Nigel Tufnel’s Amp Could Give Mitt Romney an Edge Over Barack Obama

In the last debate, Romney promised to do what President Obama does on foreign policy—but do it louder.

Well, Mitt Romney’s foreign policy preferences became a lot more clear during Monday night’s debate, didn’t they? He wants to do exactly what President Obama is doing, but he wants to do it louder.

On Syria? Romney wants to work with our allies to provide humanitarian support to rebels in that country, but he wants to be careful we don’t arm extremist militants who might someday become terrorists who turn those arms on America. And he doesn’t want to send the U.S. military to intervene.

Just like President Obama.

On Afghanistan? Well, Romney thinks that the surge of American troops in that country has helped create progress there, and he’s ready to bring all of those troops home in 2014.

Just like President Obama.

If Israel is attacked, he’ll stand with that country and “get its back.” Just like President Obama. He’ll use drones to kill and harass anti-American militants. Just like President Obama. He favors “crippling” sanctions to undermine Iran’s nuclear program. Just like President Obama.

You know who else can do foreign policy just like President Obama? President Obama.

Romney’s Monday night performance  became strongly, comically reminiscent of this scene from This Is Spinal Tap. Mitt Romney is Nigel Tufnel, trying to convince the confused interviewer that his amps are better because, the volume markings are slightly different.

Romney’s support of Obama’s foreign policy isn’t actually that surprising. While the overlap isn’t 100 percent, America’s foreign policy has mostly been a bipartisan operation—the party in charge might be somewhat more or less prone to go to war, but both Democrats and Republicans are devoted to the idea of American “leadership” in the world.

And that means that the areas of disagreement are often not that serious. President Obama, for example, thinks we should have a really, really big military—one that will, for the forseeable future, outspend the next 10 biggest militaries combined. Romney? He wants a really, really, REALLY big military. Maybe it seems like a big difference to partisan eyes, but really: China, which is emerging as America’s biggest geopolitical rival, only has one aircraft carrier. It’s used and doesn’t actually, really work. America? We have 11, plus a few more amphibious assault ships that carry helicopters. We’re ahead, by an enormous margin.

So the military spending part of the debate, really, was like trying to contest the difference between “ridonkulous” and “ginormous.” Everybody on stage wanted the same thing—an American military too big to fail.

One of the night’s sharpest and most exchanges came, in fact, when Romney peddled his thoroughly discredited charge that Obama went on an “apology tour” at the outset of his presidency. Turns out Obama never apologized. But he didn’t thump his chest enough, and to Republicans that’s the same thing. What do Republicans want out of our foreign policy? A little more horn-tooting, it seems.

Sure, they’d do policy on Syria and Egypt and Afghanistan and Iran and Israel in nearly identical fashion—though I still think they’re a little bit more likely to go to war in Iran—but they want to do that Exact Same Stuff with a bit more attitude, a lot more swagger that lets the world know: “We are America, we are awesome, and we will eff you up given half a chance.” It’s like the false bravado of any Will Ferrell character, ever.

A little more than a century ago, Republicans were led by a president whose philosophy was to “speak softly and carry a big stick.” Turns out that’s far too nuanced for today’s GOP. Now it’s: “SPEAK LOUD. CARRY BIGGER STICK.” (And yes, any phallic interpretations of that philosophy are strictly intended.)

Thing is: The rest of the world already knows America has a big stick. Republicans seem to think they can make the world a safer place by talking loudly about it. What they’re actually offering is not all that new or different from what we’ve got. They just want to make it go to 11.