The discussion on Syria during Monday night's presidential debate was an exercise in Mitt Romney trying to fudge the major distinctions between his foreign policy and that of President Barack Obama.
The president led off by stressing that "Syrians are going to have to determine their own future." He added that it would be a heavy lift for the United States to get entangled, militarily, in the country, even though it was committed to the idea of Assad stepping down. As for arming rebels in the country, he warned there that "we have to do so, making absolutely certain who we are helping, that we are not putting arms in the hands of folks who could eventually turn against us."
Romney sidestepped his past statements on the matter in an effort to basically tie himself to Obama's position. He criticized Obama for handing over too much responsibility to the United Nations and Russia. But while he demanded more American leadership on Syria, he didn't outline exactly what he meant, save to rule out a military option.
"We don’t have military involvement there. We don't want to get drawn into military involvement there," he said. "We should be playing the leadership role there. Not on the ground with military."
This is a different Romney than in forums and debates past. He has suggested arming rebels in Syria. And in a November 2011 Republican primary debate, he outlined in specific terms what he would do with respect to regime change.
"This is the time for us to use not only sanctions, but covert actions within Syria to get regime change there," Romney said at the time.