I was impressed with last night's debate. This blog has criticized VP Biden quite a lot, so I have to begin by saying I have never seen him so focussed. He only drifted off into blather territory a couple of times. He also scored solid points on foreign policy issues such as Iran. I sit here a bit stunned that Biden did so much better than President Obama did in his own first debate.
I'd never heard Ryan speak more than a sentence or two until last night. I thought he handled himself well. I didn't expect him to be strong on foreign policy, and indeed he hemmed and hawed some, but he didn't commit any major gaffes.
I do think both he and Biden bobbled the question posed by Martha Raddatz from a soldier who reported unhappiness with the tone of the election. I thought Ryan, by getting into military spending in his answer, failed to grasp the question. It was not about the state of the military, it was more about having an election process a soldier can be proud of defending. By the same token, I thought Biden was off base when he rattled on about how the topmost, sacred duty of our leaders is to take care of the military. Rather, the topmost, sacred duty of our leaders is to defend the Constitution.
The third winner was Martha Raddatz, who showed how to moderate one of these things. She should replace Jim Lehrer at NewsHour.
The biggest winner was the American people, who saw what a good debate looks like, and heard real differences explored.
That was my takeaway from Romney's op-ed article in yesterday's Washington Post on how he would handle Iran. The policy he recommends is extraordinarily close to what Obama is doing and saying.
The only difference I see is that Obama knows more about Iran than Romney does. Like history? "Ronald Reagan made it crystal clear that the Iranians would pay a very stiff price for continuing their criminal behavior," writes Gov. Romney. If I were a Republican, I wouldn't be recommending Reagan's handling of Iran as the model, unless the moderate Massachusetts millionaire wants to endorse giving Iran more weapons in exchange for the release of hostages, as of course the Reagan Administration did.
But the stupidest line in the article might be this one: "I will press for ever-tightening sanctions, acting with other countries if we can but alone if we must." Dude, how are sanctions gonna work if we impose them alone? They won't, so they must be imposed multilaterally. Which is what President Obama happens to be doing. I have to wonder who in the Romney campaign thought this article was a good idea.
Meanwhile, I suspect that one thing Republican hawks don't understand is the depth of opposition inside the military to attacking Iran. (Of course, back in 2002-03, lots of people in the military were against attacking Iraq-but the administration back then was all hot to trot, and did not want to be confused by facts.)
Here is what old Obama said yesterday at a press conference about all this:
When I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I'm reminded of the costs involved in war. I'm reminded that the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy.
This is not a game. There's nothing casual about it. And when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we've been doing over the last three years, it indicates to me that that's more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.
Now, the one thing that we have not done is we haven't launched a war. If some of these folks think that it's time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.