In the final presidential debate, Mitt Romney made me think of Nathaniel Greene.
Most historians think Greene was, after George Washington, the best American general in the Revolution (if you don't count Benedict Arnold, who was the best on either side -- and on both sides).
Greene initially drove a vastly superior British force from the South after the disaster at Camden in August 1780. His campaign culminated in Lord Cornwallis' retreat to Yorktown.
You know the rest.
Greene won despite losing every battle he fought. He won by focusing relentlessly on his strategic objectives.
Cornwallis was the best British general (if you don't count Arnold). But his frustration over the decisive defeat his subordinate, Banastre Tarleton, suffered at the hands of Daniel Morgan at Cowpens caused him to chase the wily Greene all over North Carolina, squandering his army's strength.
Most pundits say President Barack Obama won Monday's debate. But his victory was Pyrrhic.
I'm outraged by the lax security in Libya that led to the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans; the failure of the administration to send military forces to the rescue of the consular staff during the 7 hour siege, and the coverup afterward. I wanted Mr. Romney to hammer the president on this. He didn't.
I was nauseated by the nonsense both spouted on Afghanistan, which bore no relationship to the facts on the ground. The Little Sisters of the Poor will defeat the Steelers before the Afghans provide for their security.
But I disagree with conservatives who say Mr. Romney "missed an opportunity" on Libya. Like Greene, he deliberately avoided decisive battle. In view of his strategic objectives, that was the right thing to do.
Mr. Romney demonstrated, first, that he's a plausible commander in chief by displaying detailed knowledge of national security matters (Few debate watchers know where Mali is, but I suspect many were impressed that Mr. Romney seems to know what's going on there); by focusing on the big picture; by keeping his cool, and by quietly asserting alpha male status when Mr. Obama interrupted him.
Mr. Romney focused on the undecided, many of whom are described, euphemistically, as "low information" voters, for whom feelings matter more than facts and logic.
The president's objective was to show Mr. Romney to be unfit as commander in chief, and/or that he'll get us into wars, as President Bush did. It had to be maddening for him that Mr. Romney wouldn't engage on Libya or Afghanistan. He threw punch after punch, but Mr. Romney kept ducking.
The president's frustration over his inability to bring his adversary to decisive battle caused him to make big mistakes. He insulted Mr. Romney to goad him into a fight, but demeaned himself instead. He was "snarky, condescending, peevish and small."
Mr. Romney had the election in mind when he chose the examples he used to display knowledge of national security, so Mr. Obama made a big boo boo when he snarked about Mr. Romney's desire for a larger Navy. The Navy and shipbuilding are very big in southeastern Virginia. The president was trailing, narrowly, in the Old Dominion when the debate began. He kissed it goodbye.
Mr. Romney acted like someone who knows he's winning. Mr. Obama acted like someone who knows he's losing -- and can't believe it's happening.
The president won the instapolls, but like Cornwallis -- who remained in possession of the field at Guilford Courthouse, but with an army shattered beyond repair -- he can take cold comfort from his victory:
• In the CNN poll Mr. Obama won, 48-40, more said the debate made them more likely to vote for Mr. Romney (25 percent) than for Mr. Obama (24 percent).
• In PPP's poll of independents, 47 percent said they were now more likely to vote for Mr. Romney; 35 percent said less likely. For Mr. Obama, the numbers were 32 percent more likely, 48 percent less.
The pundits say Mr. Romney lost the battle Monday night. But he won the campaign. Next comes Yorktown, Nov. 6.jackkelly
Jack Kelly is a columnist for The Press and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. firstname.lastname@example.org, 412 263-1476. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/