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Home > International
 
Romney, Obama clash in foreign policy debate

(AP) / 23 October 2012

President Barack Obama accused Republican candidate Mitt Romney of being consistently wrong on foreign affairs as the two presidential rivals squared off in their third and final debate Monday with the race in a dead heat two weeks before Election Day.

Obama criticised Romney’s support for beginning the war in Iraq, for opposing his plans to withdraw troops from Iraq, for inconsistent stances on Afghanistan and for opposing nuclear treaties with Russia. ‘Every time you’ve offered an opinion you’ve been wrong,’ Obama said.

Romney accused Obama of showing weakness in the Middle East, sending the wrong signal to Iranian leaders by going on an ‘apology tour’ early in his presidency, while not visiting Israel. ‘We’re four years closer to a nuclear Iran,’ he said.

The event at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, produced none of the finger-pointing and little of the interrupting that marked their debate last week, when Obama needed a comeback after a listless performance in their first meeting on Oct. 3.

But there was no mistaking the urgency with polls showing the race effectively tied. The two men frequently sniped at one another even on issues where they agree

Despite the debate’s stated focus on foreign affairs, time after time the rivals turned the discussion back to the slowly recovering US economy, which polls show is the No. 1 issue for most voters.

Foreign policy is generally seen as Obama’s strength and he highlighted two of his campaign’s main points: that he gave the order leading to the killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and fulfilled a promise to withdraw US troops from Iraq. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and wealthy businessman, has little foreign affairs experience.

But polls show that foreign policy positions are unlikely to have much effect on the election. Still, both candidates were vying to leave the impression that they are strong leaders. The debates have been judged at least as much by the general performances and demeanors of the candidates as by their specific proposals.

Both candidates were looking to energize their supporters in the final weeks of the campaign and win over a dwindling number of undecided voters in key states. The election is a state-by-state contest and the outcome in a small number of states that are not predictably Democratic or Republican will determine the winner.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday showed Obama and Romney tied, with both candidates backed by 47 percent of likely voters nationwide.

Obama accused Romney of seeking to return the United States to the unpopular foreign policies of President George W. Bush. He accused him of frequently changing positions on how he would have handled Iraq and Afghanistan and jabbed at Romney’s comments during the campaign that Russia is the United States’ No. 1 geopolitical foe.

‘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,’ Obama said.

After Romney disapprovingly said the US Navy has fewer ships than at any time since the end of World War I, Obama accused his rival of not understanding how the military works. ‘We also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military has changed,’ he said. ‘We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them.’

Romney said that despite early hopes, the ouster of despotic regimes in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere over the past year has resulted in a ‘rising tide of chaos.’ He said the president has failed to come up with a coherent policy to grapple with change sweeping the Middle East.

While congratulating Obama for killing bin Laden, Romney called for a comprehensive strategy in the Middle East. ‘We can’t kill our way out of this.’

Romney repeated his threat to designate China a currency manipulator and punish it for intellectual property theft, but also said China can be a partner. He said, ‘that does not mean they can just roll all over us and take our jobs.’

Obama described China as both an adversary and a potential international partner. He defended his record in addressing China’s trade violations, saying his administration had brought more cases than George W. Bush had in two terms.

Both candidates underscored their support for Israel against a threat from Iran. ‘If Israel is attacked, we have their back,’ said Romney — moments after Obama vowed, ‘I will stand with Israel if Israel is attacked.’

Both also said they oppose sending US troops to Syria where opposition groups are fighting to topple President Bashar Assad’s regime.

The debate was moderated by veteran newsman Bob Schieffer of CBS News.

With the final debate behind them, both men intend to embark on a final two-week whirlwind of campaigning. The president is slated to speak in six states during a two-day trip that begins Wednesday. Romney intends to visit two or three states a day.

Already four million ballots have been cast in early voting in more than two dozen states.

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