President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney faced
off in a final debate about world issues and Middle East hot spots
Monday, each seeking an advantage as they near the end of a long
campaign that polls show remains close.
The debate saw sharp
exchanges between the candidates, seated around a table with moderator
Bob Schieffer of CBS News, but it had a serious tone and lacked the
crackling tension of the first two meetings.
previous debates, the social network Twitter was far calmer. Many
armchair commentators called the event less than exciting.
Republican Romney, the debate two weeks before Election Day offered one
last chance to show voters that he could appear presidential and hold
his own while sharing a stage with the president over issues of foreign
policy, an area where Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has thin
For the Democratic president, the debate at Lynn
University in Boca Raton, Fla., was a final chance to try to erase
voters' memory of his self-acknowledged sleepy performance at the first
of three presidential debates - a showing followed by erosion of his
lead in some national and battleground-state polls. And it was a chance
to make his case that he has four years of experience as commander in
chief with a steady hand on issues of war and peace.
Obama criticized Romney for what he said were mixed messages that confuse friends and foes alike.
a few weeks ago you indicated we should still have troops in Iraq,"
Obama said, noting that he had ended U.S. combat there that began under
the Bush administration. "Here's one thing I've learned as commander in
chief: You've got to be clear to our allies and our adversaries."
responded to Obama's list of positions the Republican candidate has
taken on world issues by criticizing the president's approach.
me is not an agenda," Romney said. "Attacking me is not talking about
how we're going to deal with the challenges of the Middle East."
initial debate topic was Libya, giving Romney an opening to charge that
Obama had mishandled the instability that followed the Arab Spring,
when nations of that region rejected long-time dictators.
the Arab Spring came a great deal of hope that there would be a change
toward moderation," Romney said. "Instead we've seen in nation after
nation a number of disturbing events."
congratulations to Obama for the successful special-forces operation
that killed Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"But," Romney immediately added, "we can't kill our way out of this
"We must have a comprehensive strategy to reject this kind
of extremism" that has arisen in the aftermath, Romney said. "This is a
region in tumult."
On the uprisings and regime change in Egypt,
Romney said he did not differ with Obama's central strategy but found
room for criticism nonetheless. "I wish that we had had a better vision
of the future," Romney said.
Both men made a similar point, that
an effective foreign policy requires that the USA's economy is strong,
and used that to pivot to their domestic policies on taxes, education,
jobs and other issues.
Obama cited a series of policy statements
by Romney during the campaign that the president said were wrongheaded,
such as saying Russia was the nation's top geopolitical rival.
"The Cold War's been over for 20 years," Obama said. "It seems you want the foreign policy of the 1980s."
He said Romney was offering "wrong and reckless policies."
"Not a recipe for American strength," Obama said.
responded that he had a policy for a strong economy and repeated his
pledge to create 12 million new jobs. "I will get America working again
and see rising take-home pay," he asserted.
Schieffer asked Romney how he would pay for his promises to cut taxes and increase military spending.
said he would cut 5% of discretionary federal spending -- excluding the
military -- and get rid of the health care law signed by Obama.
said Romney's math on taxes doesn't add up, and that he proposes
spending an additional $2 trillion on the military that the Pentagon
hasn't requested. Obama said he has grown defense spending and that his
budgets would maintain the military, not reduce it.
the answers to his math are on his campaign website. Obama responded,
"We've looked at your website, and it still doesn't work."
said he would tighten sanctions on Iran and increase its diplomatic
isolation. He accused Iran's leader of genocide and faulted Obama's
policy as ineffectual. "I think they saw weakness where they expected to
find America's strength," Romney said of Iran's view.
Romney said the influence of the United States is "receding" in the world, in part because of economic weakness at home.
disputed Romney's assertion that the president had "apologized" to the
world. He added that Romney had financial investments in a Chinese state
oil company doing business with Iran.
"When it comes to tightening sanctions, we've put in the toughest, most crippling sanctions ever," Obama said.
He said Romney has changed positions since 2008 on issues such as holding one-on-one talks with Iran, which he once opposed.
a whole range of issues ... you've been all over the map," Obama said.
"I'm pleased that you now are endorsing our policy of applying
diplomatic pressure and eventually having bilateral negotiations. ...
But just a few years ago you said that's something you would never do."
said China is costing U.S. jobs and repeated his vow to be a tough
trade negotiator. When the moderator asked if that risked a trade war,
Romney said China has more to lose in a trade war, since it exports more
products to the United States than it imports.
"It's pretty clear who doesn't want a trade war," Romney said.
said his policy has been to "insist China plays by the same rule as
everybody else" on trade. He said his administration has brought more
World Trade Organization cases against China than his predecessor did.
said the key to dealing with China over the long term is to increase
education and scientific research in the United States to assure future
competitiveness, adding that Romney's proposals "would not allow us to
make those investments."
Romney attacked Obama for his
administration's loans to clean-energy battery and car makers such as
Tesla and Fisker, saying it was not the government's proper role.
said Romney was wrong to oppose the bailout of big U.S. automakers,
which Romney noted began under President George W. Bush.
"Governor Romney," he said, "you keep on trying to airbrush history."
By debate's end, they were arguing over familiar domestic issues covered in the first two debates.
said the nation was in a precarious economic situation when he took
office and declared, "What we can't do is go back to the same policies
that got us into such difficulty in the first place."
citing declining real incomes and other economic statistics, shot back:
"I certainly don't want to go back to the policies of the last four