Time for grown up policy debate
October 16th, 2012
11:01 AM ET

Time for grown up policy debate

By Danielle Pletka, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Danielle Pletka is Vice President of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are her own.

The pressure’s on President Barack Obama for a stellar debate performance tonight, but the discussion has been dominated by questions of style over substance. Much as Obama’s somnolence is the lingering impression of the first presidential debate and Vice President Joe Biden’s manic performance saturated the second, the third is likely to be an exercise in prurience. Who will sigh? Who will squeeze into the other’s personal space? Will Romney finally admit he prefers the 53 percent? Will Obama pronounce some mysterious Arabic phrase as only a Muslim would?

But there are serious questions to be answered by each man, and their answers should illuminate the race more than any turn of phrase or unseemly grin. Presumably, as this is a town hall format, the public will dominate the topics, which means that questions on unemployment, taxes, healthcare and education will come before national security. That’s only natural, but we are at war, and the American people deserve some answers from the commander-in-chief and the man who seeks to take his job.

Last night, Hillary Clinton took responsibility for failing to inform the White House about the dire security situation in Benghazi that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. But Clinton’s willingness to take the bullet for the president four weeks after it was fired raises more questions than it answers. Why did she, too, insist the attack was precipitated by a video? Where was the CIA and why do accounts suggest they did not inform anyone of the elevated threat level in Libya? Is al-Qaeda really “on its heels” as administration officials keep insisting? Or is it in fact experiencing a substantial resurgence notwithstanding an aggressive drone campaign that has taken out senior leaders?

We have no sense of how either Obama or Mitt Romney will respond to the likely threat of a nuclear Iran. Both have obliquely threatened military action, but is either actually prepared for a strike?

Both have called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, but neither has made clear what direct steps the U.S. should take to hasten that outcome. Romney has suggested he would facilitate arming the rebels. Is Obama doing the same?  And what about the aftermath? Will the devil we don’t know beat the devil we do?

Five things to watch for in Tuesday's debate

On Afghanistan, Romney and Paul Ryan have suggested that they, too, will bug out in 2014, but indicated that if circumstances dictate we should remain, they might consider the option. But what circumstances? And is Obama committed to leaving “on schedule” if the job in Afghanistan is not done? What is that job, exactly? Obama certainly hasn’t told us lately.

How will each contend with the challenge of the Arab Spring? The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood? The economic slowdown in China? The Euromess? Drugs in Mexico? Iranians in Venezuela? We’ll have a debate devoted to national security next week, but the challenges we face are not the stuff of an hour on TV.

The world is an increasingly dangerous place for American values and American interests. Not unnaturally, most people are focused on jobs and prices and fears about the future. But Benghazi reminded us that we have enemies; it’s the commander-in-chief’s job to face them and keep them from our shores. Let’s hear a little about that tonight. Please.


soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Lee Wheaton

    "We have no sense of how either Obama or Mitt Romney will respond..."

    On the contrary. i think we have a very excellent and encouraging track record on which to form an opinion as to how President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State Clinton would respond to and handle a great many crisis and other situations. As for Governor Romney and Mr. Ryan, we have only loose talk and disingenious political bluster which at best is uninformative and at worse downright frightening for any prospect of world peace and U.S. security.

    Beyond that, the sad fact of the matter is that most Americans have little interest and display even less capacity to study history, economics, religion, culture, and similar topics to the extent needed to make informed decisions.

    Thanks to Citizen's United, all of this may be a mute point; as the voice people listen to will not be President Obama's or Governor Romeny's, but rather it will be the voice of Money.

    October 16, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Reply
  2. joe anon 1

    pletka is a mediocre mind.
    but
    she is a fanatic jew for israel.
    she lies, deceives, gurgles, spits for israel.
    why is she here, anywhere except in the toxic dumps of jersey?

    October 16, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      What do you expect? The author supported torture under Bush II's administration.

      October 16, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        The author's thoughts were quite shallow. She rebuked Hilary Clinton for shielding Obama.

        October 16, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  3. Mariano

    I agree 100%. More substance tonight on national security and foreign affairs, please.

