Obama-Romney foreign policy debate discussion thread

In a few minutes President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney will debate for the last time. Bob Schieffer of CBS News will moderate the final debate, which will focus on foreign-policy issues. I imagine the ratings will be much lower tonight than for the previous two debates, partly because foreign policy isn't a priority for most voters, and partly because the debate is up against Monday Night Football and game 7 of the National League Championship Series in baseball.

Any comments about the debate or the presidential race in general are welcome in this thread. I will update later with some thoughts and news clips. Most national tracking polls show Romney and Obama within the margin of error for each other; Gallup continues to show Romney leading and above 50 percent. The candidates haven't focused on foreign policy in many speeches or commercials, but the latest spot from the president's re-election campaign highlights the drawdown of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

UPDATE: Added thoughts and links after the jump.  

Although Romney didn't make any huge mistakes, I felt the president had a far better night. Romney sounded like he was trying not to lose, not to look like a warmonger. Obama sounded clear, calm, and focused. On several occasions he pointed out that Romney's previous statements differed from the stands he took tonight. The president seemed to draw a better response from the CNN focus group dialers, especially from the women.

There weren't many "gotcha" moments, but the highlight for me was when Obama pointed out that a few months ago, Romney called Russia (rather than al Qaeda) the major security threat to the U.S., adding, "The 1980s are calling and asking for their foreign policy back." I also thought Obama did a good job punching holes in Romney's rhetoric about the defense budget.

Apparently the the peak debate moment on twitter was when Obama acknowledged that the navy has fewer ships than it had during World War I: "We also have fewer horses and bayonets."

Both candidates tried to smuggle in plenty of talking points on domestic policy. The CNN dials shot up every time Obama talked about how we need to focus on nation-building at home after a decade of being at war. The focus group didn't like it when Romney talked about cutting domestic non-defense spending by 5 percent.

Romney agreed with Obama more often than I expected.

The CBS poll of uncommitted voters indicated a "clear victory" for Obama: 53 percent said Obama won, 23 percent said Romney won, 24 percent were unsure.

SECOND UPDATE: Respondents in the CNN/ORC poll of debate-watchers thought Obama won the debate by 48 percent to 40 percent. The poll sample was slightly more Republican than the national population.

Public Policy Polling's survey of "swing state debate-watchers" found that 53 percent thought Obama won, just 42 percent said Romney won. The cross-tabs suggest that independents thought Obama won by 55 percent to 40 percent. It doesn't look like many minds were changed, though. Among PPP respondents, 37 percent said this debate made them more likely to vote for Obama, 31 percent said less likely. Conversely, 38 percent said the debate made them more likely to vote for Romney, while 35 percent said less likely.  

The swing states included in PPP's poll were Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

A CBS poll taken before the debate suggested the public trusts Obama more on foreign policy, but I doubt that's a voting issue for many Americans.

FOURTH UPDATE: NPR has the full debate transcript and audio.

Here are some fact-checking links: Politifact, National Journal, Politico, ABC News, and Washington Post.

I agree with Obama's prediction that the "sequestration" defense cuts scheduled to take place in early 2013 will not happen.

I think Bob Schieffer did the best job of all the debate moderators this year. He didn't waste a lot of time asking convoluted questions, and he moved the candidates along while giving them appropriate chances for rebuttals.

  • Could you

    ...stop trying to be 'fair and balanced'?  

    This blog is, after all, titled "Bleeding Heartland"...a snarky reference to the killer 'bleeding heart LIBERAL' tag that was so popular a decade or so ago.

    Obama won the debate. PERIOD. Whether it helps his campaign or not is the real question.  

    Did it help?  Depends (to me) on who counts the votes.  

    • I thought Obama won

      but I don't think it was a crushing victory, in the sense that nothing Romney said would make his supporters or leaners change their minds about voting for him.

  • Six Weeks, Six Votes Debate Recap

    Mitt Romney had the edge over Barack Obama in the third and final presidential debate by giving a calm, knowledgeable lecture on foreign policy in the face of attacks from the incumbent.

    The Boca Raton, Fla., debate was a personal, intimate affair. Huddled around a semicircular table with moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS News, the candidates had a tense back-and-forth. Obama swallowed thickly several times during Romney's responses and beads of sweat glistened on Romney's upper lip throughout the night.

    In a debate where little daylight could be found between the candidates' positions on most foreign policy issues, the Romney camp prepped its candidate to speak comfortably on a range of subjects. The candidates had essentially identical positions on Iran, Syria, Israel, Afghanistan, and drone warfare. Romney attempted to argue that he would simply be more effective at executing those policies.

    He backed up his argument by displaying poise and ease with foreign policy concepts. Romney salted his responses with facts and figures that showed careful rehearsal - Mali has been taken over by Al Queda, 313 ships in the Navy, Syria is Iran's route to arm Hezbollah, Pashtuns returning to Afghanistan.

