There was a lot of agreement between the president and the former governor who wants his job in the third and final presidential debate which focused on foreign policy.
Mitt Romney congratulated Barack Obama on the killing of Osama bin Laden, thought the president was right to pull out of Iraq and agreed that the U.S. shouldn’t send the military into Syria.
However, there were plenty of things the contenders found to compete over.Immediately after congratulating the president for going after the leader of al-Qaida, he blasted the White House for its failures in the Middle East, for not supporting the Syrian rebels more and for taking a soft stand on Iran at the expense of the nation’s relationship with Israel.“We can’t kill our way out of this mess,” Romney said, clearly attempting to lower the weight of the president’s success in the bin Laden raid.
On a number of issues, however, the governor offered few specifics in terms of what he would do differently, a deficit likely due to the natural disadvantage challengers have in running against a sitting president who has been sitting in on confidential foreign policy discussions for years.
Iran played a significant role in the debate both candidates which they – now – seem to agree is likely the greatest challenge to the country abroad. Romney again attacked the president for not doing enough to keep the Persian nation from nuclearizing, saying he would be more aggressive.
“As long as I’m President of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon,” Obama responded. “I’ve made that clear when I came into office. We then organized the strongest coalition and the strongest sanctions against Iran in history.”
Gov. Romney went on to note the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the 30,000 civilians killed in Syria, the attack on the consulate in Libya and the rise of “al-Qaida” type individuals in Mali (a country in northwest Africa and not the Middle East as Romney had implied).
Still, it was President Obama who was on the attack much of the night, taking on Romney for a host of foreign policy blunders, including calling Russia America’s No. 1 geopolitical foe.
“I have to tell you that your strategy previously has been one which has been all over the map,” he told Romney. “The 1980’s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.”
When Romney protested the decreasing size of the U.S. military using the example of a decreasing number of naval ships, Obama replied to the governor that he didn’t understand modern warfare.
“We also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military’s changed,” the president offered to some laughter from an otherwise quiet audience. “We have these things called aircraft carriers where plans land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”
Romney later repeated his criticism that the president failed to designate China a currency manipulator.
“I’ve watched year in and year out as companies have shut down and people have lost their jobs because China has not played by the same rules,” he asserted, “in part by holding down artificially the value of their currency.”
President Obama responded that the governor was part of the problem having “invested in companies that were shipping jobs overseas.”
Connecting the governor’s push to let the auto industry go through bankruptcy, the president added, “If we had taken your advice, Governor Romney, about our auto industry, we’d be buying cars from China instead of selling cars to China.” It was also one of many connections the candidates made to the domestic economy, the number one issue on most voters’ minds.
Romney, in particular, seemed to steer the conversation back to the state of the nation’s finances, though the president certainly played the game knowing few people will elect either of them based on their foreign policy views.
In the end, the president appeared the most combative, clear on the issues and more direct; polling will soon likely suggest he won the debate. However, Romney likely only needed to stay credible to maintain his current strength with the electorate as the election goes into its final two weeks.