Which Obama Will We See in the Third Debate?

By James M. Wall

The Barack Obama we saw in his second debate with Mitt Romney was the self-assured and experienced leader we have wanted to see glaring sternly at Benjamin Netanyahu.

Thus far, in his first term in office, that second debate Barack Obama has rarely been in evidence in matters pertaining to Israel. Will that President show up for the third presidential debate Monday, October 22?

Or will we see a more cautious Obama on stage for the third and final debate?

That debate will be held in at Lynn University, Boca Raton, Florida.  It will focus exclusively on foreign policy.

Foreign policy should be Obama’s strongest suit. He has much to point to in this field, most notably the ending of one war and the anticipated ending of a second. He is expected to acquit himself well Monday night, especially if he enters the debate with the enthusiasm and energy he displayed in the second debate at Hofstra University last week.

Romney, on the other hand, is a one-term governor from Massachusetts, who has spent most of his professional career as a business executive. He is a foreign policy neophyte, entirely dependent on largely Republican neoconservative advisors. Romney is woefully unprepared either to debate foreign policy or to lead the nation in foreign policy endeavors.

His long personal relationship to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been highlighted by his campaign.  It does not, however, bode well for future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

After hearing Romney’s speech to Virginia Military Academy cadets, Juan Cole had an epiphany about Romney’s career prior to this election campaign:

Apparently it is possible to sit in cushy big offices in companies like Bain, and to remain completely ignorant of foreign affairs. Romney’s speeches are all just a replaying for us of the prejudices of CEOs when they play golf together and complain vaguely about the Chinese, Russians, Arabs, and so forth. Or, maybe Romney has gotten so many campaign contributions from arms manufacturers that he can’t help see foreign affairs through the lens of new wars he wants to fight.

Obama, on the other hand, is determined to keep this country away from any further wars. Obama knows, however, that we have enemies who want to do  us harm. Which is why he was able to display leadership, not arrogance, in the debate “Libya moment” following Romney’s allegations about the Benghazi, Libya, attack.

The President was very much the commander in chief  as he displayed an appropriate balance of indignation and quiet fury, glaring at Romney for what Obama felt was a political manipulation of the loss of four American lives in Benghazi.  This is what the President said:

 “The suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics and mislead, when we lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do, that’s not what I do as president, that’s not what I do as commander in chief.”

What prompted this response was a verbal attack from Romney which the Republican candidate had expected would be his “gotcha” moment.  Unfortunately for him, he told 65 million television viewers that Obama had not used the term “terror” to the day after the attack. Instead, almost gleefully,  Romney added that the President had waited two weeks to call the Benghazi attack an “act of terror”.

That statement was blatantly wrong, as the debate moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley, quickly pointed out. She told Romney that the President had, in fact used the term “terror” in the Rose Garden the day after the attack.

Below is clip of Romney’s “gotcha moment”, a moment that did not go the way Romney had hoped:

This debate moment could make a major difference in the thinking of that shrinking number of undecided voters in crucial swing states. Will they see that moment as an indication that   Romney is a wealthy corporate executive who is not ready for prime time presidential leadership?  Or will they forgive him as someone who had stumbled because of bad pre-debate briefings?

In Monday night’s final debate, President Obama should be in a position to affect those undecided voters by further exposing Governor Romney’s inexperience in foreign policy. To do this, Obama will have to ignore those advisors at his side who will have reminded him of the ever-present Israel Lobby, the “elephant in the room”. That Lobby controls the U.S. Congress and and also extends its tentacles deep into the executive branch.

Romney has no worries about the “elephant in the room”. He will enter the debate stage Monday night riding the elephant. Romney’s loyalty to Israel, which he made quite evident in his recent fund-raising visit to Israel, and in his campaign rhetoric, has brought him considerable cash and may well make the difference in the voting margin in the key swing state of Florida.

It was that summer visit to Israel that solidified Romney’s position as the elephant rider.  One of his chief financial contributor is U.S. casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who funded Romney’s trip to Israel. That trip was arranged by Dan Senor, a neoconservative who has emerged as a key foreign policy advisor for the Romney campaign.