    In contrast, Obama's prepared bits emphasized Romney's shifting record and the occasional erratic statement on foreign affairs. Obama's tactic was to underscore his impressive achievements on international matters, then paint Romney as "all over the map" on a "range of issues." In response to an early question on Syria, Obama made the case for his own consistency:

    "What you just heard Governor Romney said is he doesn't have different ideas. And that's because we're doing exactly what we should be doing to try to promote a moderate Syrian leadership and a - an effective transition so that we get Assad out. That's the kind of leadership we've shown. That's the kind of leadership we'll continue to show."

    Obama's mistake, though, was to attack relentlessly, even personally. When the discussion turned to China, Obama countered with a straw man line of reasoning: "You invested in companies that were shipping jobs overseas." He also criticized Romney's meetings with donors in Israel and accused Romney of investing in a Chinese state oil company that had ties to Iran. "Attacking me is not talking about an agenda," Romney counterpunched. The wording was garbled but the message was clear.

    Obama would have done better to stick to attacking Romney's record. Obama touted the killing of Osama bin Laden and contrasted past statements both candidates had made in the 2008 primaries.Obama effectively blunted Romney's criticism of the shrinking navy with the one-liner "We also have fewer horses and bayonets." When the discussion got lost in a long tangent on the economy and education ("Let me get back to foreign policy," Schieffer interjected) Obama clearly flustered Romney by pointing out that the improvement in the Massachusetts school system occurred long before Romney took office there.

    The Romney campaign must've been terrified when moderator Schieffer, absent for most of the night in the unusual format, asked Romney if branding China a currency manipulator "on day one" would result in "a trade war with China on day one." Though Romney often repeats this campaign pledge, it is a hollow one he is unlikely to follow through with for the reasons Schieffer cited. It was reminiscent of the last debate, when Romney found himself fact-checked in real time.

    But Romney was more agile this time. He gave an adroit answer that maintained his jingoistic tone on China, stating the U.S. is already involved in a war with China. "It's a silent one. And they're winning," he said, playing skillfully on the discomfort of many voters with China.

    In the end, Romney won this debate, but it was by no means a commanding performance, and not the needle-moving performance he needed to gain position in the race for the presidency. Barring an unforeseen development abroad (an irony, given the subject of tonight's debate) or an extremely poor showing in the Nov. 2 unemployment report, Barack Obama will be elected to a second term.

    UPDATE: As always, I write my recaps without any examination of how the talking heads saw the debate. The instant reaction polls seem to indicate a Barack Obama win, but it was by no means a decisive victory.

    • the CBS poll

      of uncommitted voters had a bigger advantage for Obama last night than for Romney on the night of the first debate. But as with any debate, different people will see and hear the event differently.

  • A stunningly weak "me too"

    performance by Mitt, if one uses the criteria that was used to judge the first debate. He and his team must think this one is in the bag. Or they are deathly afraid of W's shadow. It is completely playing into the picture of Romney willing to say whatever he feels is needed to fit the moment and prevailing political winds. But with so few undecideds left, hard to say how the debate will affect the race.

    • I think the Romney team's objective

      was 1) not to make any huge mistakes that would raise doubts about whether he can be commander-in-chief, and 2) not to come across as a warmonger. For the most part I think he succeeded (though he was wrong about Iran depending on Syria for their path to the sea). But he didn't articulate a compelling case against Obama's foreign policy.

      • I wish I had...

        ...expressed that more clearly in my original post. Romney was playing to "look presidential" for the moderate vote and avoid engagement with Obama, even on issues like the Libyan ambassador.

        Whether U.S. voters will recognize that a deep shift has occurred between the "severely conservative" Romney of the primaries and earlier debates and the Moderate Mitt now running will probably decide who wins the election.

        Romney's botched Syria comment (mocked on twitter almost instantly) struck me in real time as another example of his thorough preparation. I'm a geographical dunce and nodded sagely in agreement when he made the statement. I don't think that one flub detracted from his performance.  

  • Why is Obama exercising a strategy of lies?

    How can one say that Obama won the final presidential debate, when it's clear Obama lied quite a bit in last night's debate?

    Obama lied about Romney's record on the auto bailout.

    Obama lied about Romney's stance on Russia being a geopolitical foe.

    Obama lied about Romney's description of Obama's apology tour.

    There are three examples, the list goes on....

    • Romney has no credibility

      The so-called "apology tour" never happened; it's been fact-checked many times.

      Private creditors were not lending at the time of the auto bailout. Saying the automakers should have borrowed on the private market was not realistic.

      Romney did say Russia was "our No. 1 geopolitical foe."

      "I'm saying in terms of a geopolitical opponent, the nation that lines up with the world's worst actors," Romney said. "Of course the greatest threat that the world faces is a nuclear Iran, and a nuclear North Korea is already troubling enough. But when these terrible actors pursue their course in the world and we go to the United Nations looking for ways to stop them ... who is it that always stands up with the world's worst actors? It's always Russia, typically with China alongside. And so in terms of a geopolitical foe, a nation that's on the Security Council that has the heft of the Security Council, and is of course is a massive nuclear power, Russia is the geopolitical foe."

  • Mitt the peacenik

    Romney tried to claim he has suddenly become peacenik, but his foreign policy team is full of Bush hard-liners. Now he has added Gen. Tommy Franks who has been rated the 5th worst general in American history.

    http://youtu.be/KrC2pFaaR70

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