Final debate: Challenging each other face to face

President Barack Obama sharply challenged Mitt Romney on foreign policy in their final campaign debate Monday night, saying, "Every time you've offered an opinion you've been wrong." The Republican coolly responded, "Attacking me is not an agenda" for dealing with a dangerous world.
AP Wire
Oct 26, 2012

Romney took the offensive, too. When Obama said the U.S. and its allies have imposed crippling sanctions on Iran to halt nuclear weapons development, the Republican challenger responded that the U.S. should have done more. He declared repeatedly, "We're four years closer to a nuclear Iran."

Despite the debate's stated focus on foreign affairs, time after time the rivals turned the discussion back to the slowly recovering U.S. economy, which polls show is the No. 1 issue for most voters.

They found little agreement on that, but the president and his rival found accord on at least one international topic with domestic political overtones — Israel's security — as they sat at close quarters 15 days before the end of an impossibly close election campaign. Each stressed unequivocal support for Israel when asked how he would respond if the Jewish state were attacked by Iran.

"If Israel is attacked, we have their back," said Romney — moments after Obama vowed, "I will stand with Israel if Israel is attacked."

Both also said they oppose direct U.S. military involvement in the efforts to topple Syrian President Bashir Assad.

The debate produced none of the finger-pointing and little of the interrupting that marked the presidential rivals' debate last week, when Obama needed a comeback after a listless performance in their first meeting on Oct. 3.

But there was no mistaking the urgency. The two men frequently sniped at one another even on issues where they agree, and reprised their campaign-long disagreements over the economy, energy, education and other domestic issues despite ground rules that stipulated the debate cover international affairs.

Obama and Romney are locked in a close race in national opinion polls. The final debate behind them, both men intend to embark on a final two-week whirlwind of campaigning. The president is slated to speak in six states during a two-day trip that begins Wednesday and includes a night aboard Air force One as it flies from Las Vegas to Tampa. Romney intends to visit two or three states a day.

Already four million ballots have been cast in early voting in more than two dozen states.

On the Middle East, Romney said that despite early hopes, the ouster of despotic regimes in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere over the past year has resulted in a "rising tide of chaos." He said the president has failed to come up with a coherent policy to grapple with change sweeping the Middle East, and he added ominously that an al-Qaida-like group has taken over northern Mali.

Anticipating one of Obama's most frequent campaign assertions, Romney said of the man seated nearby, "I congratulate him on taking out Osama bin Laden and taking on the leadership of al-Qaida. But we can't kill our way out of this. ... We must have a comprehensive strategy."

More than a half hour later, Obama returned to the subject, saying that Romney had once said it wasn't worth moving heaven and earth to catch one man, a reference to the mastermind behind the 9/11 terror attacks.

He said he had decided it was "worth heaven and earth."

Obama said he had ended the war in Iraq, was on a path to end the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan and has vowed to bring justice to the attackers of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi last month — an assault that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

He also jabbed at Romney's having said during the campaign that Russia is the United States' No. 1 geopolitical foe.

"Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy you seem to want the policies of the 1980s, just like you want to import the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies in the 1920s," Obama said.

Obama was snippy after Romney, criticizing the administration's Pentagon budget, said disapprovingly the U.S. Navy has fewer ships than at any time since the end of World War I.

"I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the Navy, for example, that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them."

Romney offered unusual praise for Obama's war efforts in Afghanistan, declaring the 2010 surge of 33,000 U.S. troops a success and asserting that efforts to train Afghan security forces are on track to enable the U.S. and its allies to put the Afghans fully in charge of security by the end of 2014. He said that U.S. forces should complete their withdrawal on that schedule; previously he has criticized the setting of a specific withdrawal date.

The two men are locked in a close race in national opinion polls. The final debate behind them, they intend to embark on a final two-week whirlwind of campaigning. The president is slated to speak in six states during a two-day trip that begins Wednesday and includes a night aboard Air force One as it flies from Las Vegas to Tampa. Romney intends to visit two or three states a day.

