President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney square off tonight in their third and final presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. The debate will begin at 9:00 pm and will be moderated by CBS' Bob Schieffer.
The focus of this debate will be exclusively on foreign policy, an area in which Obama is widely believed to have the upper hand. Issues involving Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, and Middle East peace will undoubtedly dominate. But it remains to be seen how long both men can stay on topic in the face of mounting domestic economic problems -- the problems that really resonate with voters -- before injecting these into the debate on foreign policy.
China could provide an opportune but politically sticky link between discussion of foreign policy and domestic economic concerns. Many voters regard China's alleged unfair trade practices, currency manipulation, and theft of intellectual property rights as a drag on the U.S. economy and job creation. Simple China-bashing, however, probably won't cut it this time around because voters have heard it all before.
Obama has failed to come through on his promises to label China a currency manipulator, and Romney is accused of helping to outsource American jobs to China during his business career. Then, of course, there is the question of the major pivotal shift quietly taking place in U.S. military resources to the Pacific in order to contain the perceived threat presented by China's growing naval capabilities -- a shift that could very well lead to a new cold war with China.
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Without giving details, Obama claims that his foreign policy plan will "make sure that we're bringing manufacturing back to our shores so that we're creating jobs here, as we've done with the auto industry, not rewarding companies that are shipping jobs overseas." Romney, seeking to steer the debate away from the obvious and one of the biggest destructors of American manufacturing, a weak point in his own business background, replies that too much attention has been given to China and not enough to the opportunities emerging in Latin America. "As a matter of fact," Romney says, "Latin America's economy is almost as big as the economy of China [and] a huge opportunity for us."
But the big questions remain: How exactly can jobs be brought back from China? And how can America better tap into the growing market in China for American export goods? Shifting focus to Latin America fails to address the issue, especially given Romney's previous investments in companies that outsourced to China. One might be left wondering if, under a Romney Administration, there might be a new wave of outsourcing to Latin America.