Israel, Egypt, Syria, Russia. That was what President Obama and rival Mitt Romney talked about today at the last presidential debate. Kind of, at least.

Australia, important? Hah! Picture: AFP

They’re issues pretty distant from most of the things we care about here in Australia.

But their debate came just after our appointment to a temporary seat on the crucial (and flawed) international decision-making body, the UN Security Council. Subsequently, what the two candidates said about foreign policy today raised further questions about what role we’re going to play in the world in the next few years.

Iran getting a nuclear weapon was one of the hot topics. The Republican Mitt Romney, who’s close with the Israeli prime minister, talked a lot about setting down “red lines”.

If Iran “crossed” them, say hello military action from a President Romney.

On the flipside, Obama said: “We’re not going to allow Iran to engage perpetually in negotiations that lead nowhere.” But, he also said that after a decade of war, it was time for America to focus on “nation-building here at home”.

Interestingly, the two countries at the heart of the issue, Iran and Israel, both voted for Australia to join the Security Council.

You can imagine it’s one of the only things to bring the countries together in years.

The Council is the only global body with the power to authorise military operations (not that Bush took any notice with Iraq).

So what would happen if Obama, or particularly Romney and the Israelis, took a case for an international military operation against Iran to the UN?

Would we owe anything to the Israelis, pushing for a bombing campaign? What about Iran?

Would we just vote with the United States?

Would we be carried off to another war with them? Or will our seat on the council give us more leverage in negotiations with them?

All are matters we’ll have to consider with greater complexity because of our seat.

The candidates also talked about Afghanistan. The moderator asked: What will happen if the country falls apart after 2014?

Neither candidate really had too much of an answer beyond staying the course to withdraw in 2014.

A problem, especially given yet another Australian casualty in Afghanistan yesterday.

This debate and our UN appointment have raised more questions than answers for our diggers.

Most commented


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    • AdamC says:

      01:30pm | 23/10/12

      I cannot, for the life of me, see where Obama and Romney’s foreign policy positions differ signficantly. This latest debate must have been a tour de force of confected disagreement.

      At least it is good for Australia to have both candidates with a cautious, sane yet active approach to international affairs.

    • Cairns Rebecca says:

      02:14pm | 23/10/12

      Agreed AdamC. Different coloured wrappers, same contents.

      We’d just vote with the U.S., as usual.

      I think the majority of Australians and Americans will be more than happy to simply totally ignore what happens in Afghanistan after we leave. It will return to just how it’s been for centuries, with an extra notch on its belt of the fools who have tried to intervene.
      Seeking to disrupt the groups which perpetrated 9/11 and attempting to capture or kill OBL may well have been worthy intentions but they should only have ever been short term actions with a specific end date; and attempting to undertake anything else should never have been on the agenda.

    • St. Michael says:

      02:26pm | 23/10/12

      These guys don’t differ because there’s nothing to differ about.  No matter how much or how little they rattle their sabers, neither of them can stop Iran getting a nuclear weapon unless they make a pre-emptive nuclear strike.  And neither of them can start a conventional war with Iran for the same purposes—because the US doesn’t have, and can’t borrow, the money necessary to start one.

      Beyond that, both will withdraw from Afghanistan when it’s politically expedient to do so and when they can still look hard on terror in doing so.  Until then, US servicemen will keep dying in Afghanistan for no reason.

      There isn’t any other marked foreign policy issue they have to concern themselves with.  They will never go to war with China because they can’t afford it and because they owe China one trillion in US bonds.  Their position is no different than Britain over the Suez Canal: if they do anything aggressive the Chinese don’t approve of, China will simply threaten to dump its bonds, at which point the US will have to back down just as Britain did over the Suez.

    • Paleoflatus says:

      03:18pm | 23/10/12

      Thanks to Cairns Rebecca and St. Michael, You both said it for me. Australia’s just another American vote on the Security Council. If the American Military-Industrial complex needs another war, we’ll support them. If they want to continue their encirclement of China, we’ll do whatever they want to help. That’s why we don’t need a professional diplomat running Foreign Affairs any more - any old political hack like Bob Carr will do.

    • Adam says:

      04:07pm | 23/10/12

      If you only rely on the sound bites and the nightly news, then they wouldn’t differ much. But look deeper and not only does the substance differ in a number of ways, but more to the point, what they are likely to do when issues arise differs.

      Both Obama and Romney will not tolerate a nuclear armed Iran. But what each would do to stop it is what counts, how far they’re willing to go and how quickly they’re willing to do it.

    • St. Michael says:

      05:00pm | 23/10/12

      @ Adam: Balderdash.  On these issues, the only thing that counts is the ultimate action each one takes: that is, the results, not what they say they’re going to do.

      “But what each would do to stop it is what counts, how far they’re willing to go and how quickly they’re willing to do it.”

      In terms of what *must* be done in order to stop Iran developing nuclear weapons, as opposed to what meaningless things they to *try* and stop it, I’ve already spelt it out: either a pre-emptive nuclear strike or conventional war on Iran are the only ways Iran can be stopped from obtaining a nuclear weapon at this point.