Already four million ballots have been cast in early voting in more than two dozen states.

Barring a last-minute change in strategy by one campaign or the other, Obama appears on course to win states and the District of Columbia that account for 237 of the 270 electoral votes needed for victory. The same is true for Romney in states with 191 electoral votes.

The battlegrounds account for the remaining 110 electoral votes: Florida (29), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13), New Hampshire (4), Iowa (6), Colorado (9), Nevada (6), Ohio (18) and Wisconsin (10).

The televised debate brought no cessation to other campaigning.

Obama's campaign launched a television ad in Florida that said the president ended the war in Iraq and has a plan to do the same in Afghanistan, accusing Romney of opposing him on both. It was not clear how often the ad would air, given the fall's overall focus on the economy.

Vice President Joe Biden, campaigning in Canton, Ohio, emphasized differences between the two candidates on the war in Afghanistan.

"We will leave Afghanistan in 2014, period. They say it depends," he said. "Ladies and gentlemen, like everything with them, it depends. It depends on what day you find these guys."

Romney's running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, was in Colorado. "We are in the midst of deciding the kind of country we're going to be, the kind of people we're going to be, for a generation," he said.

Whatever the outcome of the final face-to-face confrontation, the debates have left an imprint on the race. Romney was widely judged the winner of the first debate over a listless president on Oct. 3, and he has risen in polls in the days since. Obama was much more energetic in the second.

Monday night marked the third time in less than a week that the president and his challenger shared a stage, following the feisty 90-minute town-hall-style meeting last Tuesday on Long Island and a white-tie charity dinner two night later where gracious compliments flowed and barbs dipped in humor flew.

At the Al Smith charity dinner, Obama previewed his all-purpose fallback to criticism on international affairs.

"Spoiler alert: We got bin Laden," he said, a reminder of the signature foreign policy triumph of his term, the death at the hand of U.S. special operations forces of the mastermind behind the terror attacks on the United States more than a decade ago.

The president and his challenger agreed long ago to devote one of their three debates to foreign policy, even though opinion polls show voters care most about economic concerns.

Growth has been slow and unemployment high across Obama's tenure in the White House. Romney, a wealthy former businessman, cites his experience as evidence he will put in place policies that can revive the economy.

In recent weeks, the former Massachusetts governor has stepped up his criticism of the president's handling of international matters, although his campaign hasn't spent any of its television advertising budget on commercials on the subject.

In a speech earlier this month, Romney accused the president of an absence of strong leadership in the Middle East, where popular revolutions have swept away autocratic regimes in Egypt and elsewhere in the past two years. He has also accused Obama of failing to support Israel strongly enough, of failing to make it clear that Iran will not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon and of backing cuts in the defense budget that would harm military readiness.

Yet Romney has stumbled several times in attempting to establish his own credentials.

He offended the British when he traveled to England this summer and made comments viewed as critical of their preparation for the Olympic Games.

Democrats pounced when he failed to mention the U.S. troops in Afghanistan or Iraq during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in late August, and officials in both parties were critical of his comments about the attack in Benghazi while the facts were unknown.

 

Comments

Tri-cities realist

It appears that Romney has borrowed a trick from Bill Clinton, triangulation. I suspect his strategy was to go "above the fray" to appear more presidential while not appearing as a hawk. I think he left a lot on the table by not pointing out Obama's foreign policy failures. We shall see if it worked. And you could tell that it confused Obama.

ghmomma

Yeah, your guy looked REAL presidential. Especially when he made the point 'Syria is Iran's route to the sea'. Pffffft, knowledge of geograpy isn't essential to being president anyway. Yeah, doofus romney would lose at 'Are you smarter than a 5th grader'.......

Wingmaster

Yup your right ghmommy your guy sure has his geography down. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E.... So does this make him Odumba?

