October 23, 2012

Two world views collide

In their final debate, Obama claims U.S. alliances are stronger and his rival is naive, but Romney says America’s global influence has eroded.

By DAVID LIGHTMAN and LESLEY CLARK / McClatchy Newspapers

BOCA RATON, Fla. — President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney spent their final debate Monday circling the globe’s hot spots as they clashed over the merits of diplomacy and brinkmanship in Libya, Israel, Iran, the Middle East and other volatile areas.

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President Barack Obama, right, and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney discuss a point during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)


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Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Obama answer a question during the third presidential debate Monday night at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. Starting Tuesday, there are just 14 full days of campaigning remaining.

The Associated Press

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But they also managed to get in digs at their opponents’ economic plans.

The topic of the 90-minute clash at Lynn University, their third and final debate, was billed as foreign policy, which polls show is not a major concern of most Americans as they prepare to vote Nov. 6.

About one-third of the way through the debate, Obama and Romney turned the talk to the economy, the issue that is overwhelmingly most on voters’ minds.

A strong America, Romney said, must have a strong economy. “For us to be able to promote those principles of peace requires us to be strong,” he said. “And that begins with a strong economy here at home. Unfortunately, the economy is not stronger.”

Obama, too, wanted to talk about the economy and said his administration has ended the war in Iraq and put the U.S. in a position to rebuild. And he charged that Romney would pursue “wrong and reckless policies.”

The president was the aggressor from the start, charging that Romney has “praised George Bush as a good economic steward and Dick Cheney as somebody who shows great wisdom and judgment. And taking us back to those kinds of strategies that got us into this mess is not the way that we are going to maintain leadership in the 21st century.”

On foreign policy, Obama cast Mitt Romney as a defense and foreign policy amateur, accusing him of naivete and shifting positions that would undermine the country’s well-being at home and its security abroad.

“The problem is … on a whole range of issues,” Obama said in one biting exchange, “you’ve been all over the map.”

Romney took a more temperate tone but nevertheless accused the president of repeatedly apologizing for the country abroad – something the president vigorously denied – and failing to stand up for its ideals, especially during the revolutionary Arab Spring.

“We have to stand by our principles,” Romney said. “But unfortunately, nowhere in the world is America’s influence greater today than it was four years ago.”

The debate’s main purpose was to give voters a measure of how each candidate would act as commander in chief, and both men tried to portray themselves as resolute and reasonable.

The two men spent much of their time in broad agreement on a host of issues, including the nation’s deep commitment to Israel, the plan to remove American military troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014, the policy of sending drones to kill enemies abroad and sanctions against Iran.

But there was friction. Obama said Romney was tied to policies of the past. “Every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong,” the president said.

What’s needed is “strong, steady leadership,” Obama said. He offered an impassioned defense of why it was important to track down and kill Osama bin Laden.

Referring to a girl whose father was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the president said: “When we do things like that – when we bring those who have harmed us to justice – that sends a message to the world and it tells Peyton that we did not forget her father. And I make that point because that’s the kind of clarity of leadership, and those decisions are not always popular.”

Romney labeled his strategy “straightforward.” The major strategy, he said, is to “make sure we go after leaders of these various anti-American groups and these jihadists.”

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