In the third and final presidential debate with the election looming only two weeks away President Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney articulated their own foreign policy visions for the country while offering final talking points about how they would like to handle the U.S. economy and defense spending.
Sitting across from each other at the table before a silent audience, it was clear from the onset of the debate that more heated exchanges would ensue over unfolding U.S. policy issues that has already witnessed billions of American dollars siphoned away from Main Street U.S.A. to combat terrorism, fight in three wars across the Middle East- S.E. Asia, and confront a rising China that has grown robustly during the past decade, sometimes at America’s expense.
Moving away from the Benghazi (U.S. Consulate) tragedy that seemed to dominate the last second debate and rile conservatives, Romney and Obama both showed a greater willingness to not use the emotional issue in another political chess match and instead focus on debating larger U.S. foreign policy issues that varied from Obama’s troops surge in Afghanistan to the thorny issue over how to handle a still potentially hostile Iran that could one day destabilize the Middle East and endanger Israel.
In the debate, Obama looked presidential while explaining how he has worked to build a strong coalition during the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya in a post-Bush presidency that witnessed the U.S. moving away from extending a costly and unpopular Iraq war with over-blown national security interests that were based on faulty intelligence.
“But I think it’s important to step back and think about what happened in Libya. Keep in mind that I and Americans took leadership in organizing an international coalition that made sure that we were able to, without putting troops on the ground, at the cost of less than what we spent in two weeks in Iraq, liberate a country that had been under the yoke of dictatorship for 40 years” Obama said.
Romney responded to President Obama’s criticisms that his strategies as the Republican candidate have been “all over the map” with a detailed account about what he would like to do to help combat the roots of terrorism.
Romney’s said that he would go after jihadists and leaders of anti-American groups while embracing some of the conclusions made by a group of Arab scholars who all came together, organized by the U.N., to look at how the U.S. can help the world to reject terrorism.
Romney attacked President Obama for his “apology tour” of “going to various nations in the Middle East and criticizing America” which Obama refuted.
Romney also chided Obama for not visiting Israel during his Middle East tour.
Obama explained that he has traveled to Israel as a candidate although not to solicit campaign donations with donors in contrast to Romney’s recent trip to Israel with Sheldon Aldelson, a U.S. billionaire and staunch Israel supporter.
“If we’re going to talk about trips that we’ve taken — when I was a candidate for office, first trip I took was to visit our troops. And when I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn’t take donors” he said.
Obama continued, “I didn’t attend fundraisers. I went to Yad Beshef (ph), the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.”
Obama spoke about the need to protect the American economy by going after the Chinese when they violate trade rules. Calling China both an adversary, but also a potential partner in the international community, Obama said, “I know Americans had seen jobs being shipped overseas; businesses and workers not getting a level playing field when it came to trade. And that’s the reason why I set up a trade task force to go after cheaters when it came to international trade.”
Obama said that he has pursued more cases against China for violating trade rules than the Bush administration had done in two terms. He also spoke about his work in supporting U.S. tire companies against a flood of cheap Chinese tires entering the U.S. market.
Romney has spoken vigorously in the past about challenging China with their currency practices , even going so far as calling them currency manipulators.
During the debate Romney continued his tough talk towards China.
“We have enormous trade imbalance with China, and it’s worse this year than last year, and it’s worse last year than the year before. And so we have to understand that we can’t just surrender and lose jobs year in and year out.” Romney said.
“We have to say to our friend in China, look, you guys are playing aggressively. We understand it. But this can’t keep on going. You can’t keep on holding down the value of your currency, stealing our intellectual property, counterfeiting our products, selling them around the world, even to the United States” he said.
Investing in Iran Via China
When questioned about the effectiveness of the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear sanctions, Obama said, “The fact is, while we were coordinating an international coalition to make sure these sanctions were effective, Romney was still invested in a Chinese state oil company that was doing business with the Iranian oil sector.”
The Huffington Post reports that Obama actually underestimated the scale of investment by Romney’s trusts in the country. “
According to Huffington Post, “While Obama cited only one oil company, China National Offshore Oil Corporation, the Romneys’ 2010 and 2011 tax returns show investments in at least 10 Chinese companies, a total investment of at least $391,800.”
“Among them were New Oriental Education and Technology, a company in which the Romneys’ blind trusts invested nearly $60,000. New Oriental is famous for stealing copyrighted U.S. academic tests, and was fined hundreds of thousands of dollars by a Chinese court for it.”
Some of sharpest exchanges involved domestic policy, with the two candiates defending many of the same positions they took in their first two debates over eduction, the auto bailout, taxation, and defense spending.
Romney went on the attack against Obama for having a smaller Navy than at any time since 1917 and noted that the Air Force is older and smaller than at any time since it was founded in 1947.
Obama countered by explaining that the nature of war has changed and modern technology has lessened the need for large fleets and Battleship type of war engagement that characterized World War I and II.
“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 slips. It’s what are our capabilities” Obama explained.
According to a CNN scientific poll with registered voters, 48% said that President Obama won the third foreign policy debate last night while 40% said that Romney won.