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Canada’s absence from foreign policy debate not surprising, and no affront

Canada-U.S. relations never made it on the radar in Monday night's contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney for the simple reason that there was no need.

The great contests between Republicans and Democrats over disarming nuclear Iran, over the Arab Spring and the troubled winter that has followed, over protecting Israel while promoting a lasting peace with the Palestinians, over containing while integrating China are a matter of peace and war, of life and death.

We're just not on that plane, praise be. Yes, the word "Canada" was never mentioned, unlike in the previous two debates. But only parochial narcissists would consider that an affront.

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That doesn't mean for an instant that the presidential debate on foreign policy wasn't of interest to Canadians. Whether NATO jets fly over Syria, whether the new Libyan and Egyptian governments are buttressed or abandoned, whether China grows closer to a welcoming West or drifts from it, could depend in part on whether Mr. Romney or Mr. Obama wins the White House.

In Monday night's third and final contest, the Republican challenger continued to make the case, mostly with success, that he is ready and able to be president of the United States.

And the President showed up determined to confront the former governor's inconsistencies and to point out that that it was Mr. Obama who approved the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, who ended the war in Iraq, who brought down Osama bin Laden, who started winding down the war in Afghanistan, who smote Osama bin Laden, who confronted tyrants from Tunisia to Iran and who had Osama bin Laden shot.

If a poll asked Canadians who won the debate, they would probably say Mr. Obama, in hopes that wishing could make it so. Regardless of the XL pipeline that Mr. Obama vetoed (at least for now), the annoying Buy America policies that occurred on his watch, the tensions over Canada's entry into the Trans Pacific Partnership talks and other irritants, the fact remains that most Canadians like Democrats in general and love Mr. Obama in particular.

For this writer, the President had more good moments. He certainly had the best zingers.

On Mr. Romney declaring Russia to be America's principal national security challenge, Mr. Obama declared: "The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back." And on Mr. Romney's complaint there were fewer ships in the U.S. today than there were in 1916, Mr. Obama rebutted: "We also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers."

Interestingly, on the war in Afghanistan, both candidates appeared to be of one mind: Things are going reasonably well (really???) and the troops will be out by 2014.

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But little of what was said in this final debate mattered. This is an economy election, not a foreign policy election. The two men argued over how to confront China in order to win over manufacturing workers in Ohio. They tussled over defence cuts because the military is big in Virginia, another swing state.

Neither candidate, it seemed, did himself much good or harm. The horse race remains a horse race.

Because Canada never got mentioned, someone out there doubtless has taken affront. But really, who cares?

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About the Author

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More


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