Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will face off in their third and final debate of the 2012 election season on Monday evening in Boca Raton, Florida. The two candidates will try to highlight their differences in this foreign policy-themed debate. The debate will begin at 9:00 P.M. EST.
The debate promises to focus heavily on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, particularly combating terrorism, preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, recent attacks in Libya, and where the U.S. stands after the "Arab Spring." Bob Schieffer, the moderator of the final debate, has announced the topics in advance: "The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism,” "Our longest war – Afghanistan and Pakistan," "Red Lines – Israel and Iran," "The Rise of China and Tomorrow’s World” and "America’s Role in the World."
President Obama goes into the debate with the undisputed upper hand. In a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, the president leads registered voters by 10 points on which candidate they would trust more to handle international affairs. Governor Romney's international credentials are scant, and he has had several foreign policy fumbles during the election season.
We can expect a continuation of familiar lines of attack from both sides: Romney will likely echo his criticism of Obama's foreign leadership style and decry America's loss of leadership due to Obama's "leading from behind." And Obama will probably combat this by noting (again) that Osama bin Laden has been killed, the Iraq war ended, shifting focus to Afghanistan, and America's image restored after the warmongering previous administration. Obama should also go on the offense against Romney, pointing out his opponent's recent foreign missteps — including insulting Britain during the Olympics and his playing politics with the crisis in Libya, which even conservative pundits criticized as un-presidential. In contrast to Romney's accusations of his opponent's weakness on the world stage, Obama should continue a line from the previous debate in drawing connections between Romney's style and that of George W. Bush.
Ultimately the technical differences between Obama and Romney on foreign policy are limited — both will continue unwavering support for Israel, have supported similar troop withdrawal plans from Afghanistan, and believe in getting tough on Iran and China. Where the two do diverge is more in style than substance, and more rhetoric than reality. This will most likely play out during the "America's Role in the World" section of the debate, where each candidate will have the opportunity to lay out their vision for American leadership post-2012. The challenge will be for Obama to articulate his vision without appearing overly weak or conciliatory, and for Romney to downplay his lack of foreign policy experience while emphasizing a desire to restore America's damaged power and leadership on the global stage.
Watch the debate here:
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9:32 P.M. This just in: Mitt Romney wants world peace.
9:10 P.M. Romney breaks it down on Pakistan: they have nuclear weapons. They have terrorists. If Pakistan fails, the terrorists could get their hands on those weapons.
9:55 P.M. Again, as predicted, Romney whips out the "apology tour" line. Obama's response: "Everything Governor Romney just said is not true."
9:44 P.M. As predicted, Romney blames Obama for defense budget cuts proposed by Congress. Obama slaps it down.
9:30 P.M. Romney turns the debate to the American economy. A strong economy at home is crucial to our leadership abroad. Also calls tension between Israel and the U.S. "unfortunate."
9:12 P.M. Obama comes out swinging with a laundry list of Romney's "mixed messages" to the world! Romney: "attacking me is not an agenda."
9:06 P.M. Romney: Congratulates Obama on Osama bin Laden, but "we can't kill our way out of this mess" in the Middle East.
9:04 P.M. Right out of the gate.. first question on Libya. Looks like Bob Schieffer wants to sort this out. What really happened?
8:54 P.M. Bob Schieffer now addressing the audience for the debate.. with a binder. Do you think they'll be able to remain quiet as mice? I have my doubts.
8:46 P.M. Michelle and Ann just entered the room.. neither wearing pink like last time!
8:45 P.M. Listening to advance reports of Romney's debate talking points on CNN.. Tonight we can expect Romney to draw connections between economic policy and foreign policy. On Libyan issue, Romney will not get bogged down in details and use it as an opportunity to offer a broad critique of Obama's overall foreign policy.
7:53 P.M. About an hour to go, and apparently this debate is going to matter in this election, on a topic that is peripheral to many voters' decisions? A Post-ABC poll puts Obama and Romney neck and neck: 49-48 percent. I'm convinced that tonight's matchup is going to be about style and the candidates' abilities to be convincing of their visions more than anything.
7:10 P.M. Just under two hours until the debate begins in Boca Raton, Florida. Brushing up on your foreign policy facts? Here are a few questionable statements that I think Mitt Romney will be peddling this evening:
That his foreign policy will be different from that of George W. Bush. In fact, over two-thirds of his advisors on international affairs were former members of the Bush-Cheney foreign policy team. Obama has "led from behind" and has "apologized" for American values. But that "apology tour" touted by conservatives is no such thing. And that Cairo embassy statement after the protests? Not an apology, either. That he is firmly committed to a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. But during the same fundraiser where he made the infamous "47 percent" comment, Romney also made this statement: "I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and I say there's just no way...what you do is, you say, you move things along the best way you can. You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem...and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it....The idea of pushing on the Israelis to give something up to get the Palestinians to act is the worst idea in the world." Blaming the Obama administration for cuts in defense spending that most Congressional Republicans voted for.