• America's role in the worldRight off the bat, it's obvious that this is is a fairly limited view of foreign policy—four of the six segments are focused on the Middle East or countries involved with the "war on terror" (sic), meaning that everything from Europe to India to Russia to global issues like climate change will need to be shoehorned into two segments. To be fair to Bob Schieffer, it's not like he's the only person in the world to outline such a skewed agenda for American foreign policy discussions—but he is one of the few people who could actually do something about it.
• Our longest war - Afghanistan and Pakistan
• Red Lines - Israel and Iran
• The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism - I
• The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism - II
• The Rise of China and Tomorrow's World
In any event, the segments are what they are, so what we're going to watch tonight is largely going to be a debate about the "GWOT" or what's left of it. It's not hard to imagine what President Obama will say about his record: ended war in Iraq, killed Osama bin Laden and much of Al Qaeda leadership, and put us on track to end the war in Afghanistan. Probably the only major question is whether he'll be as feisty as he was last week—or if he'll be more subdued (to put it euphemistically) as in the first debate.
When it comes to Mitt Romney, however, I don't think anyone can honestly say they know which Mitt Romney will show up to the debate tonight. Sure, we know which Mitt Romney has been on the stump throughout this campaign, but just because Romney speaks with bombast and bluster when he's talking to his base doesn't mean he'll be reluctant to tell a broader audience a completely different story.
Just think back to the last debate: in his very first answer, Romney endorsed expanding student aid ... even though he's actually proposing massive budget cuts to education spending and once told a college student that the only thing he could do as president was to advise people to shop around for cheaper tuition. So even though Romney has in the past blasted Obama for ending the war in Iraq and putting us on a path to end the war in Afghanistan, even though Romney accused President Obama of sympathizing with the Benghazi attackers, there's no guarantee that he will do the same thing tonight. In fact, odds are a good that a completely different Mitt Romney will show up.
The one thing we can be reasonably certain of is that as long as President Obama is as aggressive as he was in the last debate, the Mitt Romney who shows up tonight won't appear as strong as the Mitt Romney who showed up in Denver. Romney did well in Denver because for the most part he didn't have to respond to President Obama. But in the town hall debate, most of Romney's mistakes came in response to something the president had said, including his most famous mistake of all, when he botched his Libya facts.
Of course, these could be famous last words. Until the debate is under way, all we've got is speculation, and speculation has an annoying habit of turning out to be wrong. Maybe President Obama will sleepwalk through the debate or Mitt Romney will prove to be a foreign policy savant. But it's also possible that this debate will raise serious doubts about whether Mitt Romney is prepared to be America's face to the world, and if that happens this debate could have more of an impact than most people expect.
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