is -- to eradicate the Taliban and their security service enablers?

It is time for change. It is time for hope. It is time for terror to change camps, Mr. President. It is time for our friends -- and they are legion in the world -- to again live in hope that America will prevail. America and only America is the world's last, best hope. You have not shown, Mr. Obama, that you believe this.

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About the Author

Roger Kaplan, a Washington-based writer, covers the Middle East and Africa (and tennis) for The American Spectator.