Last night’s debate and the American conversation on foreign policy

The New York Times‘ Steven Erlanger, like most of the rest of us that watched last night’s unmoderated monologue-fest, is unimpressed:

In general, there was a sense among analysts and observers outside the United States that these were two intelligent, competent candidates, who do not differ overly much on key issues of foreign policy, and were actually debating with domestic constituencies in swing states foremost in mind.

The debate over Iran and Israel was really about Jewish voters in states like Florida, while the debate over China was really about jobs in Ohio and the Midwest, noted François Heisbourg, a special adviser at the Foundation for Strategic Research, based in Paris. And that makes perfect sense in a tight American presidential election, where most voters do not consider foreign policy a priority, Mr. Heisbourg said.

“The balance was more toward 9/11 than the pivot to Asia,” Mr. Heisbourg said. “There was more about risks and threats than friends and allies. Both spoke in a Hobbesian world as tough characters willing to deal with monsters out there, not as people spreading the gospel of working with friends and allies to make the world a better place or spreading U.S. influence to help people get along.”

Le Monde said on its Web site, “For each question, the two candidates came back to the economic situation of the country, proof that this is the electorate’s main preoccupation.”

Mr. Obama even spoke of China as an “adversary,” although he said it was also “a potential partner in the international community if it’s following the rules.” Mr. Romney said essentially the same thing, speaking of confrontation over trade and not about working with China on issues like North Korea, Pakistan and Iran. For Mr. Heisbourg, “Both were wrong on China, portraying it as an adversary, but each got the message across about defending jobs in Ohio.”

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