Tri-cities realist

Who knows perhaps he was referring to the Mediterranean Sea, and forgot to include Iraq along that trek. Who knows, but definitely not the worst blunder in politics. And I have to ask, how many of you knew where Mali was before last night? I'll admit I didn't. He must have searched for a lesser known African country full of strife to try to show Obama up.

Vladtheimp

Although everyone has an opinion, and I suspect there will be vastly differing opinions expressed here (like GHmomma's), in my view last night's debate was essentially a draw. I thought Obama hit Romney hard on a number of issues, and that he certainly “won” the debate from the perspective of his supporters and others; as a conservative I wish Romney had hit harder on Benghazi; I wish he had hit harder on how much of Obama's foreign policy includes outsourcing jobs through green programs, including investing more than $2 billion with Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobras, to finance exploration, while severely limiting drilling and exploration on U.S. Land owned by the federal government. Mitt Romney and his advisers are smarter than I am. Post debate, my wife and I agreed that Romney's decision not to engage the debate at the same level as Obama made him appear more Presidential than the President, who throughout the debate was alternatively angry, interruptive, dismissive, and snarky (the Navy idiocy). Romney's understated knowledge of the foreign policy issues made it easy for voters to determine they really have a choice as the election nears, and Obama's performance will diminish his likeability factor even more than it has already slipped from the high marks he attained not so long ago. In fact, it almost seemed that President Obama behaved like the old Newt Gingrich, while Romney behaved like the old Obama, a fact that won't be missed by independents and other undecideds. I also thought that Romney scored big with his criticism of Obama's foreign apology tour. Obama's retort that it wasn't true permitted Romney to add specifics to how he had apologized for the United States to various foreign adversaries. So, I am willing to concede that many could decide that Obama won the debate last night. I suggest that it may have been a Pyrrhic Victory that will be more costly in the long run. I also give kudos to Bob Schieffer, who with one possible exception proved that a liberal main stream media personality can actually moderate a debate fairly. I was almost hoping that he would emulate Crowley/ Raddatz and make the debate about the moderator and his/her liberal mindset so that we can rid ourselves of these pretenders in the future. Unfortunately, his performance will likely mean we will be saddled with faux non-partisan liberal moderators for another cycle of elections.

Tri-cities realist

I agree Vlad, I think Romney was playing to the fairer sex.

Wingmaster

Obama may have squeaked out a win to some but he is losing the war with most. Its clear he does not have a record to run on, so we get little snipes like we see from ghmommy. We all will see in 2 weeks.

Lanivan

The Romney strategy last night (it changes daily) was to sit and look presidential, agree with Obama on nearly everything, and try hard not to show that he has no aptitude, experience, or even interest in foreign affairs other than to to invest his wealthy global associates Bain money into businesses that outsource jobs (think CHINA). He literally made a fool of himself on his recent trip to London, Poland, and Israel, putting his foot in his mouth repeatedly. Like Sarah Palin, Romney just doesn't have the breadth of knowledge, the finesse, to understand foreign policy, foreign heads of state, foreign countries, period. Don't you just love how for months he's promoted, in his aggressive, powerful, bully mode, going to war with Iran, but suddenly, in the debate, poof! - the Romney War Hawk disappears and this time he's all moderate. Of course, it's all another whopper and fib - Romney has surrounded himself with the very same war hawk neocons who advised Bush to start 2 wars. And we all know how THAT turned out for ya', right? War with Iran??? Are they crazy??? And at the RNC convention in September, not a mention of our returning veterans! These guys are really into " America - The Perpetual War Machine" because war makes the super rich even wealthier!! But of course, they want to fund the extra $2 Trillion they intend to put into defense (even though our defense budget is higher than the 14 wealthiest nations combined....and the Pentagon has stated they neither need nor want that extra $2 Trillion) by de-funding PBS, aid to our indigent children, dismantling Social Security, Medicare, and other programs that help the elderly, the FDA, the EPA, the Departments of Education, and all those programs that benefit the Common Good....I can't go on, it's just too shameful, diabolical. In my humble opinion, this is not what America is all about.

