Obama, Romney Spar on Mid East Policy in Final Presidential Debate

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Michael Reynolds / Reuters

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney listens with President Barack Obama to moderator Bob Schieffer before the start of the final presidential debate Boca Raton, Fla., on Oct. 22, 2012.

President Obama took aim at Mitt Romney‘s foreign policy Monday night, using the final presidential debate  to portray the Republican nominee as callow and unsteady on international affairs while emphasizing his own role in navigating the nation through turbulent foreign conflicts.

Romney and Obama spent the better part of 90 minutes Monday night tangling over the proper U.S. approach to the Middle East, sparring over Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Iran. But despite a series of testy exchanges, the debate, held in Boca Raton, Fla., clarified few substantive policy disagreements between the two candidates, and is unlikely to do much to alter the state of the race.

Locked in a nail-biter with two weeks to go before the nation heads to the polls, the two candidates took divergent approaches to their previous one-on-one showdowns. Obama was the aggressor, blistering Romney for propagating murky polices which he characterized as “all over the map” and telling the former Massachusetts governor: “Every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong.”

(MORE: Mark Halperin: Grading the Battle in Boca)

In one of the night’s few electric exchanges, the President shot back when Romney criticized him for failing to visit Israel during his term, noting that when he did visit the country as a candidate, “I didn’t take donors. I didn’t attend fundraisers. I went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself [of] the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.”

Romney, who has surged into a virtual tie with the president in recent weeks, charged the President with diminishing the U.S.’s international standing. “I don’t see our influence growing around the world. I see our influence receding, in part because of the failure of our president,” he said. He said Obama had “wasted” the past four years of brinkmanship with Iran by failing to coax the country into abandoning its nuclear program.

But for the most part, Romney sought to play it safe on subject matter outside his economic wheelhouse. On topic after topic, he staked out positions that were barely different than the President’s before pivoting to an inchoate critique of Obama’s overarching shortcomings.

(MORE: The Election’s Real Foreign Policy Issue: War with Iran)

The result was a desultory final debate, rife with debunked canards (Obama’s phantom “apology tour”), cable-friendly catch phrases (Iranian “red lines”) and patriotic boilerplate about America’s role in the world but light on concrete differences or illuminating exchanges. Barely a half-hour elapsed before both candidates pivoted back to the domestic issues that both sides believe loom paramount in voters’ minds. Romney even ate up several minutes of clock by rattling off his five-point plan to create jobs, a stalwart of his stump speech.

(PhotosPolitical Photos of the Week, Oct. 12-18)

It may have been just as well. “What you just heard Gov. Romney said is he doesn’t have different ideas,” Obama said after one early exchange about the prospect of imposing a no-fly zone in Syria. “And that’s because we’re doing exactly what we should be doing.” Later, he chided Romney for castigating policies he seemed to all but agree with. “It sounded like you thought that you’d do the same things we did, but you’d say them louder and somehow that would make a difference,” Obama snickered.

Content to fight the final debate to a draw, Romney was serene and unruffled as he sought to project a presidential bearing. “Attacking me is not an agenda,” he said. But the President has a record, and the Republican nominee didn’t do much to articulate how his own would differ.

MORE: Debate Finale: Romney Agrees With Obama, Says Give Peace a Chance

72 comments
CerebralSmartie
CerebralSmartie

"But the President has a record, and the Republican nominee didn’t do much to articulate how his own would differ."

During that debate, not only did the Republican nominee struggle to articulate  how his own foreign policy would differ from President Obman's policy, Mitt Romney reversed his previous positions on foreign policy. YES, Mit Romney reversed his previous foreign policy stances. Romney shifted courses and FOLLOWED Obama's stances. Where is  Romney's leadership? Ronald Reagan (the Republican "saint" also known for the Iran Contra scandal) might ask Romney: " Where's the beef? "

elicek@yahoo.com
elicek@yahoo.com

Obama tried very hard to get under Romney's skin, to garner a reaction, to make him angry.  Didn't work.  

Great overall point made by Romney;  a debtor nation is a weak nation.  

Both kept interjecting domestic policy, jobs and the economy into the conversation because that IS what people want to know about.

