By Miriam Raftery
October 23, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) --In the third and final presidential debate last night, President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney shared their views on foreign policy issues including uprisings in the Mideast, political hot spots such as Iran and Syrian, relations with Israel, trade with China, and more.
On some issues, the candidates showed agreement, while on others they drew distinctions in their policy approaches. Romney criticizsed some aspects of Obama’s record and praised others. Obama defended his record and faulted Romney for flip-flopping on numerous foreign policy issues.
Obama listed off his administration’s accomplishments and emphasized that his first job as commander in chief is to keep the American people safe. “We ended the war in Iraq, refocused our attention on those who actually killed us on 9/11, and as a consequences, Al Qaeda’s core leadership has been decimated,” the President said. He added that his administration has led a transition out of Afghanistan “in a responsible way.”
Romney called for a stronger military and voiced concern over proposed budget cuts and potentially more severe cuts if sequestration, which the President opposes, occurs should Congress fail to agree and trigger cuts to occur including in Defense. For the U.S. to promote “principles of peace requires us to be strong,’ said Romney, adding that includes a strong economy at home.
Obama countered by stating that America is stronger than when he came into office and that our alliances overseas have improved. He chided Romney for praising Bush-Cheney economic policies “that got us into this mess” as well as Romney’s refusal to ask the wealthy to pay “a little bit more” so the U.S. can invest in research and technology to be on the cutting edge.
Among the debate’s most memorable moments came when Romney criticized the president for not spending enough on military spending, noting that the Navy has fewer ships than it did in 1917, the World War I era.
Obama fired back, “"Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed.” He added, "We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go under water, nuclear submarines.”
Obama noted that military spending has in fact gone up each year since he’s been in office, but emphasized that with the wars ending you can’t balance the budget or reduce the deficit without reducing expenses.
Romney affirmed support to bring troops out of Afghanistan by 2014 and move Pakistan toward a more stable government. He noted that Pakistan harbors terrorists and the Taliban, adding, “a Pakistan that falls apart becomes a failed state”with 100 nuclear weapons which would be of “extraordinary danger to Afghanistan and to us.”
Obama noted that after ending the Iraq War he delivered surge of troops in Afghanistan and helped decimate the leadership of Al Qaeda, also building up Afghan forces for a peaceful transition in a “responsible fashion.”
The President emphasized a need to free resources up from the wars ending to “put Americans back to work, especially our veterans” including rebuilding infrastructure. He also stressed a need to be sure veterans get care they need for post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Both men voiced support for use of unmanned drones. “I believe we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world,” Romney said. Obama reiterated a need to maintain “vigilance when it comes to terrorist activities” and noted that our enemies “don’t have the same capacities to attack the U.S. homeland and our allies as they did four years ago.”
The President affirmed a pledge to fully investigate the fatal attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya, but noted that his administration did succeed in its effort to “liberate a country that had been under the yoke of dictatorship for 40 years” without putting U.S. troops on the ground, leading to the death of Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi, a “despot” who had supported terrorism and been responsible for killing many Americans, Obama noted. He noted that Romney had previously said he would not move heaven and earth to track down bin Ladin. The President emphasized a need for “strong, steady leadership” with respect to the Middle East.
Romney praised the president for killing Osama bin Ladin. But he faulted the President’s handling of the Arab spring uprisings which initially brought “a great deal of hope” for moderation, but resulted in the Muslim Brotherhood taking power in Egypt. Romney noted that 30,000 civilians have been killed in Syria by the military and echoed the President’s call for the ouster of Syrian leader Assad in a “region of tumult.”
But Romney added, “We can’t kill our way out of this mess. We’re going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the world of Islam and other parts of the world reject this radical violent extremism,” Romney stated. He called for more foreign aid to boost economic development in the Mideast, better education and gender equality as means of persuading people in those nations to reject terrorism.
The President similarly indicated that his administration is “protecting religious minorities and women because these countries can’t develop unless all the population, not just half of it, is developing.” He emphasized the importance of helping our allies and working to develop economies to bring stability to the Middle East. But he added that we can’t continue “nation building in these regions” and should instead focus on investing on nation-building here at home. The cost of a decade at war, started by a prior administration, has been neglecting “our own economy, our own energy sectors, our own education system,” he added.
