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Both seem on the same page

The last debate shows that the US is heading into a period of foreign policy consensus.

india Updated: Oct 23, 2012 22:40 IST

The third US presidential debate was expected to have revealed the different worldviews of the two candidates, the incumbent President Barack Obama and the Republican contender Mitt Romney. There were differences, but what the debate could have more accurately said to have revealed is how little space there was between the two candidates. The US, going by what was said, is heading into a period of remarkable foreign policy consensus. The most notable similarity was that both supported a US military withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, and both were reluctant to consider direct involvement in the civil war in Syria. If anything, Mr Romney seemed even more against intervention than Mr Obama did. Both, however, insisted they were second to none in their support for Israel and their determination to not let Iran have a nuclear weapon. The conservative, with his talk of gender equality and economic assistance for the Arab world, sounded remarkably liberal.

Parallel thinking was also evident when it came to Pakistan and China. Again, there was an acceptance by both that while the US could spar with Beijing over trade issues, the policy would remain that of engagement and attempted persuasion. As for Pakistan, this was a problematic ally of the US but one which could not be abandoned because of the lethal mix of jihadists and nuclear warheads within its borders. Foreign policy was, if anything, treated as a marginal concern for both candidates. A strong poll-driven wind kept driving the conversation towards issues like healthcare, education and similar purely domestic concerns. Multilateral concerns like climate change or economic governance were never mentioned. The only noticeable difference between the two candidates was the issue of defence spending with, as commentators noted later, a $2 trillion gap lying between the military programmes of the two. Given that the US economy is wholly incapable of taking on expenditure on that level, one suspects that this was little more than posturing by Mr Romney.

Yet there can be no debate about the degree of ideological polarisation in the country on many domestic issues. And the campaign has been far less gentlemanly than the two candidates were in Florida last night. What seems to be the case is that the weariness following the waging of two bloody wars, the exhaustion of surviving through one of the country's worst recession and the end of the al-Qaeda threat has led both Republicans and Democrats into the same foreign policy corner. A US that is less adventurous, whose definition of its core interests is more exacting and that sees its domestic resurrection as the most important element of its foreign policy.