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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Firing At 'Horses And Bayonets' Policies, Obama Sinks Romney

Michael Juliani |
October 22, 2012 | 7:35 p.m. PDT

Assistant News Editor


(Neon Tommy Screenshot)
(Neon Tommy Screenshot)

President Barack Obama overwhelmed Republican challenger Mitt Romney in the final presidential debate with stern firsthand knowledge of foreign policy.

Romney relied on recycling points about the danger of "nuclear Iran," while Obama hit him with several zingers about the stale abstraction and confusion of his proposed policies about America's international presence.

The underlying tension of Romney's inexperience in foreign policy burst when Obama reprimanded the Republican's dismay over American's shrinking Navy because the nature of the military has changed.  "There are also fewer horses and bayonets," Obama said.

The American voter's notions about the candidates' foreign policies certainly won't change after Thursday's debate, with a majority of the conversation surrounding the Middle East and China.  Nothing was said about Mexico and Africa, and only Romney mentioned Latin America in passing, for its economic possibilities. 

Despite the conflicting rhetoric trailed out by both parties during the debates, the conversation about "whether the debates matter" can end now.

After redeeming himself from a disappointing first debate, Obama had the chance to finish off the debate cycle with a lasting impression.  

The success of American politicians relies more than anything on waves of momentum, and with two weeks left until Election Day, both candidates were willing to fight tooth and nail for a "win" Thursday night.

Perhaps it was Romney's last chance, since he has a hard time redeeming himself while on the campaign trail, despite being a money-raising machine.

Moderator Bob Schieffer started with a long-winded question about Libya.

Romney started by noting the disappointment that has come on the heels of the Arab Spring, going down the line of the "reversal of hopes" in Libya, Syria and Egypt.

He congratulated the president for killing Osama Bin Laden, but highlighted the need for a comprehensive strategy to protect against the impending catastrophe in the Middle East.

President Obama made sure to remind everyone that "as commander-in-chief," his paramount responsibility is protecting the nation.

He pointed to what he sees as the success of the Libyan Revolution, where we managed to figure a non-Iraq War way of defeating a bloodthirsty dictator.

Romney responded by saying that we must "go after the bad guys and kill them," then help their nations by instituting civil societies with education, law and order, gender equality and other things we're still waiting for in the United States.

Obama won some points by reminding "Governor Romney" that the Republican recently said that America's greatest threat is Russia and not Al-Qaeda, and that we should still have troops in Iraq.

The president hit on Romney's inexperience in foreign policy, and Romney smirked down at his notes.

"Attacking me is not an agenda," Romney replied.

He went on to reiterate that Russia is our greatest "geopolitical threat" while Iran continues to be our most impending militaristic threat.

Obama hit on the fact that Middle Eastern countries must support America's counter-terrorism efforts and its alliance with Israel.

Next, Schieffer turned to Syria.  He asked the president if we should reassess our policies on the war there now that it's been a year since Obama gave Syrian president Bashar Assad an ultimatum. 

Obama hit on a point that many past American leaders have ignored: we have to be careful about giving weapons to the Syrian opposition since the opposition forces may someday be enemies of the United States.

Romney said that the fact that Syria is Iran's greatest ally means that we must work to remove Assad, but repeated several of Obama's points about safely arming opposition parties.

Syria is Iran's "route to the sea," he said.

The Republican did say that he "doesn't have" U.S. military involved in his plan to remove Assad.

In the vein of removing dictators, Schieffer brought up the removal of Mubarek in Egypt.

Obama said that if he'd sent in tanks to run over people in Tahrir Square he'd have betrayed the message that John F. Kennedy set forth, hitting on the note of the Cuban Missile Crisis anniversary.

He likened the Egyptian people's plight to similar plights of the young people in the United States.  

Romney agreed, but said that he wished that we had made a "better plan" for the future.

The candidates continually brought foreign issues home, pointing out the similar desires for freedom in domestic policy, albeit with different rhetorical approaches to saying so.

Schieffer used this to segue into asking what is America's role in the world.

"When people have elections, they tend to vote for peace," Romney said, but that America must be strong in order to lead other nations to the point where they have democratic elections.

"I will not cut our military budget," he said. 

"America remains the world's one indispensable nation," Obama said right away when he got his chance.

He assured Romney that our alliances around the world have never been stronger, especially in Israel.

For the third or fourth time, Obama ran down how we must strengthen various facets of domestic policy in order to bolster America's leadership worldwide.

"I've got a policy for the future," Romney replied.  

"What we've seen over the last four years is not what I want to see in the next four years," he added.

The governor ran down his own list of rhetorical policies he'd implant as president to ensure that we don't "head down the road to Greece."

Then, of course, he mentioned the importance of small business.

Obama countered with a point that his people must have developed during the interim from the last debate, saying that while Romney was in Massachusetts the state was about "48th" in the nation in strength of small business.

The president said that Romney has been an enemy of education, not wanting to improve our math and science or decrease class sizes.

Romney gave some stats about how Massachusetts eighth graders were number one in English "and also in Math" while he was governor.

He reiterated that he'd repeal Obamacare on "Day One."

Schieffer struggled to get the candidates back to talking about foreign policy.

Like Jim Lehrer, he had a hard time getting a word in edgewise.

Eventually the candidates meandered back to talking about military size and spending.

Obama said that "we not only need to be thinking about budgets but also about capabilities," highlighting things like cyber security.

If our economy is strong at home, he said, then we can be strong in maintaining control overseas.

Romney listed how he balances budgets and the president does not.

He asserted that if we cut the military to the point that America cannot fight in two conflicts at once, the president will have betrayed his primary responsibility of protecting the country.

Obama hit Romney hard on how the Republican said that it's a travesty that our Navy is so small by saying "we also have less horses and bayonets," since the style of warfare has changed.

