By Lucky Gold, CNN
Foreign policy was the subject of Monday’s third and final U.S. presidential debate. Yet, both President Obama and Mitt Romney seemed to offer a strikingly similar attitude toward the most volatile part of the world, the Middle East.
According to James Rubin, former Assistant Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, “the candidates we saw on the stage last night were talking about America receding from the world – ending the war in Iraq, ending the war in Afghanistan. They said the same things that were said about Iraq and Afghanistan when we were at the height of our interest in Iran and Afghanistan.”
Robert Kagan, who has been an advisor to both Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton, joined Rubin on Amanpour and pointed to Syria as another country where both Obama and Romney seem intent on maintaining the status quo, refusing to put “boots on the ground” or order a no-fly zone to protect the rebels fighting the Assad regime.
“I happen to think we do need to take action and go for a no-fly zone,” said Kagan. I think, by the way, that just going in that direction might have a catalytic effect on the Syrian military which I don’t think really feels like having dogfights in the air with American or other forces and it might just be the thing that tips Assad over.”
“There are only two choices in Syria,” said Rubin. “One is a very, very long and bloody civil war ending in something like Beirut. The other choice is a shorter civil war in which the world, led by the United States, provides the forces fighting Assad the capabilities and support they need.”
Rubin and Kagan then focused on how the candidates addressed the other hot spots in the region, beginning with Iran. “They argued last night about who would put the tougher sanctions on,” said Rubin. “Neither of them admitted that sanctions haven’t changed one bit the willingness of Iran to spin centrifuges, to enrich uranium and increase their (nuclear) capability. Sanctions haven’t worked.
As for the hopes for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Kagan said, “Obama was lucky that he wasn’t running against Obama in this election. Because if Obama had been running against Obama, he would have said, ‘You haven’t made any progress in the Middle East peace process for two years.”
Then it was Afghanistan’s turn. Said Rubin, “We had a whole debate last night and maybe the word “Taliban” was used once. There was a time when defeating the Taliban was an American goal in Afghanistan – that’s gone…. I think allowing the Taliban to come back to some large degree – if you believe the two candidates last night – is American policy.”
As for Pakistan, both Kagan and Rubin gave Romney credit for not taking the easy way and say in Kagan’s words: “they’re behaving terribly, they had Osama bin Laden, let’s just cut them off and call it day.” He went on to say: “If you talk to any American expert on Pakistan, inside the government or outside the government, their answer is you know that you’ll feel good on day one but on day two you’re still dealing with the fact that Pakistan has a hundred nuclear weapons and is in the state it’s in.”
Asked what they consider the most important issue facing the next president, whoever he is, Kagan said it’s America’s “ability to continue playing the role we’ve been playing for the last sixty years. And that is going to require that we get our house in order here at home. Now, Obama treats that as a trade-off something – we’re either nation building abroad or nation building at home. We have to be able to do both.”
Rubin agreed: “ Domestic policy is foreign policy. After the Iraq War, the financial crisis, let’s face it, America’s ability to be what President Obama called ‘the indispensable nation’ has been put in jeopardy. And to be ‘the indispensable nation,’ we need both – we need to be strong at home and a strength abroad.”
CNN’s Ken Olshansky produced this piece for television.