President Barack Obama looked and sounded very much like a commander-in-chief during Monday night’s final debate with Mitt Romney, his mastery of the intricacies of foreign policy and confidence in his delivery of those facts both well ahead of that of his Republican challenger.
The two candidates spent 90 minutes at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida trading barbs over each other’s records, while also trying to differentiate themselves on issues such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Obama was swift to cast Romney as inexperienced and inconsistent, lambasting his leadership as “wrong and reckless” minutes after the debate’s start, while also taking every possible opportunity to stress the areas in which Romney “agrees” with his policies.
“What we need to do with respect to the Middle East is strong, steady leadership, not wrong and reckless leadership that is all over the map,” the president said. “And unfortunately, that’s the kind of opinions that you’ve offered throughout this campaign, and it is not a recipe for American strength, or keeping America safe over the long haul.”
Underscoring the former Massachusetts governor’s dearth of experience in the arena, Obama questioned Romney’s understanding of basic foreign policy principles – including “how our military works.”
“I think Governor Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works,” Obama said, addressing the former Massachusetts governor’s comments about impending cuts to the defense budget. “You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.
“The question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships,” he added.
Romney, meanwhile, attacked Obama’s policies abroad as weak and ineffective, targeting him for embarking on a so-called “apology tour” and accusing Obama of using attacks on him to divert from the real issues.
“Attacking me is not an agenda,” Romney said. “Attacking me is not talking about how we’re going to deal with the challenges that exist in the Middle East, and take advantage of the opportunity there, and stem the tide of this violence.”
Romney went aggressively after Obama for his reaction to the so-called Arab Spring, arguing that “what we’re seeing is a pretty dramatic reversal in the kind of hopes we had for that region.”
“We can’t kill our way out of this mess,” Romney said, before calling for a “comprehensive and robust strategy” to help “the world of Islam and other parts of the world reject this radical violent extremism.”
Returning repeatedly to Iran, Romney argued that the nation is “four years closer to a nuclear weapon” and that Obama has “wasted” the last four years because “they continue to be able to spin these centrifuges and get that much closer.”
The president defended his actions in Iran, arguing that the sanctions his administration has imposed there have led to the nation to its “weakest point economically, strategically, militarily than in many years” and that he will “continue to keep the pressure on to make sure that they do not get a nuclear weapon.”
“That’s in America’s national interest and that will be the case so long as I’m president,” he said.