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.
Updated: 1:05 a.m.
President Barack Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney faced off in a sharp final debate Monday night in Boca Raton, Fla., trading barbs over foreign affairs while repeatedly returning to the issue atop voters’ minds — the economy.
Obama struck an aggressive tone from the start, repeatedly ripping into the GOP nominee as unreliable and reckless, while Romney sought to move to the center, putting forward a moderate image of someone who would use military force as a last resort.
Obama attacked Romney repeatedly for wanting to leave troops in Iraq, on Romney’s plan for $2 trillion in additional spending on defense over the next decade and for flipping his position on a host of foreign policy issues.
“I think Gov. Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works,” Obama said about Romney’s complaint that there will be fewer ships in the Navy than in 1916.
“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,” Obama said. “We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships. It’s what are our capabilities.”
And Obama zinged Romney on his statement earlier this year that Russia was our biggest threat. “In the 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years,” Obama said.
Obama also walked away from the automatic spending cuts he signed into law last year, known as the sequester, blaming them on Congress and saying they “will not happen.”
After days of Obama’s campaign hinting that Romney would keep America in “endless war,” Romney sought early on to soften his image.
“We can’t kill our way out of this mess,” Romney said, calling for economic development aid, education and even gender equality in the Muslim world.
The United States should help create a “pathway to get the Muslim world to reject extremism on its own,” he added.
And as Romney sought to appeal to swing-state moderates, he ended up agreeing with many of Obama’s policies during the debate — even committing for the first time to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in 2014 and saying Obama’s troop surge worked. He endorsed Obama’s policy of killing suspected terrorists with drones and said that, like Obama, sanctions and diplomacy would be his priority to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.