President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney met today at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, in the third and final major presidential debate of the 2012 campaign season. For a live blog detailing the debate, please see here. The focus of this debate was supposed to be foreign policy. Much of it was neither foreign nor policy - it was pure campaign rhetoric with a domestic flavor, with few significant differences between the two candidates except for on stylistic issues.
Mitt Romney hit the President on his lack of a plan to build civil society in the War on Terror, criticizing Obama for thinking that we can kill our way out of this mess. Romney rightfully brought up the critical importance of Pakistan, expressing a coherent understanding of the problems with that country. He mentioned areas of the world usually ignored by the political class, specifically Latin America and Mali.
However, Romney spoke recklessly in regards to China and missed out on opportunities to hit the President on issues surrounding Libya, the growth of Al Qaeda, and the drone wars. He seemed to shuffle between wanting to provide a more restrained foreign policy ("We can't kill our way out of this mess.") and defending a more neoconservative view of things ("Mr. President, America has not dictated other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators").
President Obama, meanwhile, came out strong. He spent the early portion of the debate running circles around Romney, slamming his previous statements about Russia, and flipflopping on several issues. "Governor Romney, I'm glad you realize that Al Qaeda is a threat ... The Cold War has been over for 20 years," declared Obama, criticizing Romney for saying that Russia is the greatest threat to the United States.
Of course, the President began pivoting back to the death of Osama bin Laden and reminding people about 9/11 when he felt Romney began to come on strong. We hardly had any time to dwell on this stuff before the focus on the debate shifted towards the economy and domestic issues. At one point, moderator Bob Schieffer tried to bring the focus back to foreign policy, but it was to no avail. The last thing mentioned before the closing statement was food stamps.
This debate was a pointless exercise in political theater. Neither President Obama nor Governor Romney offered many substantial differences from each other, and neither offered an actual foreign policy vision. Romney failed to explain his plans to achieve his goals, and Obama failed to account for his foreign policy over the last four years and explain what he sees in the next four years. Romney was successful because he seemed reassuring and capable, and Obama was successful because he drove in the "we've kept America safe" idea very well.
The candidates both walked away unscarred from this debate, but only because neither the candidates nor the moderator could be bothered to actually throw any punches. It was a sad and disappointing waste of time, and America deserved better.
For debate details as they happened, check out the live blog.