    October 16, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Reply
  4. egclark

    There are facts of the last 4 years of Obama. Hopefully, someone will have the guts to ask him about his track record, including the missing 10,000 MPAD missiles. We are at war, and it seems Obama has chosen a side. But we'll get the shine on charming stuff he depends on. They'll try to paint Romney as a war mongering rich guy as usual. (and no one will dare say "Muslim Brotherhood").

    October 16, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Reply
  5. Sally

    Fundamentalism is a serious problem all over the world. So it was important for the White house to find a position, that doesn't put oil in the fire. Obama knows about fundamental islam and the claims of evangelist church and pastors who burns the coran – this isn't something that should be underestimated. He knows the threat that endangers liberty and determination. With calling himself "Hussein" and with his father being a muslim, he shows that a one-sided position of politics towards religion is wrong. He even went to see the pope in his early days in office and had a few minutes talk with him. The terror attack in Benghazi was kind challenge and provokation directly planned to provoke hate: "look what we do with your american values" – if so – first of all, it was the most important thing to find common ground: Shalman Rushdie for example got in contact with this issue and supported the idea of freedom of speech. If the people or the press wasn't immediately informed that it was a terror attack, a big outcry and much hate and trouble would have vome up. Gaining time was probably a blessing. Internationally it showed that staying calm and using diplomatic talks instead of weappons, helped to minimize the violence and the overcome the criminal act. There are a lot of fundamental ideas in the so-called American values as well and going to war out of a certain neccessity, was too often practised! Is this the reason why CNN shows the pictures of guestures of Romney and Obama? The left-away, the unspoken says more!

    October 17, 2012 at 5:51 am | Reply
  6. JAL

    The problem is that our governemnt has devolved into labor vs social reform. That is very bad.

    October 17, 2012 at 9:50 am | Reply
  7. Timmy Suckle

    I kissed my way up to VP at a health insurance company. Now I take over $500,000 of your health care dollars for NO VALUE ADDED to your health care. And that’s just me. Now think about how many other VPs, Directors, Managers, etc. are at my company alone. Now multiply that by thousands of others at hundreds of other health insurance companies. From 10 to 25% of your health care dollars go towards administration that adds NO VALUE to your health care. But my company’s PAC dollars will continue to fool you little people into thinking that a single payer system will be bad. Little people like you are so easy to fool. Little people also don’t realize that a single payer system is the ONLY system that would allow little people (as an entire country) to negotiate better health care prices. Little people don’t realize that the Medical Cartels already know that. And that is the reason why the Medical Cartels spend so much PAC money from the hospitals and doctors lobbying against a single payer system. Some little people say that a single payer system would cost you little people more. But if that were true, then wouldn’t the hospitals and doctors WANT that extra money? Yes they would. So why do the Medical Cartels lobby against a single payer system? It’s because the Medical Cartels know it would allow little people to negotiate better health care prices. And that’s what the Medical Cartels are afraid of. Period.
    But us big wigs at insurance companies, hospitals, and pharmacy companies don’t ever need to worry about health care no matter what it costs. We get our health care paid for one way or another by you little people. And we get the little people that work at our companies to contribute to our PACs. And us big wigs say it’s to protect the little peoples’ jobs. But in reality it would be in the little peoples’ best interest to NOT contribute to the PAC. Again, little people are so easy to be fooled. I won’t ever have to worry about losing my job with so many little people being brain washed by the Medical Cartels’ PAC money. Not only that, the Medical Cartels’ PAC money is used to elect so many republicans that will never allow a single payer system. Republicans have always fought against any meaningful health care reform. But that’s what our Medical Cartels’ PACs pay them for. Politicians can be bought so easily.
    Pretty soon the only people that will be able to afford health care is us big wigs. And that’s the way it should be. We don’t want you little people using up the resources when we need them. And once again, I thank you little people for capping my SS tax at the $106,800 level. Now I only pay 1.3% SS tax and you little people pay 6.2%. Also, thank you for extending my tax breaks. I’m using the extra money on my vacation houses.

