Romney accuses president of ‘weakness’ abroad, as Obama calls rival ‘all over the map’


President Obama came armed with an arsenal of biting one-liners at the final  presidential debate Monday night, trying to paint Mitt Romney as “all over the  map” on foreign affairs, but he encountered a Republican rival who returned fire  in moderation — at times chiding the president for “weakness” on the world  stage but also finding common ground with the man he’s been running against for  nearly two years.

The debate in Boca Raton, Fla., the last before a feverish two-week blitz of  campaigning, was a departure from the candidates’ previous bout. A week ago, the  two paced around each other in an interruption-filled bickering match. On Monday  night, the rivals were seated next to one another, making for a less  confrontational setting – though the candidates’ differences were still on full  display.

To hear Romney tell it, the president has presided over a steady decline in  American influence that has emboldened enemies like Iran. “In nowhere in the  world is America’s influence greater today than it was four years ago,” Romney  said.

To hear Obama, the Republican nominee is “all over the map” on world affairs.  Obama accused Romney of pushing a foreign policy that’s either flat-out “wrong” or some version of what the president himself has already done, only “louder.”

But Romney, while lambasting the president for his so-called “apology tour” and his allegedly frosty relationship with Israel, used a lighter touch at  Monday’s debate than in the past. The face-off frequently dipped into the  economy and the budget but the foreign policy side of things – which was  supposed to be the focus – barely touched on the most heated topic, the Libya  terror attacks.

Romney, who after months of trailing Obama is suddenly up in a string of  national and battleground polls, appeared at times to scold Obama for getting  too aggressive. After Obama pointedly told him, “every time you’ve offered an  opinion, you’ve been wrong,” Romney responded: “Attacking me is not an  agenda.”

Romney offered a few areas of agreement with the president, including on  ruling out military action in Syria, continuing to support sanctions against  Iran and supporting the withdrawal timetable in Afghanistan. In doing so, the  Republican nominee rejected Obama’s suggestion that he would be eager to lurch  into war with countries like Iran. He also brushed off Obama’s claims that  Romney would return to the foreign policies of the prior administration.

Romney’s chief criticism of the president Monday night was that he has not  provided a clear example of American leadership for the world, whether it be in  Syria or Iran or Russia.

But Obama, in turn, sought to portray Romney as someone who would be unsteady  on the world stage, with a risky mix of poor judgment and antiquated views. The  president employed sharp, at times sarcastic, language to cast Romney as out of  his depth.

After a tense exchange on Al Qaeda, the president said: “I’m glad that you  recognize that Al Qaeda is a threat, because a few months ago when you were  asked what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia,  not Al Qaeda.”

Obama then worked in his punchline: “The 1980s are now calling to ask for  their foreign policy back.”

Later on, the president mocked Romney for complaining about the Navy having  fewer ships than it did a century ago.

“Well governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of  our military’s changed,” Obama said. “We have these things called aircraft  carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go under water,  nuclear submarines, and so the question is not a game of Battleship where  we’re counting ships, it’s what are our capabilities.”

Romney was most aggressive at the start of the debate, claiming the  president’s counterterror strategy has not quelled the Al Qaeda threat. It  was the first and last reference to the Sept. 11 terror attack in Benghazi,  Libya, something that has driven the debate on the campaign trail and on Capitol  Hill for a month.

“It’s certainly not on the run. It’s certainly not hiding,” Romney said of Al  Qaeda. “This is a group that is now involved in 10 or 12 countries.”

Romney commended Obama for ordering the raid that killed Usama bin Laden and  other strikes on Al Qaeda leaders, but said “we can’t kill our way out of this  mess.” He said Al Qaeda remains an “enormous threat,” despite Obama’s claims  that the terror group is on the path to defeat.

Obama, though, countered that “Al Qaeda’s core leadership has been  decimated.”

On the issue of Iran, the two candidates were equally insistent that, under  their watch, the regime would not obtain a nuclear weapon – and that, if Israel  were attacked, the U.S. would stand by its side. Romney, though, said Obama has “wasted” four years while Iran has marched ever closer to nuclear weapon  capability. Obama said he knows the “clock is ticking” and defended efforts to  unite the international community against Iran.

The 90-minute debate at Lynn University was moderated by CBS News’ Bob  Schieffer and offered perhaps the last chance for either candidate to shake up  the race in any significant way, with two weeks to go until Election Day.

The presidential debates this month have been among the most consequential in  modern campaign history. Romney entered the debates as the slight underdog in  most polls, but since his opening performance has surged to even or better with  the president.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on Sunday showed the president and  Romney tied at 47 percent nationally. In the vital swing state of Ohio, a  Suffolk University survey released Monday also showed the two tied at 47  percent. Other recent polls have given Obama a slight edge.

Read more:

Leave a Reply