How little debate means
Out of this past week's debate ostensibly on Foreign Affairs, an arena Americans reportedly don't care about, I followed my usual pattern. Listened a little and then turned it off in disgust.
Two things jumped out at me though. The first one was President Obama's assertion that we need to be wary of putting weapons into the Syrian morass, no matter how tempting that might be. He made the statement that we wouldn't want such weapons to fall into the hands of hostile forces. What was glaringly missing in my view was an historical reference that would provide an object example. Presidents are supposed to have these things down, I think. Back when the Soviet puppet state ruled and ruined Afghanistan, we provided Stinger missiles to the mujahadeen war lords and tipped the balance of power against the Soviets by making their heli transport totally vulnerable. It didn't happen overnight but that changed the calculation in a cruel and bloody fashion. The consequence? We are now in the process of extracating our own forces from an Afghan landscape that evolved in large part because the existing horrors were made worse by our intervention. Ultimately, our internvention has cost American lives and will continue to do so, not only in combat but in the consequences of disorder, lawlessness, and opium poppy production. Which have led to a time and place in which religious fanatics and drug lords rule.
The second statement that smacked me sideways in the debate was Governor Romney's statement that "Syria was an important nation in the Middle East, particularly now. Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab world. It's their route to the sea." I did a physical double take when I heard that. The press has been full of news about how Iran is harassing our forces in the Straits of Hormuz and threatening to block them, if need be, with a sunken tanker or some similar ploy. That kind of posturing would be very hard to achieve if you had to haul your boats overland and launch them at Latakia, Syria's only major port. Iran may not have great deep water ports for international shipping or naval facilities. But they do have maritime access on both the Straits in the south and the Caspian Sea in the north. The country which is most landlocked is Iraq, and perhaps that's what Governor Romney was channeling. But of course, Iraq is unlikely to be helped to maritime access by Syria so it's still a non-starter.
More than anything else, I'd expect a credible candidate for President to have a fair grasp of regional geography and to not make assertions about a country deemed by that candidate to be very dangerous that show the candidate is really ignorant about basic facts about the country.