Election Connection Commentary: Foreign policy dominates final debate
As time winds down towards the election, the presidential candidates took their final shots to sway undecided voters by touting their foreign policy at the third debate Monday.
The debate focused only on foreign policy, and was held to a much tighter schedule by moderator Bob Schieffer, host of CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
For the majority of the debate, the questions focused on the Middle East, and the candidates were first asked how America should capitalize on the Arab Spring, where a number of Middle Eastern countries overthrew or changed the regimes they were under.
Republican candidate Mitt Romney said although it is a crucial area of the world for America to be involved in, it should not be involved militarily.
“We can’t kill our way out of this mess,” he said. “We must have a comprehensive strategy to help reject this kind extremism.”
President Barack Obama quickly turned the conversation to the incident in Libya, where a United States ambassador was killed in a U.S. embassy attack Sept. 11. Obama said his administration handled the situation appropriately, and the U.S. should use Libya as a model for how to handle other Middle Eastern countries.
“We would go after those who killed Americans, and we would bring them to justice, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” Obama said. “[We] got rid of a despot who had killed Americans. And as a consequence, despite this tragedy, you had tens of thousands of Libyans after the events in Benghazi marching and saying, America’s our friend.”
Obama argued directly to Romney when asked who the greatest threat to American national security is.
“I’m glad that you recognize that Al Qaeda’s a threat because a few months ago when you were asked, what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia,” Obama said, speaking to Romney. “When it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s… You said that we should still have troops in Iraq to this day… You indicated we shouldn’t be passing nuclear treaties with Russia… You’ve said that first we should not have a timeline in Afghanistan then you said we should. Now you say maybe or it depends, which means not only were you wrong but you were also confusing and sending mixed messages both to our troops and our allies.”
Romney came back at Obama, saying that Obama took his statement out of context.
“It’s a geopolitical foe,” Romney said. “And I said in the same paragraph, I said and Iran is the greatest national security threat we face.”
The two candidates did agree that in Syria, where rebels are continuing to fight against President Bashar al-Assad, the U.S. should not send in military forces.
While Romney was more steadfast on his opinion that the U.S. will not send in any troops, Obama said he does not want the U.S. involved, but wants to see the situation play out some more before he makes a final decision. Romney took the same approach, but placed more emphasis on working with America’s allies who are close to Syria.
“We don’t want to get drawn into a military conflict,” he said. “We need to make sure as well that we coordinate this effort with our allies and particularly with Israel. But I believe we want to make sure that we have the relationships of friendship with the people that take his place.”
The best soundbite of the night came when Romney was asked about his plan to put more money into the Navy.
Romney said he wants to increase the number of ships that the Navy has in its fleet.
“Our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917,” he said. “Right now, we’re headed down to the low 200s [the number of ships in the Navy]… Our Air Force is older and smaller than any time since it was founded in 1947. This, in my view, is the highest responsibility of the president of the United States, which is to maintain the safety of the American people.”
Obama then rivaled Romney’s “binders full of women,” and “Big Bird” comment with his own that immediately stole the show.
“You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916,” Obama said. “Well Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”