    October 17, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Reply
  8. Tyrone

    TAG ROMNEY WON’T FIGHT FOR HIS COUNTRY BUT WOULD THREATEN THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE

    In another example of Mormon hatred and disrespect of non-Mormon! Mitt Romney's eldest son weighed in on the second presidential debate on Wednesday, stated” that the debate's contentious nature made him want to "take a swing" at the President of the United State. During an interview with North Carolina radio host Bill LuMaye, Tagg Romney said that hearing the President call his father a liar made him want to "jump out of [his] seat and ... rush down to the debate stage and take a swing at him." Fundamental moronism does not consider lying to mere non-Mormon to be a sin. This is a fact. Mormon are only sinning if they lie to other Mormon. This is why Mitt Romney lies to the American people! It’s part of his religion!!!!! Tagg Romney knows that fact!! Mitt Romney is a liar THAT IS A FACT! The Bible teaches lying is a sin!!! Mitt Romney is a Flip Flooper THAT IS A FACT!

    Mitt Romney’s sons are Mormon and just as disrespectful as their father and bigger liars! President Obama rightfully called Mitt Romney a liar. ROMNEY LIED! Mitt Romney has a history of lying! From lying about seeing his father marching with Rev. Martin Luther King. To lying about knowing about the benefits of sending jobs oversea! I also remember Mitt Romney calling President Obama a liar!! Remember as part of being Mormon Mitt Romney religion teaches. That lying to non-Mormon is not a sin! Tagg Romney talks about attacking the President of the United State. Because of his lack of respect of non-Mormon and people of color. Mormon until 1978 taught that black skin was curse! To date the Mormon religion is against interracial marriage! And still restrict black Mormon from participating in some Mormon activity!

    Immediately the Romney’s campaign stated “that Tagg Romney was “JOKING” about physically attacking the President of the United State! I say there is never a reason to “JOKE” about attacking the President of the United State! I didn’t like G.W. Bush nor did I vote for him and thought he was a horrible President! But never ever would I “JOKE” about attacking President Bush! I believe it is “NO” different then a terrorist that threaten the President which is a attack on all Americans! There is “NOTHING” funny about attacking the President of the United State! Now coming from any of Mitt Romney sons might be a “JOKE” . Considering that none of Mitt Romney healthy sons enter the military to fight for their country! Their father Mitt Romney request 6 deferments refusing to fight for his country!

    Yet Mitt Romney vows to start new wars if he becomes President of the United State! Sending other American sons and daughter to fight and die! The disrespect of the President of the United State! Has been a common thing with Republican from calling the President a liar. Calling President Obama a socialist “Hitler” anti-American and much much more! Questioning President Obama citizenship! It was Paul Ryan and 14 other Republican that plotted against the country and President Obama. The night before President Obama took office! At the meeting of 15 Republican they plan to sabotage the recovery of America! Just to regain the WHITE HOUSE!

    Remember President Obama HAD NOT pass a bill wrote any new policy! The 15 Republican hated the President on a personal level of hatred! Paul Ryan with the Republican control Congress voted “NO” to anything propose by Democrats and the President! Even voting against policy and proposal Republican supported in the pass! Tagg Romney is going along with the disrespect of President Obama. Just like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and the 15 Republican that plotted against the country. The disrespect of the President of the United State has become normal with the election of President Obama!

    October 18, 2012 at 9:01 am | Reply
  9. ✠ RZ ✠

    Grown up ? Tell ya what, set these two guys down at an empty saloon where they're the only customers and start prying them with doubles. After each of them are good and limber, fire up all the cameras and let the debates begin! Yee haw! Now there's a new realty TV show for ya !

    October 18, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Reply
  10. Thomas

    plagiarism is the foundation of the work of this journalist and yet he remains a force at CNN. This fact cannot be disputed and thus it cuts to the fiber of what CNN represents. Go figure.

    October 18, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Reply
  11. redwhiteblue

    Nuh-uh!!!!

    October 18, 2012 at 8:20 pm | Reply
    • ✠ RZ ✠

      Oh man! Now that's just way too damn funny. I genuflect.

      October 19, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Reply
  12. Franco

    I heard about romnisia comment, here's one, " Obarrow "

    October 19, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Reply

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