What we learned about Romney in this debate is he is not a grandstander.  He knows when to listen and when to talk.  He made very good points about Iran, and the world view of the U.S.  

Bottom line- I want Romney sitting at the negotiation table with other world leaders. 

And Obam's statement (which was caught on an unattended microphone) to Russia's Putin  (paraphrasing) "I'll have much more flexibility after the election."  Glad Romney brought up that tidbit.  

Romney exuded confidence but he didn't need to shout.  Not this time.  Not this debate.  He was poised, presidential, and showed us what a Commander in Chief looks like.  And I doubt this debate changed many minds. 

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Mitt appeared as a clueless amateur attempting to explain what he would do differently while agreeing with everything and sprinkling in the occasional lie.

MrObvious
MrObvious

The new Mitt is out, programmed to care.

KevinGroenhagen
KevinGroenhagen

It's odd that Romney appeared to the president tonight and Obama the challenger running from behind. Obama seemed petty and angry tonight. That's going to hurt him with the independents.

ahandout
ahandout

Obama knew about the Benghazi attack 90 minutes after it began.  That means that our people were asking for help and under attack at that time.  The attack went on for 4 hours.  The despicable clown in the White House went to bed.  

We know that our people were asking for help.  Obama went to bed, and he lied again tonight. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=dMW0pr296C8

ahandout
ahandout

The real Obama "when we received that phone call (about the Benghazi attack) I turned out the light and went to bed."

kankan
kankan

Romney has no content except saying he is going whatever is going on only better. But whatever approach he is proposing and continuously on the run to change whatever he said is foolish and impossible. Worse it shall be greater mistake than Bush Chiney combination - he appears to be business man - plain and simple liar out their to make a profit for himself and nothing else matters. However that he has come so far says lot about America that pushes such people to even victory. I shall not be surprised if he wins the election despite the fact he shall be ruinous for this country. But such is the reality.

ahandout
ahandout

Obama needs to learn how the military works.  Still lots of bayonets, and they still teach hand to hand combat.  He might ask those Navy seals that killed Bin Laden about all that training.

You can wipe the egg off your face after November.

fitty_three
fitty_three

We have our ballots.  They are going to Obama!

Eat that, right wingers.

FYI, I guess Romney had a bad attack of Romnesia tonight.  It's all about them ship thingies...

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@elicek@yahoo.com  The problem is that none of the world's leaders want Romney sitting at that table. More importantly for us is a debtor nation is a weak nation, that Romney wants to make us even weaker by adding 730 Billion of new tax cuts and defense spending each year without explaining where the fiscal offsets will come from.

charlieromeobravo
charlieromeobravo

@elicek@yahoo.com "Bottom line- I want Romney sitting at the negotiation table with other world leaders."

But what would he say to them without Obama at the table to give him his queues?  Romney "wasn't a grandstander" last night because he didn't diverge from the President in any significant way.  Not to mention the last time he tried to grandstand he got smacked by Candy Crowley and the facts.

"Romney exuded confidence but he didn't need to shout."

You and I watched a different debate.  I watched a debate where Romney became increasingly sweaty and succinct as he accumulated little gaffes (like not being aware that Syria and Iran don't share a border, like not really understanding that a steam powered US Naval from 1917 might be less capable than a modern nuclear submarine) and demonstrated how little he had to say about foreign policy that differed from the President.

charlieromeobravo
charlieromeobravo

@mantisdragon91 I can't decide if my favorite line of the night was "We have fewer horses and bayonets too" or "Syria is Iran's path to the sea".  Evidently, in all that prep for the foreign policy debate someone forgot to show Mitt a map...

charlieromeobravo
charlieromeobravo

@KevinGroenhagen It's odd that you feel that the guy who sat there agreeing with the president seemed more presidential to you.  If Obama's policies sound that much better to you coming out of a different mouth then you might want to reexamine why you dislike Obama.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Mitt appeared weak and clueless with nothing of substance to bring to the discussion other than an occasional lie.

outsider
outsider

@KevinGroenhagen I'm curious: short of saying, "governor Romney, I cede the election to you", could Obama have said anything that would have impressed you?

Demogogue.