Vladtheimp

The Vapors are a terrible thing to behold!

Lanivan

Vapors! Vlad - you are such a Victorian! As always, please feel free to call me out if any of the facts in my comments can not be verified. But I know you find my offense at Romney's apparent lack of honesty humorous....so smile on, my gentleman debater!

Vladtheimp

Lanivan, Gentle Lady, I fear we will simply have to agree to disagree. It is difficult, nye impossible, to dispute facts in a comment that is devoid of facts but rather a listing of hysterical (thus vapors) fears by someone who is seeing their dream of America as a European Socialist state vaporizing, as it were, before their very eyes, who is seeing that their Nubian prince is in reality a community organizer at heart, without substance or clothes. I could almost feel sorry for folks in your unenviable position, except that you brought it on yourselves. Mitt Romney was not the Republican of choice for me and other conservatives. One by one our favorites were destroyed by liberal democrats and their enablers in the mainstream media (with assistance, I admit, from Romney). Your fellow travelers did not want to face someone who has consistently and reliably followed and espoused conservative principles; much better, from your and their perspective that Obama run against Mitt Romney, a man who you have gleefully pointed out, has strayed from conservative principles, and in fact signed into state law a health care program similar to Obamacare, but permissible under that State's constitution. You rubbed your hands together at the prospect of destroying Romney on his prior changes of positions, on health care, and of peeling conservative support away from him. You got what you worked for and wished for. However, living in your liberal cocoon you overlooked the fact that Mitt Romney is trained as a lawyer as well as in business administration; was wildly successful because he is smart and well spoken, and is a decent man. You overlooked that sending up a narcissist community organizer with a long held sense of entitlement against Mitt Romney, in circumstances where Obama did not have his beloved teleprompter and where his stuttering inadquacies could not be hidden by a fawning media, represented a case of political malpractice. The American public got to see Obama unplugged – angry, whiny, petulant, petty, and willing to abandon the truth when it suits him – the polling tells the story of how likeable and impressive he is on his own. That you are still in your cocoon is demonstrated by your statement that “Like Sarah Palin, Romney just doesn't have the breadth of knowledge, the finesse, to understand foreign policy, foreign heads of state, foreign countries, period.” Sarah Palin had more executive and business experience than Obama when she was chosen to be McCain's running mate. You and Obama are lucky that the debate was with Romney and not Palin; Romney was too much of a gentleman to use a broadsword, he simply cut Obama with the precision strokes of a rapier. Sarah Palin would have left a bloody mess on the floor (including a female moderator). Schadenfreude Lanivan my friend – I'm not above enjoying it.

Wingmaster

Bravo Vlad, done so with razor sharp precision and very tactful.

Lanivan

Really - Sarah would have cut Obama down to size in a debate???? Well, for once I'm speechless. I would like to say I'm not happy the Republicans have stooped so low with Romney/Ryan. I would have much preferred a truly viable candidate so the all important issues facing our country could actually be debated.

Tri-cities realist

Romney is one of the more moderate Republicans who ran this time. Lanivan, you claim you are a moderate Republican, yet you still support Obama. And now you say you would "have much preferred a truly viable candidate". Who might that have been? One of the more conservative candidates? You've got me thoroughly confused, please help me understand. Thank you.

Vladtheimp

Since Lanivan is temporarily speechless, let me suggest some moderate Republicans she might have preferred in view of her support of Obama: John Kerry, Charles Schumer, Harry Reid, or on the distaff side Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, or Debbie Stabenow. I suspect Olympia Snow and Susan Collins would be too conservative.

Lanivan

How about Jon Huntsman? I liked him but he was too reasonable and willing to work with Democrats. You far right wingers sent him packing right from the get go.

