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Barack Obama tells Mitt Romney: ‘We have fewer horses and bayonets’

23 October 2012

8:53 AM

23 October 2012

8:53 AM

Whoever wins the US presidency on 6 November will owe little of their success to foreign policy. A recent poll showed that 46 per cent of the electorate regards the economy as the most important issue of the election; just 6 per cent chose foreign policy. The tightness of this race meant that the foreign policy debate still had the potential to influence matters, but a stilted format contributed to a rather stale exchange last night. Barack Obama produced a more compelling performance, but when he wakes up it will not be to the sort of collective mood shift Mitt Romney enjoyed after the Denver debate. The essence of this campaign remains as it was 24 hours ago: as in 2000 and 2004, America’s choice of President could well come down to the Electoral College votes of a single state.

By reducing the foreign policy areas on which the two disagreed, Romney would have hoped to claw back some of Obama’s ground on foreign policy and keep voters’ focus on the economy. Though it was a sound strategy, Obama proved more effective this time around at attacking ‘Moderate Mitt’. He drew attention to Romney’s notorious policy flip-flops such as his stance on troop numbers in Iraq and, in a way many observers felt he should have in the previous two debates, Obama was much more explicit in linking Romney to the previous Republican president, arguing that he represented a return to the war-mongering and record deficits of the Bush years.

Obama was pugnacious in making his case. He mounted a good defence of his record – something he had to do, because almost every American holds Obama in much greater regard for what he has done overseas than at home. He tried to paint himself as a courageous president, telling the debate he had ordered Osama bin Laden’s killing, despite advice to the contrary from his Vice-President.


Romney’s ripostes failed to sparkle; his balancing act of simultaneously agreeing with the bulk of Obama’s foreign policy actions and future plans, from Iraq to Afghanistan and China to bin Laden, while maintaining that Obama had weakened America’s standing in the world proved impossible to pull off. On Romney’s planned military spending hikes – the most substantive policy foreign policy difference between the two candidates – Obama got in the most memorable line of the night, responding to Romney’s complaint about declining ship numbers by saying: ‘We also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed.’

But as a rather wonkish detour to small business development in Massachusetts during Romney’s term as Governor illustrated, there was no escaping the spectre of the economy.

Romney knows where his strengths are and it was unsurprising that he turned the conversation back to the economy wherever possible, painting a reinvigorated domestic economy as the centrepiece of his foreign policy.

Even so, Obama enjoyed his best debate of the campaign; indeed, he could rightly claim to have won the past two debates. The memory of that night in Denver – which resulted in the largest post-debate polling shift in the past seven presidential contests – still remains, but Obama has displayed resilience since.

His recovery mirrors George W. Bush’s own campaign in 2004. Bush was thumped by John Kerry in the first debate, regained some ground in the next two debates and then just about held on for re-election, with Ohio the decisive state. Obama will require a similar rearguard. And, while the performance of the President will have helped his cause a little, it is now get-out-the-vote groups in swing states that will largely determine the fate of the election.

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Show comments
  • Curnonsky

    “Almost every American…” Really? How do you know this? There are a great many Americans who feel Obama’s foreign policy has been as disastrous as his domestic policy and would not draw a distinction between their relative failings.

    This article does point up the reason Obama appears to win debates but his poll numbers continue to slide: unfiltered by his claque of adoring Wigmores in the media voters see the real man in these debates. His snide comebacks, supercilious attitude and forays into empty sermonizing expose him for all to see as a small, vain man with little aptitude for his job but a great hunger to hang on to it (if only for the chance to hobnob with Hollywood).

    Romney, on the other hand, came off as sober, realistic and Presidential in the face of Obama’s bluster and as a result the public is slowly pivoting to see him as someone more suited to the office than the incumbent.

    But not to worry,Tim, Obama is sure to need a ghostwriter for his third autobiography – articles like this will stand you in good stead.

    • Jonathan J Lindsell

      What madness is this?

  • bloughmee

    “…in a way many observers felt he should have in the previous two debates,
    Obama was much more explicit in linking Romney to the previous
    Republican president, arguing that he represented a return to the
    war-mongering and record deficits of the Bush years.”


