The final debate on foreign policy between President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, while highly anticipated as a debate over what happened in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Libya this year, turned into a much broader debate over the fundamentals of foreign policy.
While the Libya question was asked right off the bat, neither candidate wanted to dive into the nitty gritty of parsing through the who said what when of what has become a foreign policy fiasco for President Obama. The discussion became much broader than that. And for his part, Romney received the accolades of many for staying above the fray, focusing on the underlying differences between their foreign policy views.
The stark differences in this debate were once again clear. For example, President Obama touted his role in killing Osama bin Laden at least six times during the debate. Romney, on the other hand, congratulated President Obama on taking out bin Laden and the leadership of al-Qaeda, but poignantly stated that “we can’t kill our way out of this mess,” expressing the need for a more “comprehensive and robust strategy” to fight the spread of extremism in the world.
Numerous times throughout the debate Romney made a point to agree with various decisions of the president but also made clear where he differed with the president and why.
A major point of contention in the debate was our level of support for Israel against a nuclear Iran. Here, the difference in just a couple of words provides a telling look at the difference between how these two men view this critical issue. President Obama twice stated, “if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel.” Romney made clear our support for Israel period, not just if they are attacked, stating, “[W]hen I’m president of the United States, we will stand with Israel.” He also reiterated four times, “We’re four years closer to a nuclear Iran.” Romney further noted how President Obama has gone out of his way to avoid Israel on his “apology tour” of the Middle East:
Mr. President, the reason I call it an apology tour is because you went to the Middle East and you flew to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to Turkey and Iraq. And by the way, you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region, but you went to the other nations.
And by the way, they noticed that you skipped Israel. And then in those nations, and on Arabic TV, you said that America had been dismissive and derisive. You said that on occasion America had dictated to other nations.
Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators.
While Romney laid out their policy differences, President Obama took the opposite approach. He went after Romney on every occasion possible. He claimed Romney believed that the biggest threat facing America was “Russia, not al-Qaeda,” when in fact Romney had made clear that he considered Russia the biggest “geopolitical opponent,” continuing that “the greatest threat that the world faces is a nuclear Iran.”
Of course, President Obama didn’t stop there; he began a theme of what can only be described as insulting Romney’s intelligence and in turn the intelligence of the American voter. He quipped, “the 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”
As an aside, some wondered after the last debate where Obama pushed funding for Planned Parenthood, whether he would find a way to steer this debate to social policies – prominent political prognosticator Stu Rothenberg even tweeting during the debate that the Obama team was “hoping that the next question involves abortion in the military” – but Obama did find a way to get in another jab on social issues. He quipped, “But governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.”
When Romney pointed out that our Navy and Air Force are the smallest those branches of military have been since 1917 and 1947 respectively, Obama gave his sharpest and most derogatory diatribe of the debate. He snarked, “[W]e also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships.”
As it turns out, President Obama was flat out wrong on both counts; bayonets are standard issue for Marines and our troops first entered Afghanistan in 2001 on horseback. The back and forth over Obama’s snide comments about the size of our Navy and Air Force could all but seal his defeat in Virginia, with its large military population and economic reliance on Navy and Air Force bases.
The American people agreed. In CNN’s flash poll, 60 percent of those surveyed said Romney could handle the job of president.
As a whole, Romney clearly won the debates. A comparison of the polls a month ago and today shows Romney gaining drastically and even overtaking Obama. And the trend in Romney’s direction didn’t change after this debate. The CNN poll of debate watchers again showed more undecided voters leaning toward Romney after the debate than those who decided to vote for Obama.
The only poll that really matters is now just two weeks away. The American people have now seen these two men, unfiltered by media or attack ads, put forward their vision for America. As Romney continues to set forth the clear contrasts between them, as he has done in each of these debates, we believe the American people will continue to see Romney as a credible alternative to four more years of the same failed policies from President Obama.