By Amitabh Pal on October 23, 2012

The extent of agreement between President Obama and Mitt Romney in the third presidential debate was depressing.

As Bill Maher jokingly tweeted, “I've seen wider ideological differences between Jehovah's Witnesses.”

Nowhere was this more apparent than on the issue of Israel. Both candidates went on at length to proclaim their fealty to the state of Israel while failing to take it to task for its reluctance to move toward peace. In fact, it was Romney who gave the only mention of the Palestinians the whole night.

Israel also figured prominently in the debate about Iran, and the way it was approached starkly showed the consensus between both the major parties.

In keeping with tradition, there was silence on Israel’s nuclear arsenal. In all the debate about Iran’s hypothetical nuclear bomb, Israel’s real weapons were completely ignored.

And then we come to the crucial issue of Iran and the bomb. Both candidates agree that it is absolutely unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon. The notion is based on two misconceptions: that Iran is singularly irrational, and that it’ll pass on such technology to terrorist groups. Both claims are questionable.

“More than three decades of history demonstrate that the Islamic Republic’s rulers, like most rulers elsewhere, are overwhelmingly concerned with preserving their regime and their power—in this life, not some future one,” writes former senior intelligence official Paul Pillar in the Washington Monthly. “They are no more likely to let theological imperatives lead them into self-destructive behavior than other leaders whose religious faiths envision an afterlife.’

And as for the contention that Iran will “share” its bomb, Pillar responds: “Nothing is said about why Iran or any other regime ever would have an incentive to do this. In fact, Tehran would have strong reasons not to do it. Why would it want to lose control over a commodity that is scarce as well as dangerous? And how would it achieve deniability regarding its role in what the group subsequently did with the stuff?”

Such questions were far from evident in last night debate, where the dynamic was instead that of both candidates trying to outflank each other on the right.

Certainly, there were instances where Romney attacked Obama, most notably with his ridiculous assertion about Obama’s “apology tour” of the Middle East. Romney was also more noticeably hawkish on defense outlays (although even here Obama made a point of noting that “military spending has gone up every single year I've been in office").

On the other hand, Romney was surprisingly conciliatory on Pakistan, asserting that the United States had to work with the country’s security establishment, in spite of its troubling history.

Now, much of what Romney had to say just may be twaddle to show the undecideds that he is not an extremist. It definitely goes against the scary neocon advisers he has (most prominently John Bolton and Dan Senor).

But the fact that Obama and Romney agreed so much shows us something. And what it reveals does not speak well for this country’s handling of the world.

If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Pakistan’s Heartening Response to Hideous Attack."

Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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