Senor is not a foreign policy expert. His experience and area of expertise is public relations. He was the chief PR official in Iraq during the occupation of Iraq. Later Senor wrote a book that praised Israel’s cultural superiority in the region, a position Governor Romney promoted in a speech in Jerusalem.

Senor did not serve Romney well in encouraging him to speak of Israel’s superior cultural qualities in the Middle East, a viewpoint that Senor pushed in his own book, Start Up Nation: Israel’s Economic Miracle.

What care he, if he can take back the White House for the neoconservatives. Both Senor and Adelson are so eager to have Romney ride that “elephant in the room” straight into the Oval Office, that they worry less about what the liberal media calls gaffes, and far more about key votes in swing states.

To be sure, Obama, influenced in part by having to deal with an Israel Lobby-controlled Congress, has also worked hard to curry favor with the Lobby, and to appease Israeli leaders. He has been both insulted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and he has rebuked the Israeli leader with some well placed snubs.

Which Obama will we see in the third debate, the appeaser of the Lobby or the President who glares at Netanyahu in righteous indignation?

Monday night, in the third debate, we could see Obama and Romney as two pro-Israel politicians trading jabs on who is Israel’s best friend. Or, just maybe, the Commander in Chief will be back on stage, confronting an elephant-riding Mitt Romney on behalf of the nation Obama was elected to lead in 2008/

A Closing Personal Political Note:

Former South Dakota Senator George McGovern has been admitted to hospice care in South Dakota. He is suffering from “a combination of medical conditions due to age that have worsened in recent months, his family said in a statement”.

“The senator is no longer responsive,” the statement said. “He is surrounded by his loving family and close friends.”

I have known George McGovern since 1971, when I was privileged to run, successfully, as one of his Illinois delegates to the Democratic National Convention. It was at that convention, held in Miami, Florida, when a young generation discovered that politics was a difficult but rewarding endeavor.

A World War II veteran who flew B-24 missions over Germany, McGovern was an anti-Viet Nam war presidential candidate who lost the 1972 election to Richard Nixon. He combined a love for life with a determination to defend his nation, when necessary.

His last official assignments allowed him to work in the area of world hunger. McGovern served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Agencies in Rome, Italy, 1998-2001. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on August 9, 2000, and was later appointed United Nations Global Ambassador on World Hunger in 2001. For more on McGovern’s biography, click here.

He studied theology for a  year at Garrett Seminary, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. He earned his Ph.D., in political science at Northwestern. Over the years since 1971, McGovern became a good friend of mine. He was both a spiritual and political inspiration to me and to many of my generation, including the Nation’s John Nichols, who wrote of his friendship with McGovern on McGovern’s 90th birthday.

I last interviewed McGovern for a blog posting during the early years of Barack Obama’s administration. You will find the Wall Writings link here. In that posting,  I reported on a conversation McGovern and I had on the Palestinian-Israel situation, which he had followed closely for many years. I wrote this about our discussion:

What we lost when George McGovern did not make it to the White House might best be understood when we realize that McGovern not only reads and respects the work of Israeli peace activist Avraham Burg, he agrees with Burg”s statement on the conditions for a just peace, which Burg wrote in the Israeli journal, Yediot Aharonot in 2004:

“We cannot keep a Palestinian majority under an Israeli boot and at the same time think ourselves the only democracy in the Middle East. . . We must remove all the settlements and draw an internationally recognized border between the Israeli national home and the Palestinian national home.”

Marc Johnson, a veteran observer of South Dakota politics, has published a tribute to McGovern on his blog, The Johnson Post. While the posting should be read in full. I will lift up two paragraphs here:

The news this week that former South Dakota U.S. Senator George McGovern is in the last days of his 90 years is a reminder once again that even given our nasty, polarized, hyper-partisan politics one man can have an impact. The fact that McGovern, an unabashed liberal, made his impact for so many years in South Dakota, a state almost as conservative as Idaho, is remarkable. 

And Johnson’s final summary paragraph:

George McGovern – historian, politician, failing presidential candidate, hunger advocate – will be treated better by the history books than he has been by his contemporaries. If you believe, as Tom Brokaw has dubbed McGovern’s contemporaries, that the World War II generation was America’s greatest, then the gentleman – the gentle man – from Avon, South Dakota, was a genuine example of personal greatness. Dare I say it – the U.S. Senate could use a few like him.

