President Obama and and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney sparred over the best U.S. approach to the Middle East as they discussed how they would handle foreign policy in their third and final debate.
In the first half of the final presidential debate, the president and former Massachusetts governor both appeared to mention Israel seemingly in every answer as they emphasized a desire to protect the nation or our “biggest ally in the region,” as Obama said. In response to a question about Iraq, the president said:
“You’ve got to be clear, both to our allies and our enemies, about where you stand and what you mean. You just gave a speech a few weeks ago in which you said we should still have troops in Iraq. That is not a recipe for making sure that we are taking advantage of the opportunities and meeting the challenges of the Middle East. Now, it is absolutely true that we cannot just meet these challenges militarily. And so what I’ve done throughout my presidency and will continue to do is, number one, make sure that these countries are supporting our counterterrorism efforts.
“Number two, make sure that they are standing by our interests in Israel’s security, because it is a true friend and our greatest ally in the region.”
CBS News chief Washington correspondent and “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer asked the president if he regrets the U.S. response to uprising against former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak:
No, I don’t, because I think that America has to stand with democracy. The notion that we would have tanks run over those young people who were in Tahrir Square, that is not the kind of American leadership that John F. Kennedy talked about 50 years ago.
But what I’ve also said is that now that you have a democratically elected government in Egypt, that they have to make sure that they take responsibility for protecting religious minorities. And we have put significant pressure on them to make sure they’re doing that; to recognize the rights of women, which is critical throughout the region. These countries can’t develop if young women are not given the kind of education that they need.
They have to abide by their treaty with Israel. That is a red line for us, because not only is Israel’s security at stake, but our security is at stake if that unravels.
They have to make sure that they’re cooperating with us when it comes to counterterrorism.
In defining our role in a potential conflict between Israel and Iran and would either candidate be willing to declare that an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States, Obama said America would stand with Israel.
“I will stand with Israel if they are attacked. And this is the reason why, working with Israel, we have created the strongest military and intelligence cooperation between our two countries in history
Iran has endured strong sanctions that are crippling its economy, Obama said.
“Their currency has dropped 80 percent. Their oil production has plunged to the lowest level since they were fighting a war with Iraq 20 years ago. So their economy is in a shambles.
And the reason we did this is because a nuclear Iran is a threat to our national security, and it is a threat to Israel’s national security. We cannot afford to have a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world
Romney said America has Israel’s back “not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily. That’s number one.
Number two, with regards to Iran and the threat of Iran, there’s no question but that a nuclear Iran, a nuclear-capable Iran is unacceptable to America. It presents a threat not only to our friends but ultimately a threat to us to have Iran have nuclear material, nuclear weapons that could be used against us or used to be threatening to us.
When describing America’s role in the world, Romney said the national has a responsibility to help defend freedom, promote human rights and freedom of expression and end “those conflicts to the extent humanly possible. But in order to be able to fulfill our role in the world, America must be strong.”
He also not that America has to strengthen the military.
In response to what role is America nd our military, we’ve got to strengthen our military long-term.
We don’t know what the world is going to throw at us down the road. We -- we make decisions today in the military that -- that will confront challenges we can’t imagine. In the 2000 debates, there was no mention of terrorism, for instance. And a year later, 9/11 happened. So, we have to make decisions based upon uncertainty, and that means a strong military. I will not cut our military budget. We have to also stand by our allies. I -- I think the tension that existed between Israel and the United States was very unfortunate.