      Diplomacy hasn’t stopped them.  And neither have crippling economic sanctions, so you’d be an idiot if you thought more sanctions or more diplomacy is going to be any more effective.

      A romantic little SEAL team incursion, which America seems to think is the answer to all its military problems these days, won’t inflict enough damage to stop Iran’s nuclear program.  Logistically, it can’t be done.  And at worst it will wind up as a repeat of Operation Eagle Claw.  Romney will know that, and Obama was so gutless he dithered over whether to order the hit on OBL, even with good intel on Osama’s location.

      Neither Romney or Obama are going to order a nuclear strike on Iran.  That’s basically starting World War 3.  While both Obama and Romney are power-hungry sociopaths, they are not suicidal.

      And neither of them will go to conventional war with Iran.  Politically, America won’t back them.  It’s tired of getting its ass handed to it in Afghanistan and (earlier) Iraq.  Economically, they can’t do it.  Their debt level is so high it can’t support another conventional war.  The present redline of 108% debt-to-GDP ratio exists when they’re only fighting one war in one theatre.

      That’s the calculus here.  As for anything else Obama or Romney say they’re going to do, well, George RR Martin had it right: “Words are wind.”

    • acotrel says:

      05:34pm | 23/10/12

      ‘Interestingly, the two countries at the heart of the issue, Iran and Israel, both voted for Australia to join the Security Council. ‘

      They probably know that we stand for ‘a fair go’ !  We have that reputation internatonally.

    • St. Michael says:

      06:30pm | 23/10/12

      @ acotrel: Israel voted for us because we’re part of the US alliance that keeps it in existence.  They said they’d vote for us way back in 2008.  Or possibly they voted for us because we were the first country to vote in favour of the creation of Israel back in 1952.

      Iran voted for us to try and wedge the United States; it thinks we’re more likely to object to the use of force against Iran if it comes to war.  One cannot also ignore the possibility of stupidity on Iran’s part, given these clowns seem determined to piss off the United States without a single nuclear warhead to back their grandstanding.

    • Greg says:

      02:20pm | 23/10/12

      The difference is that Obama is anti-Iran, while Romney is pro-Israel.

    • sunny says:

      02:57pm | 23/10/12

      In the VP debate Ryan was extremely hawkish towards Iran. Wiser heads know not to take every single utterance from Iran literally. He might be the finance wiz kid but for the good of everyone keep him the heck away from foreign policy.

    • James O says:

      02:20pm | 23/10/12

      As an outsider observing the most powerful nation in the world it would seem that there are four versions of the US election to contend with. There is the domestic media version with the contrived and scripted melodrama of a debate that for some obscure reason can actually change peoples minds, then there is the international media version for overseas consumption which is more candid and intended to provide a slightly more sophisticated interpretation of the true state of the USA which the average God fearing American would find difficult to understand being as polarized as they are, then there is the dark inner workings of the Washington elite who advise and manipulate the corrupt powerbrokers who will ultimately decide who will actually run the country,Obama probably has his greatest fight against them and finally there is the Hollywood USA election campaign with their ideaological left wing crusaders doing there best to undermine the potential George Bush’s of this world and expose the Presidency as a potential fake puppet regime but not if Obama is re-elected of course .

    • Mark out West says:

      02:25pm | 23/10/12

      The Arab League voted Against the Assad regime and For the right of the Iranians to have the bomb, just like Israel.  This is a call for equity.  The best thing for the region is for Israel to disarm the bomb.

      Iran drops the bomb on Israel and kills Jews and Muslims alike. Destroys one of their greatest religious sites and the whole world is united against them.  Iran is invaded and a new regime is installed. Not likely

      This Iranian bomb thing is a beat up.

    • maria says:

      03:03pm | 23/10/12

      This debate and our UN appointment have raised more questions than answers for our diggers.

      When have we the people had a debate in our so-called democracy?

      Australian democracy only works for the rich and the people in power and their cronies, you common masses dont count!

    • Thomas says:

      03:38pm | 23/10/12


      When? Right here, right now; all day, every day.

      What would you like a debate about? Go for it ...

    • maria says:

      04:21pm | 23/10/12

      What has happened to democracy and why are we irrelevant after we have voted?

    • Thomas says:

      05:33pm | 23/10/12


      Nothing, and, we’re not. Next.

    • CX says:

      04:43pm | 23/10/12

      Bottom line is it is political suicide to say anything or do anything that may harm Israel. 

      John Howard got a forest named after him there, so I think pretty likely we’ll side with the big IsisRaEl in there rather than the other given that America is pretty much wholely controlled by them at any rate.

    • stephen says:

      06:58pm | 23/10/12

      Netanyahu’s ‘red lines’ are a mistake.
      Why give the Iranian President a goal ?
      Keep him guessing. The sanctions are working, and as an ex-Mossad head said on Friday, Israel is playing up the speed at which Iran will make a bomb.
      Anyway, the sixth fleet is in the Persian Gulf, so what can happen ?


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