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Republican on the defensive as roles turn on their heads

He delivered a long lecture on the strategic importance of Pakistan that was the same as Obama’s position.

Written by New York Times | Published: October 24, 2012 1:12 am

Mitt Romney came in peace. He said he wanted better education,more financial aid,gender equality and rule of law,and he was talking about the Middle East,not the Midwest. He even said he was consulting a group of “Arab scholars” sponsored by,of all things,the United Nations,to shape his plan for fixing the troubled region. “We can’t kill our way out of this mess,” he said.

And all his expressions of internationalism and support for women’s liberation overseas made President Obama almost sound like a Republican hard-liner. “Well,my first job as commander in chief,Bob,is to keep the American people safe,” Obama told the moderator,Bob Schieffer.

The debate provided an odd role reversal that made Romney seem on the defensive,particularly because he at times stuttered and sputtered in his haste to make his points. He pronounced foreign names and countries correctly,but also carefully,worried perhaps that a mispronunciation would sink his credibility. Usually,it is Obama who seems professorial and long-winded. There were moments when Romney made the President sound succinct and sharp-edged.

Perhaps trying to demonstrate the breadth of his knowledge,Romney careened from Iran to Poland to China to Latin America to Greece to balanced budgets. He delivered a long lecture on the strategic importance of Pakistan that was the same as Obama’s position.

What happened wasn’t particularly funny,but it was startling. Romney kept talking about American “strength” and the need to be “tougher,” but he seemed at times unnerved by the President,a man he accused of being too weak.

Romney didn’t really elaborate on Obama’s mistakes and say what he would have done differently. Instead,he often highlighted where he agreed with the President. When asked by Schieffer if he regretted,in retrospect,calling for the fall of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt,Obama said no. So,too,did his opponent.

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