President Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney sparred over how to handle the crisis in the Middle East, America’s role in the world and future foreign policy in the final presidential debate just 15 days before the election.
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With the polls continuing to tighten, the two candidates sparred over foreign policy in an attempt to sway the estimated 20% of voters still undecided. Romney attacked the president for being too soft on the world stage and Obama called the governor’s positions on international issues inconsistent.
The debate, hosted by Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., had a less aggressive tone than last week’s debate and tended to stay on topic.
Terror in Libya
Not surprisingly, the debate opened up with reference to the turmoil in Libya, and while the candidates weren’t asked specifically about the Sept. 11 terrorist actions in Benghazi, they were asked about their general policies on how to handle situations in the Middle East in general.
Romney said he wanted the U.S. to come from a position of strength in helping Middle Eastern countries turn toward democracy from dictatorships. “The strategy is to go after the bad guys, but it’s broader than that,” he said. “The key is a pathway to getting the Muslim world to reject extremism on their own”
The president defended his administration’s actions in the Middle East saying he wouldn’t change course. He emphasized that the U.S. should avoid forcing its views on other nations and coming in as a superior power and instead work as an equal to create a more secure Middle East.
Is China Cheating?
China has become a centerpiece of Romney’s talking points on the campaign trail calling it a country that doesn’t “play by the rules” and accused it of being a currency manipulator by holding down currency rates and giving an advantage to Chinese exporters.
The governor argued the president had to opportunity to label China as a currency manipulator but instead chose to wait until after the election to make a determination. He promised that he would apply that label on day one of his administration.
“There’s a trade war going on right now that we don’t know about. It’s a silent on. We can’t just surrender and lose jobs year in and year out,” he said. “This can’t go on. I want a great relationship with China, but that doesn’t mean they can roll all over us and steal our jobs on an unfair basis.”
The president fired back that his administration’s pressure on Beijing is working, citing a 10% increase in the value of the Chinese Yuan over the last two years, trade complaints issued over Chinese auto parts, increased diplomatic and military ties with Beijing’s neighbors and focus on American military strategy in the Pacific.
“China is an adversary, and a partner if it’s following the rules,” he said.
Obama also threw a jab at Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital and accused him of outsourcing and sending more jobs overseas to China.
“The governor is familiar with China’s economy because he invests in companies that shipped jobs overseas,” he said. “If we take your advice, we’d be buying cars from China rather than selling cars overseas.”
Iran’s 2013 Threat
A nuclear-armed Iran has become a growing global concern, and both candidates vow to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, but differ on their strategies.
The president maintained on Monday night that his administration’s efforts have hampered Iran’s nuclear capabilities through various oil, trade, and financial sanctions – the toughest yet, he claimed.
“The sanctions offer Iran a choice: They can end the nuclear program or face a united world and a U.S. president, me, who says we’re not taking any options off the table.”
To that, Romney argued his administration would be even tougher on Iran and its likely nuclear power. He said it’s essential to understand the mission in Iran, which is to dissuade them from developing nuclear weapons through peaceful and diplomatic means. He proposed imposing even more crippling sanctions because “they do work,” tightening existing sanctions, enacting diplomatic isolation efforts including indicting Ahmadinejad, and increasing pressure on Iran.
“There’s no question nuclear-capable Iran is unacceptable to America and presents a threat to us and our friends,” he said. “Military action is a last resort and we will only consider it if all other avenues have been tried to the full extent,” Romney said.
Romney slammed Obama’s administration and policies regarding Iran and its nuclear weapons development, citing a so-called apology tour, silence from the president on dissidents in Tehran, and distancing the U.S. from Israel.
“Iran looked at this administration and saw weakness where they expected to find American strength,” he said. “It’s essential for the president to show strength from the beginning and a nuclear Iran is not acceptable.”
Is Sequestered Military Spending Inevitable?
Despite a focus on foreign policy, the debate touched on the country’s deficit and potential major cuts to the nation’s defense budget if we go off the fiscal cliff.
The men had similar views on the war efforts and military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan and moderator Bob Schieffer asked the candidates where the funding would come from for each proposed military increase.
Romney pointed to his proposed 5% cut to discretionary spending saying the money for the military would come from dollars saved as a result of overturning the president’s health-care law, and handing various programs like Medicare to states to run as they see fit.
President Obama contended the United States can’t simply think about the military in terms of budgets, but rather in terms of budgets and capabilities because the threats have morphed and are no longer only about boots on the ground. He said the military must refocus and think about threats to cyber security and space. He contended that sequestration wouldn’t put a dent in his military budget or plans.
“Sequestration is not something I proposed, it’s something Congress did. And that will not happen,” he said.