Schieffer then asked about Israel and Iran: "Is an attack on Israel an attack on the United States?"

Obama said that Israel is "our greatest ally in the region," and claimed that "I will stand with Israel if they are attacked."

"As long as I'm President of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon," Obama said, then detailing the crippling sanctions he's imposed on the country.

The president made sure to point out that he wants Iran to decide which way to go before taking the kind of premature action that he said Romney wants to take.

Romney responded that he would also have Israel's back if they are attacked.  

"Crippling sanctions are something I called for five years ago," Romney claimed.

He said he wants to indict Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for genocide based on his comments.

Schieffer asked about the rumors of diplomatic discussions between Obama and Ahmadinejad.

Obama said that The New York Times claims aren't true, but that the "painstaking" process of imposing sanctions on Iran would have never succeeded if they'd been said as "loudly" as he said Romney wants them to have been said.

He stated that he won't allow Iran to be complacent about negotiations and promises not to develop nuclear weapons.

Romney stated that he imagined Iran would be complacent because of Obama's "apology tour" in the Middle East as well as Obama's unwillingness to help the Green Revolution in Iran. 

"Bob, let me respond," Obama said.  "Nothing he just said is true."

He said that "this [point] has been the biggest whopper on this campaign" and that "every reporter who's fact checked this" knows it's not true.

"We're four years closer to a nuclear Iran," Romney responded.

He said that on his Middle Eastern "apology tour," Obama managed to miss Israel, and that it didn't go unnoticed.

Obama reared back with a doozie response, saying that the first thing he did after getting elected was visit the troops, and when he visited Israel he didn't go to fundraisers but to Holocaust museums, trying to remind himself that the American president "must be on the right side of history."

Schieffer then asked a question that's hard to grasp: "What would you do if Israel called and said 'Our bombers are on the way to Iran'?"

Romney declined to answer such a hypothetical question, but went over his standard critique of Obama's weaknesses instead.

Obama fired back, squaring off with Romney about how "all over the map" the GOP candidate's ideas have been about foreign policy.

He even reminded Romney that he had said in the 2008 campaign that he would have asked Pakistan's permission to kill Osama Bin Laden.

Schieffer then turned to the next segment, asking about what the candidates would do if the deadline to leave Afghanistan comes and it's clear the Afghan forces aren't ready to handle the situation on their own.

Romney assured him that American forces will leave in 2014, but that we must look at Pakistan, who will probably have more nuclear warheads than Great Britain in the near future, he said.

Obama said that part of the problem with Afghanistan is that "we'd forgotten why we'd gone."

He said that we're now ready to leave.  "Americans are now realizing that after a decade of war, it's about time we do some nation building at home," he added.

The president mentioned supporting veterans through struggles with joblessness and post-traumatic stress disorder.

On the next question, Schieffer made a small speaking mistake by referring to Osama Bin Laden as "Obama's Bin Laden."

He was asking about whether we should "divorce" ourselves from Pakistan.

Romney said that Pakistan isn't acting like the ally it should be, and said that the president had been right to go after Bin Laden in Pakistan.

Schieffer asked whether Romney supports the president's use of drones.

He does, but reiterated how the president's policies have made the world more dangerous.

Obama assured Schieffer that along with killing Bin Laden, his administration has made strong and long-lasting allegiances with forces all over the world in the process.

"There are always going to be elements in these countries that are threats to the United States, and we want to shrink those elements," Obama said.

The next segment covered China.

"China is an adversary but also a potential partner in the international community if it's following the rules," Obama said.

He said he wants to ensure that China plays by the same rules as everyone else in international fair trade.

He claimed that his administration has filed more cases against China than the Bush administration did in two terms, and that they've won most of the cases, allowing for better commerce between American and Chinese companies.

Romney said that it's very clear that government doesn't shape international business, and that our greatest threat remains "nuclear Iran."

He claimed that China wants the world "to be free and open," and can therefore be a great ally.

He said that on Day One he would name China a "currency manipulator," adding to his list of Day-One promises.

Schieffer asked Romney whether this classification would make a trade war.

"You guys are playing aggressively and we understand," Romney said he would tell the Chinese, before saying that it has to stop.

Obama told Romney that he must be familiar with shipping jobs overseas because he shipped jobs overseas as a businessman.

The debate started to get repetitive, with Romney recycling his points and Obama continuing to be stern with the Republican on mistakes he made in his rhetoric.

Romney got the first and, more importantly, the last word in this debate.

In closing, Obama reminded Americans that Romney wants to bring reductive policies to America, giving power to the wealthy and the few and alienating the basis of strength in our domestic and foreign policies.

It sounded a lot like his previous closing statements, which weren't bad.

Romney said that he's "excited" about the potential America has if he's elected, because he can give the country the policies it needs.

He refuted four or five of the president's errors, saying that he'll be a president "that can work across the aisle" and "carry the torch" of American prosperity. 

The debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, Monday night cost the university almost five million dollars, according to the University's press release.

At 50 years old, it's the youngest university to hold a presidential debate.

The debate's focus worked as a double-edged sword for the president, who could boast of his successes and experience with real foreign policy.

It came on the 50th anniversary of the night that President Kennedy warned the nation about the possibility of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Romney showed a weakness for speaking about foreign issues leading up to the debates, including a gaffe-filled trip to Europe and an ill-timed reproach of the Obama administration's handling of the Libya embassy attack.

Romney, however, did have the advantage of being able to speak boldly about Iran, China and Israel on the campaign and in previous debates.

The Republican candidate could have fewer qualms about deriding or championing problematic nations from an outsider perspective, while President Obama had four years to get acquainted with the intricacies.


Read more of Neon Tommy's debate coverage here.

Reach Assistant News Editor Michael Juliani here.



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