Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


Last Night’s Debate: No Red Lines, No Peace

Israel and Iran featured in a foreign policy debate with little substance

Print Email
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at the United Nations in September(AP)

If last night’s presidential debate provided anything, it’s that the problems of the entire world are difficult to distill into a 90-minute forum that allows time for zingers, haymakers, and some sneaky digressions (debate theme be damned!) back into domestic policy. This seems to be the way the candidates want it and while the snap polls and the snap judgments of a majority of pundits have awarded President Obama the “win,” both candidates played it relatively safe.

In the social media ecosystem, truncated outrage was easy to find. Chief among the gripes: the number of countries (and even regions) whose issues were not substantively discussed or even invoked by the two men vying to lead the world. Foreign Policy kept a tally of which countries garnered mention and how many times. Europe and its countries, which face a not unreal danger of an economic collapse that would destabilize the world, were uttered five times. Mali, which is seeing a resurgent al-Qaeda presence, surprisingly made it four times.

The big winner (if you can call ‘em that) was Iran, which would be pleased to know its mention was made 47 times. China was next at 35, although the discussion mainly centered around currency manipulation and trade, not the country’s defense of tyrants. Pakistan came in sixth.

Jeffrey Goldberg pushed back on the Twitter machine:

The greatest threat to the world is not a nuclear Iran. It is an imploding, loose-nuke Pakistan.

Syria placed fifth, but mostly was used as a prop for the candidates to beat each other up with. Tablet contributor Hanin Ghaddar declared Bashar Assad winner of the debate:

Power comes with responsibility, and the Syrians expected a more responsible stance from what should be the most powerful state in the world. On both Twitter and Facebook, Syrians expressed disappointment with both candidates. They saw America’s power implemented in Libya and wanted the same treatment. However, it seems both Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama have washed their hands of the Syrian people and decided to stay in the viewing seat.

And so, the main driver of the conversation (when it stayed on foreign policy) was Iran and Israel, despite the fact that the candidates mostly agreed on the approach of robust sanctions coupled with the threat of military action. Everything was about tone, especially for a debate taking place in Boca Raton. Florida’s Jewish population, which is 3% of the state, could prove to be crucial (yet again) in determining who gets elected. It didn’t go unnoticed.

Josh Barro from Bloomberg wryly tweeted:

In fairness, Israel is a swing state with 14 electoral votes.

There was one meaningful exchange that summed up the attitudes of both candidates about Israel. Governor Romney highlighted what he (and others) see as President Obama’s subterranean dislike for Israel, exemplified by his failure to visit the country as a sitting president. It was an effective push in the rhetorical context, but a look about President Obama’s actual deeds paints a clearer picture. Nevertheless, Romney looked stronger and more credible than before as he presented that narrative.

In his response, President Obama sought to portray Governor Romney as an opportunist, who arrived in Israel with donors, while trumpeting that, when he had visited as a candidate, President Obama had toured Yad Vashem and visited the besieged town of Sderot, which inspired him to fund the Iron Dome program to keep Israelis safe from rocket fire. It was a masterful defense.

Those with their biases took what they needed from the debate. But for all the talk about Israel and Iran, neither candidate endorsed the “red line” put out by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in cartoon form at the United Nations this September. Neither wanted to seem eager to go to war.

But, on the other hand, almost no talk took place about the difficult negotiated settlement with the Palestinians that must be had to ensure Israel’s survival once the Iranian threat is neutralized. In that way, neither candidate wanted to seem eager to go to peace.

The Winner: Bashar al-Assad [NYT]
Which Country Was Mentioned Most at the Foreign Policy Debate
Campaign Enters Final Stretch as Obama Takes Final Debate [CNN]

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

A quite sizable portion of the problem of fostering peace lies with Israel itself. The subject of this Salon link was also in today’s Haaretz.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Last Night’s Debate: No Red Lines, No Peace

Israel and Iran featured in a foreign policy debate with little substance

More on Tablet:

From the Mekong to Maryland

By Hillel Kuttler — After the fall of Saigon, a Baltimore synagogue helped 15 Vietnamese become Americans