Curious_Quiche
Curious_Quiche

@KevinGroenhagen Come on in, get some of this Bizarro World narrative that's been going around. Gotta get all our boys on the same page, no? Doin it like Journey. DOOOON'T STOP! BELIIEEEEEEVIN'!

fitty_three
fitty_three

I thought Obama looked great.  Took Romney out behind the woodshed.

And I suppose that if this were 1917, Romney would have made his point...

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

Keep running with that talking point. Bring attention to the treason committed by Issa.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@ahandout 

I find it curious that if Benghazi was so important then why didn't Romney spend so much time attacking Obama over it?

Because it's nothing.

Evantime
Evantime

@ahandout Cite your source, please. I honestly believe you are making this up. I'm so tired of all the falsehoods being thrown around. It's hard to distinguish truth from the lies people tell. So . . . put up, with an exact citation that can be verified. You made a quote--if it's real obviously you have a source.

dancollins10
dancollins10

@ahandout He didn't mention hand to hand combat? And you seem to clearly miss what he was getting at - That Romney is using numbers of ships rather than the capability of those ships in his point. I would take 1 Aircraft carrier over 10 1917 Ironclads

bobell
bobell

@carotexas (inserted manually) Yeah, and the idiots in the media are making a big deal about how some of our troops in Afghanistan used horses, as if Obama had said we NEVER use them today.  His point was that we've greatly altered the mix of weapons and other military devices we now depend on.  Aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines were unheard of in 1917.  One nuclear submarine, if it could make room for the munitions, could probably sink the entireU.S.  Navy of 1917 on the open seas.  Things change.

I wonder if this will post.

charlieromeobravo
charlieromeobravo

@carotexas That was an amusing line that, I thought, shed a lot of light on the simple-mindedness of the GOP criticisms of Obama on defense.  They can't say he's cutting defense spending so they start trying to use a ridiculous metric that doesn't mean anything when you give it minimal scrutiny.  Fewest ships since 1917?  Geez, we were still using steam powered ships in those days.  Are we really supposed to compare a partially steam powered navy to a partially nuclear powered navy and think that's an apples to apples argument?

charlieromeobravo
charlieromeobravo

@outsider2011 I doubt that would be sufficient for some of the real wing-nutters.  Ceding the election then returning to Chicago to perform harakiri might.

KevinGroenhagen
KevinGroenhagen

@53_3 Of course, ignoramuses such as you and Obama are unaware of that fact that our troops receive bayonet training in 2012. Obama looked every bit the petulant jerk he is, and it's going to hurt him. PPP, a Democrat polling firm, found that independents were more likely to vote for Romney and less like to vote for Obama after the debate. 

AlistairCookie
AlistairCookie

@MrObvious @ahandout 

And because the parents of the ambassador have repeatedly requested that his death not be politicized.  For once, it would seem Romney listened and did the correct thing by not talking about it.  Too bad the rest of The Right can't get the message.

outsider
outsider

@MrObvious @ahandout because it was a CIA operation, and the GOP outed assets playing politics.

Again. Romney did the right thing by not harping.

Note to Groeny: compliment to the other side; because that is how things should be. Credit where its due. Not sycophantically adhering to one side.

KevinGroenhagen
KevinGroenhagen

@dancollins10 @ahandout The fact is that the Navy has requested to have 313 ships. Obama refuses to provide them with that many. That is why Romney used the number of ships.

Sue_N
Sue_N

@deconstructiva @carotexas A tweet from John Kerry last night: "I think POTUS just sank Romney's battleship."

(Seriously, where the hell was the Kerry we've seen lately in 2004?)

KevinGroenhagen
KevinGroenhagen

@charlieromeobravo @carotexas Obama displayed his ignorance concerning how the military works on that one. At the same time Obama was smoking pot and snorting cocaine, I was in the Marines. We received bayonet training then, and Marines continue to receive bayonet training in 2012.

