President Barack Obama debates with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney as moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS looks on Monday night at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. The focus for the final presidential debate was foreign policy.
After assailing Obama’s handling of the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, at the last debate, Romney seemed to pull his punches on the issue Monday night, while complaining that Obama was attacking him too much.
“Attacking me is not an agenda,” Romney countered early on.
Romney did find some areas to contrast himself with the Obama policy agenda of the past four years. He repeated his charge that Obama had gone on an “apology tour” to start his presidency and hadn’t projected strength in the Middle East or with countries around the world — an attack Obama called the biggest “whopper” of the campaign.
Romney also accused the administration of failing to provide American leadership in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions that unseated a series of longtime autocrats, allowing Islamist extremists to make gains and resulting in “a pretty dramatic reversal of the hopes we had for that region.”
Their foreign policy differences were perhaps clearest on Syria, where the administration has struggled to find a way to shape the increasingly sectarian civil war between Bashar al-Assad’s regime and a fragmented opposition. The conflict now threatens to swallow up the entire region, with Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon unsettled by the violence on their borders. Romney noted that despite White House pronouncements that it is working to help organize the opposition, intelligence shows that hasn’t happened.
“They haven’t formed a unity group, a council of some kind. That needs to happen,” Romney said. He also said he supported arming opposition forces — something Obama has refused to do.
But Romney said he opposed setting up a no-fly zone or other initiatives that would require military assets — which some outspoken GOP Senators have sought for months. “I do not want to see a military involvement on the part of our troops. This isn’t going to be necessary,” Romney said.
Obama has resisted military action and lethal aid.
“What we can’t do is to simply suggest that, as Gov. Romney at times has suggested, that giving heavy weapons, for example, to the Syrian opposition is a simple proposition that would lead us to be safer over the long term,” Obama said.
On Iran, Romney emphasized diplomacy but reinforced a distinction between himself and Obama on where to draw a “red line” on Iran’s nuclear program.
Romney said “a nuclear-capable Iran is a threat to America.” Obama has consistently reiterated that his administration will not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon, but Iran could be nuclear capable without actually going so far as building a functioning missile to launch a nuclear bomb.
Obama also ripped Romney for saying in 2008 that the country shouldn't move heaven and earth to get Osama bin Laden.
“If we had asked Pakistan permission, we would not have gotten him,” Obama said. “And it was worth moving heaven and earth to get him.”
Obama said his decisions are not always popular and aren’t poll-tested. “Even some in my own party, including my current vice president, had the same critique as you did,” he said, seemingly throwing Joseph Biden under the bus. “But what the American people understand is that I look at what we need to get done to keep the American people safe and to move our interests forward, and I make those decisions.”
Rep. Bill Cassidy has his blood drawn by Alesha Barbour during a free hepatitis screening in the Rayburn House Office Building hosted by the Congressional Viral Hepatitis Caucus to recognize "National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day."
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