Middle East at heart of foreign policy debate
President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney found common ground but more often than not disagreed sharply on foreign policy in the third and final presidential debate Monday night.
Obama came out swinging toward the beginning of the debate, accusing Romney of “reckless leadership.”
“Your strategy previously has been one that has been all over the map and is not designed to keep Americans safe or to build on the opportunities that exist in the Middle East,” Obama told Romney.
Romney said his strategy in the Middle East is simple and would lead to more peace overseas.
“My strategy is pretty straightforward, which is to go after the bad guys,” Romney said. “But the key that we’re going to have to pursue is a pathway to get the Muslim world to be able to reject extremism on its own.”
On Syria, both candidates cautiously rejected the notion that the United States should become involved militarily to prevent what is essentially a civil war from spreading further.
“What I’m afraid of is we’ve watched over the past year or so, first the president saying, ‘well we’ll let the U.N. deal with it,’” Romney said. “We should be playing the leadership role there, (but) not on the ground with military.”
Obama highlighted key differences between a similar conflict tearing Libya apart last year and the current Syrian conflict, saying American intervention in Libya was possible due to more favorable circumstances for our military. He then took issue with Romney’s criticisms of his handling of Libya.
“(We made) certain that we knew who we were dealing with, that those forces of moderation on the ground were ones that we could work with, and we have to take the same kind of steady, thoughtful leadership when it comes to Syria,” Obama said.
On the defense budget, Obama mocked Romney for suggesting a smaller Navy means the president doesn’t prioritize national defense.
“You mention the Navy, for example, and the fact that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets,” Obama said. “We have these things called aircraft carriers, and planes land on them. We have ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. It’s not a game of Battleship where we’re counting ships, it’s ‘What are our priorities?’”
Romney responded to Obama’s criticism that adding to the defense budget while cutting taxes across the board would add to the deficit.
“I’m pleased that I’ve balanced budgets. I was in the world of business for 25 years. If you didn’t balance your budget, you went out of business. I went into the Olympics that was out of balance, and we got it on balance, and made a success there. The president hasn’t balanced a budget yet,” Romney said.
Iran’s nuclear program was called a threat to U.S. security by both candidates, and neither took military involvement off the table. Obama called his administration’s sanctions on Iran successful in getting them to begin to think twice about their nuclear capabilities.
“We … organized the strongest coalition and the strongest sanctions against Iran in history, and it is crippling their economy,” Obama said. “We cannot afford to have a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world.”
Romney called for even tighter economic sanctions, proposing to halt all Iranian oil imports.
“We need to increase pressure time and time again, because anything other than a solution to this, which stops this nuclear folly of theirs, is unacceptable to America,” Romney said.
On Afghanistan, both candidates promised to meet the scheduled 2014 withdrawal from the country while continuing to focus on destroying al Qaeda and the Taliban.
On China, Romney repeated his promise to label China a currency manipulator at the beginning of his presidency, rejecting concerns that the moderator brought up that that might cause a trade war with the country. Obama touted his administration’s crackdowns on unfair trade practices as examples of success in pressuring China to work on a level playing field with the United States.
Domestic policy found its way into the foreign policy debate at times. Notably, both candidates spent much of their time talking about the bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler in 2009. Romney said claims that he would not assist Detroit were untrue, and Obama did what he proposed all along a managed bankruptcy with federal aid to help them along.
“I’m a son of Detroit,” Romney said. “I was born in Detroit. My dad was head of a car company. I like American cars. And I would do nothing to hurt the U.S. auto industry.”
Obama called Romney’s claim false.
“Governor, the people of Detroit don’t forget,” Obama said. “Anybody out there can check the record. You keep trying to airbrush history here.”
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