Depending on your vantage point, tonight’s foreign policy debaters are going to seem distressingly similar or completely opposed. The fact that Romney is slightly more inclined to talk nonsense on China and strangely obsessed with beefing up the Navy will, to someone invested in Obama, seem more than enough to differentiate him from the president. And if the two are arguing about whether to intervene in random conflicts by “apologizing” or by “projecting strength,” one can make a credible case for that difference mattering, too.
But if you are anywhere else on the political spectrum—anarchist, socialist, libertarian, fascist, independent, undecided—the two candidates will begin to blend simply by what's left unsaid. No one at tonight's event is going to force Obama to defend the virtues of either the kill list or drone warfare. Though both Romney and Obama will lament the loss of U.S. soldiers, neither will mourn the civilian casualties in any of our adventures abroad—and certainly no one will be on hand to oppose sanctions against Iran. In the argument over whether to increase spending by trillions of dollars or maintain the current level of spending relative to inflation, not a soul on stage will suggest significant cuts. On the hawkish side, there is no one to make the explicit call for perpetual war, demand that we retake the Philippines, or claim the parts of Mexico we didn't grab the first time. Choices!
As a corrective measure for the above sins of omission, Democracy Now will tonight provide the useful service of splicing Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson into the live debate. (Sadly, Gary Johnson declined to play this particular game. And where’s Peta?) Stein wants to ban drones and cut military spending by no less than 50 percent. Anderson wants to "close most overseas bases." Neither of these candidates comes close to reflecting voter preference, but preference is shaped in part by the spread of choices given official sanction as opinions to which “serious” people are entitled. As it is, the serious options are: Fifteen more warships per year! Or: Nine-ish more warships per year! Take your pick, America.