Lanivan

Got my speech back! Romney is not viable because he is merely a puppet of the super rich. He has no core principles, firm convictions, decent level of honesty. I'm not arguing that he is great if you have a few billion dollars to invest. Say you had $50 billion of wealth and you wanted to buy the US, and you gave Romney $2 billion towards his election and he won - my, what a terrific rate of return on investment. The purchase of the US for a measly $2 billion investment!! Of course you understand Romney/Ryan will do anything and everything to make sure their investors are happy. My lament about a truly, viable candidate was to make the point that I've been making all along. There are no more moderate Republicans. They have all dropped out or been kicked out by the far right conservatives. Like I've been saying for the past month, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Sr wouldn't stand a chance in today's election environment. Are you aware how little you (I'm including Vlad and Wing here, not just you TCR) talk about Romney's economic, social, and foreign policies?
There is much regurgitating of the same, old, tired out sound bites from Fox News and Co than debate about real issues based on facts. The last thing I would try to do is change your minds - of course, you wouldn't admit it should that happen! I just ask that you entertain the notion that maybe, just maybe, you might take a baby step towards toning down the "Bogeyman Obama" rhetoric and think more broadly, clearer, with your own minds instead of letting the power brokers do the thinking for you.

Vladtheimp

Welcome back - it appears that your voice has returned in spades. Are you not aware of the fact that the large donors to the respective campaigns are relatively close - that of the top 10 corporate contributors to both candidates, there is a difference of roughly 7,000,000 dollars, and that a significant part of the difference is that the bankers who backed Obama in 2008 have switched to Romney? Of course you understand Obama/Biden will do anything and everything to make sure their private and public sector union investors are happy, as well as the trial lawyers, universities, and big insurers that benefit from Obamacare. Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, and Bush Sr. would stand a far better chance of being elected today by Republicans than Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy would by today's left wing democrats.

Tri-cities realist

So whether you call him moderate, or I consider him conservative, can we both agree that our country is in need of a president like Ronald Reagan? And regarding the GOP, do you consider John McCain a far right conservative? Just curious.

Tri-cities realist

Don't stop now Vlad, Lanivan is speechless! And before you get your panties in a bunch Lanivan, I'm only kidding.

Vladtheimp

Nice Alliteration.

Wingmaster

Vlad and Laninvain, debate and disagree with disdain and distinct diligence!

Vladtheimp

Better Alliteration!

Tri-cities realist

Amazingly astute all-American apolitical alliteration! Aww crap, this election season has gotten to some of us. At least we can still have a laugh or 2.

Wingmaster

Very good. You just have to have fun and laugh once in awhile.

Lanivan

Oh what a delicious chuckle it all is! Tell whoppers and fibs - giggle! Be snookered and quiver with mirth! Support the running of this once great country into the ground by the diabolical right wing propaganda machine and jump for joy! Sit and bask in the sunlight enjoying your constitutional rights while Obama, Big Bird, a small indigent child, your elderly mother, the American flag, a factory worker, and your 3rd grade teacher hang in effigy from a nearby tree as you swallow the foul, polluted breeze with every guffaw! After all, you're all so very clever. That's the biggest joke. Hahahahahhaa.

Wingmaster

Wow, such venom. You are hopelessly bitter and need to step back once in awhile Laninvain. You actually worry me! Having fun with a few words in the middle of this discussion is not reasons for you to spit political venom. Chill for crying out loud! So much for the gentle lady!

Lanivan

Sorry Wing - you are a most clever fellow and I have lol over many of your witticisms, but today I'm not laughing. I love a good joke and obviously like to tease, but not today. This election is not a rendition of "Survivor" or "American Idol"....it's that serious.

Tri-cities realist

The true colors of Lanivan on display. " Support the running of this once great country into the ground by the diabolical right wing propaganda machine". If that is the case, Obama and the Dems had 2 years of one party control to correct all of these atrocities, and squandered their opportunity. I would think you should direct your anger at them for not fixing the problems, but instead they blame everyone else.... Pathetic.

Lanivan

Propaganda. Obama had his hands full those first 2 years pulling the car out of the ditch that the Repubs drove into, at a high rate of speed.

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