It was obvious to pretty much everyone watching last night’s debate that Mitt Romney decided to co-opt Barack Obama’s foreign policy: whether the issue was targeting Al Qaeda, withdrawing from Iraq or Afghanistan, sanctions and negotiations with Iran, the handling of Egyptian revolution, or the use of drones for counter-terrorism, Romney was happy to say “me too” over and over again.
The big question is whether or not this was a strategically sound decision. The Romney camp’s logic was presumably threefold: 1.) The key issue in the election is the economy, not foreign affairs; 2.) Romney is far less fluent in foreign policy than domestic policy, so the potential for mistakes is much higher; 3.) whether or not Romney agrees with Obama’s foreign policy record, the American people rate it reasonably highly, so there isn’t a huge percentage in attacking it.
These all added up to a compelling rationale, and Romney’s decision may prove right in the end. But my gut tells me Team Romney may have outsmarted itself here. Romney’s underlying assumption seemed to be that you can fight to a draw in a foreign-policy debate simply by fighting to a draw on policy (or, as the case may be, not fighting at all). But I don’t think that’s how these things work in practice. Debates are a zero sum game.