Choosing a worthy president and commander in chief is not a casual task for voters.
Those laboring to compare and contrast President Obama and Mitt Romney on war and foreign policy have a vexing assignment.
Obama's record invites approval and stirs frustration at the same time. He is working to leave Afghanistan, but not fast enough. He recently won support from NATO on a 2014 departure date to follow handing over security responsibilities to Afghan forces in 2013.
To its credit, the Obama White House has broadened foreign-policy discussions to be more inclusive, and to recognize the United States is long past unilaterally controlling any debate.
During the Arab Spring and the Libyan uprising, Obama rallied support, but the U.S. did not lead the charge. Coordination and resources, but not an arrogant assault. Iraq lessons learned.
Romney gropes for something to say on foreign policy, which explains why he alternately appears to endorse Obama's moves and timetables in Afghanistan, except when he does not.
Wholly out of his element, Romney surrounded himself with many of the same neoconservative advisers who launched the U.S. into two wars.
That point was reinforced not by left-wing critics in the Democratic Party, but by former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was exasperated by the right-wing credentials of Romney's foreign-policy and national-security teams.
Powell was annoyed by Romney's chatty denunciation of Russia as the No. 1 geopolitical foe of the United States. He was particularly frustrated that Romney did not seem to put any thought into the claim, which was disputed by the former general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Obama settled an elemental grudge with the unrelenting pursuit of Osama bin Laden. The decision to dispatch teams of special forces to Pakistan was disparaged by Romney as a no-brainer any president, even Jimmy Carter would have made.
Frustrations with Obama are about pace, not global engagement or thoughtfulness. Romney, in the absence of original ideas or suffering bad advice, chooses to pick and poke. His jabs at China betray a naive world view.
The challenger does not so much offer critiques as pick nits, and then change his script.
A basic 2012 election issue with foreign-policy consequences is also deeply rooted in domestic politics: shrinking the size, role, expense and international presence of the U.S. military.