On Iraq, Obama noted that Romney initially supported the invasion o f Iraq even though evidence later proved there were no weapons of mass destruction, opposed a timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan, and called ousting Qaddafi mission muddle. “Every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong,” he stated.
Both stressed a need to work with partners/allies in the region to address problems in the Mideast. Both support sanctions against Iran though Romney indicated he would have implemented them sooner and seeks to tighten them. He also wants to see Ahmadinejad indicted under the Genocide Convention.
Obama chided Romney for calling Russia the biggest geopolitical threat facing America. “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,” the President chided his opponent. In the debate, Romney called “Iran on the path to a nuclear weapon” the greatest risk to the U.S.
“Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world,” Romney said, noting that Syria provides a sea route for Iran to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon and threaten Israel. But he made clear, “I don’t want to have our military involved in Syria,” a point with which Obama agrees. Obama stressed that Iran is “a state sponsor of terrorism” and that for Iran to develop nuclear is “unacceptable” particularly since Iran has stated it wants to see “Israel wiped off the map.”
Both candidates voiced strong support for Israel. Obama called Israel “our greatest ally in the region” and made clear that “if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel.” Romney made clear that if Israel were attacked “We have their back, not just diplomatically…but militarily.”
One area where the two showed clear policy differences was over China’s rising power.
Obama insisted that to be a partner in the international community China must play by “the same rules as everybody else.” He noted his administration set up a trade task force to “go after cheaters when it came to international trade” and that “We have brought more cases against China for violating trade rules than…the previous administration,’ adding, “We’ve won just about every case that we’ve filed that has been decided.” One case halted China from flooding the Midwest with cheap tires, which he credits with saving jobs in the U.s. “Governor Romney criticized me for being too tough in that tire case” adding that Romney characterized the action as “protectionist.”
Romney countered that “it’s not government that makes business successful.” He said china wants a stable world and “they don’t’ want to see protectionism…We can be a partner with China. WE don’t have to be an adversary in any way, shape or form. We can work with them, we can collaborate with them, if they’re willing to be responsible.” Romney said on day one, “I will label them a currency manipulator, which allows us to apply tariffs where they’re taking jobs. They’re stealing our intellectual property, our patents, our designs, our technology, hacking into our computers, counterfeiting our goods.”
Rmney added, “China can be our partner—but that doesn’ t mean they can just roll all over us and steal our jobs on an unfair basis.”
Obama retorted, “Governor Romney’s right, you are familiar with jobs being shipped overseas because you invested in companies that were shipping jobs overseas,” adding that his administration has “made a bet on American workers. If we had taken your advice Governor Romney about our auto industry, we’d be buying cars for China instead of selling cars to China.”
The President insisted that Romney’s plan to add” $7 trillion in tax cuts and military spending “that our military is not asking for, before we even get to the debt that we currently have, is not going tom ake us more competitive.” He added that his administration has made real progress in bringing jobs back from overseas after reversing Bush administration trade policies that created the problems.
Romney countered that incomes in America have declined over the past four years for middle income families while 23 million remain unemployed and food stamp use has risen. He pledged to get people off the program by creating jobs.
In closing, Romney praised America for offering freedom, hope and opportunity” He concluded, “I’d like to be the next president of the United States to support and help this great nation and tom ake sure that we all together remain America as the hope of the earth.”
President Obama pledged to maintain “the strongest military in the world, keep faith with our troops and go after those who would do us harm.” But he concluded, “After a decade of war, I thnk we all recognize we’ve got to do some nation building here at home…I will fight for your families and I will work every single day to make sure that America continues to be the greatest nation on earth.”
Fact checks of the debate:
The final debate in two minutes (Washington Post video): http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/decision2012/the-final-presidential-debate-in-two-minutes/2012/10/22/9806e20c-1c90-11e2-ad90-ba5920e56eb3_video.html?hpid=z2