The cause of peace, justice and fairness in domestic and foreign policy, and the deep sense of decency in public life, will lose a great champion when George McGovern leaves us.

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The photo above is from Time magazine. It was taken by Bruce Bennett, for Getty Images. The picture of George McGovern is from The Directory of the U.S. Congress. 

About James Wall

James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Jim launched this new personal blog April 24, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
This entry was posted in Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Obama, Politics and Elections, Romney. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Which Obama Will We See in the Third Debate?

  1. Roy Hayes says:

    This is your best writing yet, Jim.

  2. Larry George says:

    Thanks, Jim, for the insightful article, and the personal George McGovern tribute. I worked on his campaign in Massachusetts in 1971-72 , and have always admired him immensely.

  3. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    That was great, Jim. Thank you for both commentaries on George McGovern and on he “elephant in the room”, sought by both candidates Obama and Romney.
    I also share your deep admiration and gratitude for the person of George McGovern and his valuable contributions to America, to US moral values and traditions, and his admirable stand on the Vietnam War.

    As far as the third Presidential debate next Monday, the achievements of Obama in foreign policy have been remarkable and admirable, as much as there it is still work-in-progress. I suspect that Romney will try again to attack Obama, “disproportionately”, on the terror incident in “Libya”, and will also try to picture himself as the true friend of Israel, and a true leader curtailing the Chinese.

    The glaringly scary facts are that Romney is:
    – Planning to “outsource” American foreign policy to Israel, an outright act of treason.
    – Bringing back the Neo-Con swindlers who have brought us disastrous results during the failed regime of George W. Bush.
    – Supporting not “Israel”, but Israeli “Occupation”, and its Apartheid ideology
    – Promoting war on Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, as advocated by Israel.
    – Supporting Israel’s nuclear monopoly by maintaining the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East and refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
    – Turning the face of America-the-Beautiful into the Face of Israeli Occupation.

    On the other hand, President Obama can claim:
    – Re-illuminating the true face of America in the world, after it had been mired in the mud by his predecessor. Yes, much more is still needed, but, Obama is the only hope to do what’s right,inspite of AIPAC tentacles.
    – Eliminating Ben Laden and reducing Al Qaida, as promised.
    – Removing US forces from Iraq, as promised.
    – Planning and implementing the plan to move out of Afghanistan.
    – Using diplomacy to tackle the nuclear issue in Iran
    – Attending to other major world issues with quiet diplomacy and firmness and working with other countries on a regional basis. Still much more is needed and much more to be done.

    I am optimistic that Obama has a few unpleasant surprises awaiting war criminal Netanyahu.

  4. Constance Trowbridge says:

    It appears to me that Obama has successfully faced down Netanyahu, who has come up with the diversion of calling for elections as if Iran is not so important,right now. Of course, every comment and action has multiple layers of meaning but I’m glad the Iran is not front page, momentarily.

  5. Sanna Towns says:

    The Obama I have seen within one month upon entering the WH has been a president who has used drone warfare to attack hundreds of civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia; who has deported nearly a million undocumented aliens, the vast majority who were not “criminals,;” who has violated the civil liberties of Americans; who has enacted a surveillance state that is indeed frightening; and who has continued and gone beyond some of the excesses of the Bush administration. While Obama may have pursued a strategy of “pushing back” Bibi, he has still betrayed the Palestinians and the cause for justice and peace. He and members of his administration talk of equality, freedom, and justice, but never for the Palestinians. The Obama I know has been a political animal at the expense of the lives and the humanity of countless of millions in the world. The Obama I know has failed to utter a strong word or take serious actions against the immense poverty that prevails in the U.S. Sorry, I’m not impressed with the Obama of the second debate. In fact, I’m not one who believes his 2nd term, if given one, will be much better than the 1st. The harm done during his 1st term is irreparable.

  6. Pingback: Which Obama Will We See in the Third Debate? | My Catbird Seat

  7. Christine says:

    President obama has not been the PEACE President that we had hoped but do not think that we will have PEACE with a President Romney. We may have all out war and a poverty stricken USA.

  8. Pingback: New York Times Flacks for Jewish Groups Against 15 Major Christian Leaders « Wallwritings

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