    You mean, “war-mongering” like the excellent Libyan adventure Obama recently engaged, unConstitutionally and absent Congressional involvement? The thing that just resulted in 4 Americans being slaughtered in Benghazi? Is that the sort of “war-mongering” you fear?

    And fyi, the only “record deficits” in recent years have come by Obama and Obama’s political party. Borrowing 43 cents of every dollar you spend represents “record deficits”, fyi, as does the additional $6T debt and the $12-14T lined up for the next decade, per current Obama plans.

    That’s exactly why Romney is thriving on that debt/deficit issue, as the electorate understands who’s responsible for these record deficits. The electorate liquidated much of the problem in the 2010 congressional shellacking, and it appears they’re about to liquidate the rest of the problem in 14 days time. Pity you don’t understand why they did so, and will be doing so again.

    • Frank P

      Pity you’re not writing the posts, rather than Jummy.

      For the first time I’m beginning to be optimistic about the outcome. I thought Obumboy looked gauche and sounded puerile last night. I still think Romney should have made melodrama out of the Benghazi dereliction, massacre and cover-up, but he did well enough to maintain his momentum.

      Krauthammer thinks he can do it and I’m beginning to think he’s not just whistling in the dark.

  • El_Sid

    FWIW the British Army still has more horses than helicopters and tanks put together – about 500.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Another Spec piece giving Obama an easy ride…..
    Fraser must be very confident subscriptions-wise.

  • Kevin

    a return to the war-mongering…of the Bush years

    That is a scandalous characterisation. The only difference between the military strategy of the Bush years and the Clinton and Obama years was Bush’s naive attempt to bring so-called democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq by means of occupations.

    Amongst other things, Clinton involved America in the NATO war against Yugoslavia, criticised for its civilian deaths, and was accused of starting “Monica’s War” (in Sudan and Afghanistan) and bombing Iraq to distract attention from domestic scandals.

    Obama involved America in forced regime change in Libya, when the regime that was overthrown had begun to co-operate with the US subsequent to Bush’s toppling of Saddam Hussein.

    And Vice-President Biden voted for Bush’s wars.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Obama’s task was to make it look like Romney was out of his depth on foreign policy. This he failed to achieve, so even if he ‘won’ on points he did do what was required to regain the advantage.

    I think UK coverage of this whole process has been shallow and one-sided. What shock there will be in the ranks of the beeb and the graun the day after the election.

    • Rhoda Klapp

      didn’t, not did. Going to sack my typist.

  • dalai guevara

    When you do not pay taxes, you cannot become President. It is – as always – as simple as that.

  • harrybarracuda

    Considering Romney thought Syria is Iran’s ‘route to the sea” I wonder if Americans are about to vote in Sarah Palin after all.

    • anyfool

      Iran has been trying to get a Naval base in the Med, it recently sent a naval detachment to Syria via the Suez Canal, that is the route to the sea he was touching on.

      • harrybarracuda

        How come in five attempts he never once mentioned the “Mediterranean”?
        Ans: Because he hasn’t got a clue what he’s on about.

    • John

      er…there’s a big blue thing off Syria’s coast. It’s called the Meditteranean Sea.

      • harrybarracuda

        Yep and there’s a big thing in the way between Syria and Iran – it’s called Iraq. Romney’s geography, let alone his geopolitical sense is non-existent. Although I’m sure he knows exactly where to find Lichtenstein and the Caymans on a map.

  • anyfool

    Barack Obama tells Mitt Romney: ‘We have fewer horses and bayonets’
    FFS,is that all you can distill this down to, that you consider the most snarky comment in a debate the apogee of Obama’s contribution is pathetic, Obama’s whole demeanor was snide and self pitying and really did not do himself any favours at all.
    He is an advert for any system but democracy.

    • Kevin

      Obama said the question is, “What are our capabilities?”. These capabilities should have included getting Special Operations Forces from Italy to Benghazi while the President was watching the attack on his consulate unfold.

      • bloughmee

        Precisely. That attack started at 10:00 at night, and lasted until 5:00 the next morning. The last 2 men died in a mortar attack shortly before the attack ended, meaning they died several hours after relief forces should have arrived on site. But Obama was sleeping by then. He had to turn in early so he could be up early and be off to Nevada for a campaign fundraising event. There are priorities, you must understand.