The final, and possibly the most critical debate between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney centered on the U.S.’s position in the world, particularly in how it deals with the Middle East and China. It was likely the last time the two candidates will be able to significantly sway voters in a meaningful way ahead of the election in two weeks.
The two candidates first quarreled over whether or not Obama properly exercised leadership during his four years in office, mainly focusing on the Middle East and Islamic world.
“I don’t see our influence growing around the world; I see our influence receding,” Romney said.
Obama argued, however, that American foreign relations and global alliances have improved under his administration.
“After a decade of war, it’s time to do some nation building here at home,” Obama said.
He accused Romney of not having a clear strategy.
“You’ve been all over the map,” Obama said, stressing that his administration “moved heaven and earth” to take out al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden in May 2011. “That sends a message to the world,” the president said.
Romney said that due to the unpredictability of the world’s events, “we’ve got to strengthen our military long term” and said that he would not cut military spending—the major difference he has with the president.
Since the United States has spent less and has shrunk its military, it puts the country at risk of losing its role as the world’s superpower.
The former Massachusetts governor stressed that he could achieve a stronger military by eliminating unnecessary programs and would cut the Affordable Health Care Act among other things.
However, Obama said that the United States is simply spending too much on the military and the country just cannot afford it.
Arguing for a reduced military budget, Obama said his plan is “driven by strategy; it’s not driven by politics … but it allows us to keep us safe,” the president said.
Relationship in the Middle East
As widely expected, Romney again went after the president over the killing of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens by militants in the American Consulate in Benghazi last month, which the former Massachusetts governor has termed a failure on the part of the Obama administration. The United States needs to promote policies to “stem the tide of violence in the Middle East,” Romney said.
Elaborating further, Romney said the Middle East has been overrun by extremists in the wake of the Arab Spring protests, pointing out that al-Qaeda-linked militants have taken over two-thirds of Mali, imposing their own harsh brand of Shariah and has drawn condemnation from human rights groups. As another example, Romney said that Egypt has been taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood, and Iran is “four years closer” to getting a nuclear bomb under Obama’s administration.
“We can’t kill our way out of this mess” and Americans must “reject this radical violent extremism,” Romney said, referring to the U.S. killing of terror leader of Osama bin Laden, which Obama touted early on.
“My strategy is broader than that,” said Romney, adding that his foreign policy would promote countries to rid themselves of extremism on their own “and also help the Muslim world.”
Obama said under his watch, the United States has made tangible gains in the Middle East and North Africa.
“We ended the war in Iraq, refocused our attention on those who actually killed [American citizens] on 9/11,” and essentially took out the core leadership of al-Qaeda.
Obama counterattacked, saying that Romney’s positions on foreign policy are “all over the map,” and criticized him for saying that the biggest U.S. enemy is Russia.
“The 1980s are calling asking for their foreign policy back,” Obama said. “Every time you’ve been asked to render a foreign policy view, you’ve been wrong.”
Next, Obama said that the situation in Syria is extraordinarily serious yet complex, calling President Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on dissent and the ensuing civil war “heartbreaking,” but stressed that the United States should not arm possible enemies. Obama criticized Romney for saying that Americans should arm the Syrian rebels.
“I am confident that Assad’s days are numbered,” Obama said. He added, “Ultimately, Syrians are going to have to determine their own future,” suggesting that no American soldiers should enter the country.
Romney agreed that weapons should not fall into the wrong hands, but said that regional security in the Middle East—particularly in regard to American allies Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and Israel—is paramount.
These countries, Romney said, “are all concerned about this” situation in Syria, where it has been speculated that the violence has already triggered clashes in neighboring Lebanon and Syrian bombs have fallen in southern Turkey, killing a family.
But both men later focused their attention on China, the U.S.’s largest trading partner.
“China is both an adversary and a potential partner in the international community if it follows the rules,” said Obama, adding that it should operate on a “level playing field” to help Americans. The president touted his task force that went after China on several trade issues in the World Trade Organization.
But “year-in and year-out,” companies have shipped jobs overseas to China, Romney said. “That’s why on day one I’ll label them a currency manipulator,” Romney said, accusing the Chinese regime of sponsoring cyber-attacks, the stealing of American-produced intellectual property, and counterfeit goods.
“I want a great relationship with China… but that doesn’t mean they should roll all over us,” he said.
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