Opinion Brief

Mitt Romney's surprisingly calm debate performance: Brilliant or boneheaded?

The GOP nominee politely echoes Obama on Syria, Israel, and Iran — and may have come off looking presidential as a result

Many of Mitt Romney's supporters praised him after Monday's foreign policy debate with President Obama, saying that the GOP challenger showed with his steady, measured performance that he was a plausible commander-in-chief. Romney avoided outright attacks, even passing up a chance to repeat his criticism of Obama's handling of the deadly Sept. 11 assault on U.S. diplomats in Libya. Romney even ceded several policy points to Obama, seeming to endorse the current administration's strategy of carefully arming rebels but avoiding direct military involvement in Syria, tightening sanctions against Iran, and maintaining a close relationship with Israel. Obama himself even said that while Romney has embraced "wrong and reckless" saber rattling in the past, "I'm glad that Governor Romney agrees with the steps that we're taking" now. Was Romney smart to play it cool, or did he look weak by giving up so much ground to Obama?

Romney blew a chance to hammer Obama: "Obama has a weak record in the Middle East," says Daniel Pipes at National Review, but you wouldn't know it from watching the debate. Romney "agreed with Obama more than he disagreed, and rarely pointed out the president's failings." He praised Obama for getting Osama bin Laden without pointing out that al Qaeda remains a threat. Worse, he squandered the opportunity to remind voters of Obama's inept and dishonest handling of the attack in Libya."Romney stumbles on foreign policy"

But avoiding spats made Romney look more presidential: "Throughout the debate, Mitt Romney smiled, agreed, and avoided fights," says Erick Erickson at RedState, while Obama snarled "like a challenger trying to keep it together." As a result, viewers came away with the impression that Romney, not the guy currently in the Oval Office, was the one Americans should want to decide whether to press the red button. By showing he'd make a cool commander-in-chief, Romney emerged as the night's real winner."Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin"

Romney might regret surrendering: "By not contesting Obama on points, and by agreeing with his policies on drone strikes, on Iraq, on China, on Iraq, and on Afghanistan, Romney was betting that he did not need to take risks," says Marc Ambinder at The Week. He's doing well, and thinks focusing on the economy is the way for him to win. His "relative meekness" made it easier for Obama to hammer his "inexperience and his vacillation," and Romney may have "let Obama run up the score too much.""Why Romney was so meek"

Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.

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