KevinGroenhagen
KevinGroenhagen

@dancollins10 @KevinGroenhagen The PPP poll is not of the entire country, and it's a Democrat polling firm. And, incredibly, PPP found that independents were more likely to vote for Romney and less likely to vote for Obama after this debate. That seems to confirm my contention that Obama's pettiness and anger will hurt him amongst independents.

dancollins10
dancollins10

@KevinGroenhagen @dancollins10 

Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) questioned 500 swing voters in 11 states. It found Obama won the debate by a margin of 53% to 42%, with 5% undecided.

A snap poll by CNN has US President Barack Obama winning the third presidential campaign debate, which focused on foreign policy, 48% to 40%. CNN did not give a sample size.Read more: http://swampland.time.com/2012/10/22/candidates-battle-over-foreign-policy-in-final-presidential-debate/#ixzz2A625LCWa

outsider
outsider

@KevinGroenhagen @Evantime @53_3 1) if more people were likely to vote for Romney, there would NOT be a tie at the moment.

2) Just because troops train on beyonets does not mean they are a primary weapon. That in fact was a straw man argument crafted to be able to attack Obama, with absolutely no substance to it.

3) You cannot argue effectively, and constantly resort to name calling as mentioned above.

Your arguments refuted, and I didn't have to call you names.

bobell
bobell

In my Navy days I taught at the Sonar School in Key West (long since closed; there's another, still operating, in San Diego).  We started the tactical part of the course with simulated attacks on submarines using depth charges.  At the very same time, the Navy was removing the last depth charges from those few ships that still had them.  I later learned that the school had gone on teaching depth charge attacks for several years even after there were no more depth charges in the fleet.  It wasn't out of nostalgia.  Depth charge attacks were the most hands-on of any sort you could make on a submarine. They sharpened the students' awareness of how to find and sink submarines.

The U.S.military doesn't engage in much hand-to-hand combat these days. Instruction in the use of bayonets is nevertheless of some use; in particular, it teaches aggressiveness and overcomes the natural human reluctance to engage in mortal combat.  But anyone who thinks bayonets play a major role in modern warfare probably thinks that it would be wonderful to build siege engines for the storming of castles.

This is not your father's military.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@KevinGroenhagen 

Kevin,

The bayonet might still be in our arsenal, but it's rarely used - no one does bayonet charges anymore. Last time it was used was in Vietnam and even that in limited use.

And if we use horses it's only to get through terrain where we can't use vehicles - it's not for attacking someone. You know as well as I what Obama meant. Arguing different and then calling someone names over it only shows your ignorance.

Curious_Quiche
Curious_Quiche

@KevinGroenhagen @Curious_Quiche @53_3 Like I said, they didn't stop using them. He said we had fewer. Which we do. Yeah, they used horses, but they also had, you know, air support. Which was probably more important. Also, why do you say things you know will hurt me?

KevinGroenhagen
KevinGroenhagen

@Curious_Quiche @KevinGroenhagen @53_3 Moron, the bayonets are attached to rifles today just as they were in the past. And, you wouldn't know this since I can't imagine anyone with "quiche" in his name having a military background, but our special forces troops used horses in Afghanistan. We have more advanced weapons today, but that does not mean we stop using low-tech tools.

Curious_Quiche
Curious_Quiche

@KevinGroenhagen @53_3 He never said they didn't use bayonets. He just said that we don't really need the horses and pointy objects because of, you know, rifles and artillery. Radar. That weird grenade launcher with the scope thing on it. Jets. Helicopters with two rotors on top. That stuff. Making the bayonet the central figure in this man's military would not be a winning strategy.

Evantime
Evantime

@KevinGroenhagen @53_3 Wow. Childish name calling is so offensive and inappropriate. Suddenly I don't care what your opinions are or what your position is--I just want to be on the OTHER side to distance myself from such behavior.

bobell
bobell

There's an oifficial study going on right now about the desirable size of the fleet.  The official number at the moment is 310-316 (which admittedly averages out to 313), but that may change.

With the average new ship costing well in excess of a billion dollars, there are major budgetary concerns about building back up to 313.  It seems to be the deficit hawks who are most eager to spend, spend, spend on more and more Navy ships.  Both goals are desirable, but there's a wee bit of difficulty in accommodating both at once.

Here's an excellent and very recent research paper, prepared by the Congressional Research Service, on this very topic:

http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/weapons/RL32665.pdf