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Candidates Swap Platitudes, Not Policies

On the merits of this debate, and focusing exclusively on the portions devoted to the Middle East, it is safe to conclude that Mitt Romney would make a good vice president in a Barack Obama administration, writes Alon Pinkas. In fact, when they did differ it was the dovish, Wilsonian Romney who criticized the realist, Kissingeresque Obama.
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) listens as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney (L) speaks during the final U.S. presidential debate in Boca Raton, Florida October 22, 2012. REUTERS/Rick Wilking (UNITED STATES  - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS USA PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION)

Platitudes are a wonderful thing. Like Chinese fortune cookies they contain irrefutable truisms. They are politically safe, media-solid, voter-tested and reassuring, gaffe-averse and on many occasions happen to have validity and viability.

One thing platitudes (or cliches, or slogans) do not constitute is coherent policy. On the other hand, and despite Bruce Riedel's wise column here in Al-Monitor asking for policy prescriptions, perhaps "Presidential Debates" are not a forum in which you should or are expected to make serious policy proposals. Certainly not on the Middle East. President Barack Obama at least made an effort to explain his policies and asked voters to trust multilateralism and diplomacy. Mitt Romney just conveniently found refuge in the warm confines of platitude-land.

On the merits of this debate, and focusing exclusively on the portions devoted to the Middle East, it is safe to conclude that Mitt Romney would make a good vice president in a Barack Obama administration.

His Iran policy is no different. He, like the President, would not allow Iran to weaponize its nuclear capabilities and called for even harsher sanctions, although he made a strange geographic reference to Syria being "Iran's route to the sea." Not really.

Like the President, he would get rid of the butcher of Damascus, Bashar al-Assad, and support the Syrian opposition, while not committing military forces. Romney did make a perplexing comment on how Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the great and quotable macro-economist that he is, mocks the US deficit as a sign of America in decline.

Like the President, he would use drone attacks inside Pakistan and sees the country's faltering stability and nuclear arsenal as a grave threat. Like the President, he would get out of Afghanistan in 2014. Like the President he would continue the war on al-Qaeda (even though, in another peculiar geopolitical reference, he is very concerned about Mali).

Like the President, who, to his credit, eminently snatched "Israel" from Romney's talking points, he sees Israel as a great, important ally with which we "must consult." We are, said the President to his could-have-been VP.

When they did differ on the Middle East, it was the dovish, Wilsonian Romney who criticized the "Realist" Kissingeresque Obama, claiming that America cannot shoot its way and needs to show leadership in facilitating civil society in Syria and Egypt. This is what you expect from a VP — a balance.

One thing was conspicuously absent: any real reference to the Palestinians and the future of an Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process. But you can seriously fault neither Obama nor Romney. Israelis and Palestinians cooperated and succeeded in a grand achievement: to myopically get US foreign policy totally disinterested in them.

Ambassador Alon Pinkas was Israel's consul general in New York, adviser to Shimon Peres and chief of staff to Ehud Barak and Shlomo Ben Ami. He is currently a fellow at the Israel Policy Forum (IPF).

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