Romney, the flip-flopper in chief

For those of us following American foreign policy, last night’s debate provided quite a surprise. Whatever happened to Mitt Romney, the gung-ho neocon challenger who has consistently criticized the president for weak leadership?

Here he was, agreeing with every policy the president had. Syria? Check. Romney agreed that there is no case for military intervention. Iran? Check. Romney agreed that military action against Iran to curb its suspected nuclear weapons program would be “the last resort” and approved of the course of “crippling sanctions.” Afghanistan? Check. Romney agreed that all American troops should be out by the end of 2014.

The switch to more moderate policy options was striking. He looked like the flip-flopper in chief.

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Obama had already consulted Romney’s record in which earlier flip-flops were in full sight. “Every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong,” the president said, citing contradictory Romney statements on the Iraq war, Russia and Afghanistan. On the last case, he accused the Republican nominee of “sending mixed messages both to our troops and our allies.”

Romney’s foreign-policy ignorance was a gift to the incumbent last night. Obama of course was able to exploit it, from his devastating gibe about “horses and bayonets” to his description of the challenger’s “wrong and reckless leadership,” which is “all over the map.” Literally. He didn’t even have to pick Romney up on his inaccurate statement that Syria provided Iran with a “route to the sea.” The former Massachusetts governor just kept on digging that hole.

The point is, though, does it matter? Romney has been advancing in the polls despite his reputation as a flip-flopper on issues ranging from abortion to tax cuts. Television viewers had probably tuned out en masse after the first half-hour’s dry discussion on foreign affairs. People have already made up their minds in this polarized race, and I’d be surprised if last night’s debate makes any difference.