President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney met again on Monday night for the third and final debate before the elections.
CBS News' Bob Schieffer acted as moderator for the debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. He chose the broad topics of America's role in the world, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iran and Israel, the Middle East and the changing face of terrorism and China.
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Schieffer kicked off the debate with a question on what happened in Libya during the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11. "We can't kill our way out of this mess," Romney said, while praising Obama for killing Osama bin Laden.
Obama reiterated that his administration was committed to investigating what happened in Benghazi, but he told Romney, "I have to tell you that your strategy, previously, has been one that's been all over the map." Obama, maintaining the aggressiveness from the second debate, told Romney, "Every time you've offered an opinion, you've been wrong."
Obama brought up, once again, Romney's assertion from earlier this year that Russia was the greatest threat America faced, quipping, "The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years."
Romney, responding to Obama's charges, said, "Attacking me isn't an agenda."
When the debate moved to Syria, both candidates stressed working with allies in the region, but Romney stood by his stance of arming the insurgents, saying that having a friendly government take over was critical. "I do not want to see military involvement of our troops," Romney said. "We should have taken a leadership role," he said, criticizing Obama's leadership.
"What you just heard Gov. Romney say is he doesn't have different ideas," Obama responded, saying that his administration was doing exactly what was needed.
Romney said it was an enormous mistake for Obama to remain silent during the Green Revolution when protesters took to the streets in Iran in 2009.
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Both candidates tended to bring the foreign policy question back to domestic policies, in essence saying that nation building was needed in America, with job growth and deficit reduction. Obama, restating his campaign's attacks on Romney's plans, said the Republican candidate's policies were "wrong and reckless."
Schieffer turned the debate towards national security, questioning the candidates on how much military spending they would push for. Romney said he would increase military spending by closing loopholes and deductions, and getting rid of Obama's health care law. Obama said America spent more on military than the next ten countries combined, and pointed out that the math didn't add up.
Obama came out with some of his strongest lines during the discussion of national security, telling Romney, "You mentioned the Navy, that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. We also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed." He said Romney didn't understand how the military worked, quipping, "This is not a game of Battleship."
The candidates went head-to-head on the topic of Iran's nuclear program and Israel. Obama stressed, "I will stand with Israel if they are attacked." He added, "As long as I'm president of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon."
Romney responded by trying to paint Obama as apologizing for America, and putting daylight between the US and Israel, two stances his campaign has been pushing of late. "The president began what I've called an apology tour of going to -- to various nations in the Middle East and -- and criticizing America. I think they looked at that and saw weakness."
Obama shot back that Romney would do the same things the Obama administration was doing, except talk about them "louder." On Iran, he said, "The clock is ticking. We're not going to allow Iran to perpetually engage in negotiations that lead nowhere." He also rubbished reports by The New York Times that one-on-one negotiations between America and Iran would take place.
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"When I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn't take donors, I didn't attend fundraisers, I went to Yad Vashem, the -- the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself the -- the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable," Obama said.
Obama stayed on the offensive during the debate, saying Romney had been "all over the map" on issues ranging from the Middle East and Afghanistan to Iraq.
Both candidates agreed that American troops would be withdrawn from 2014 under their respective administrations. Romney said, "A Pakistan that falls apart, becomes a failed state would be of extraordinary danger to Afghanistan and us."
Obama claimed that the US had met many of the objectives that got us into Afghanistan, adding, "What I think the American people recognize is after a decade of war, it's time to do some nation-building here at home."
Responding to the moderator's question on whether it was time to divorce Pakistan, Romney said it was an ally, though the relationship was strained. "We had to go into Pakistan; we had to go in there to get Osama bin Laden. That was the right thing to do," he said. "We can't just walk away from Pakistan."
On the topic of drone strikes, Romney said, "I support that entirely."
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When the talk turned to China, and its impact on global trade, Obama said, "China’s both an adversary but also a potential partner in the international community if it’s following the rules."
Romney restated his stance that he would label China a currency manipulator on the first day of his presidency. "They’re stealing our intellectual property, our patents, our designs, our technology, hacking into our computers, counterfeiting our goods," he said.
While speaking of trade, the talk turned once again to domestic issues such as education and jobs, with Obama accusing Romney of supporting companies that shipped jobs overseas.
Romney shot back with, "I’m a son of Detroit. I was born in Detroit. My dad was head of a car company. I like American cars. And I would do nothing to hurt the US auto industry." The candidates got into a verbal sparring match over whether Romney had called for a managed bankruptcy in Detroit or not, with Obama saying, "Let's check the record."
"Governor, the people in Detroit don’t forget," Obama said.
In his closing statement, Obama sought to draw parallels between Romney and the Bush administration's policies, calling his foreign policy "wrong and reckless." He closed with, "We’ve been through tough times, but we always bounce back because of our character, because we pull together."
Romney said, "America’s going to come back. And for that to happen, we’re going to have to have a president who can work across the aisle."