America tuned in last night for the last of three televised debates between the candidates for the US presidential election in two weeks time. They concentrated on foreign policy for this one. The incumbent Barack Obama went on the offensive, undercutting his opponent’s experience and expertise on various points.
The president said: “I think Governor Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works. 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.”
Romney said Obama had not been able to prevent Islamic extremists from gaining strength in North Africa and Mali. He said action had been lacking in Syria, too, but his ‘route to the sea’ remark ignored the geography of Iraq.
Romney said: “Syria is an opportunity for us because Syria plays an important role in the Middle East, particularly right now. Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea. [Iraq lies between Iran and Syria – editor’s note.] It’s the route for them to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon, which threatens, of course, our ally, Israel. And so seeing Syria remove Assad is a very high priority for us.”
As foreign policy is less important to most American voters, Romney frequently steered his remarks around to the economy, which he feels more confident talking about. He promised to get tougher on China.
Romney said: “I’ve watched year in and year out as companies have shut down and people have lost their jobs because China has not played by the same rules, in part by holding down artificially the value of their currency. It holds down the prices of their goods. It means our goods aren’t as competitive and we lose jobs. That’s got to end.”
Obama fired that one straight back at the Republicans.
The president said: “I set up a trade task force to go after cheaters when it came to international trade. That’s the reason why we have brought more cases against China for violating trade rules than the other – the previous administration – had done in two terms. And we’ve won just about every case that we’ve filed, that has been decided.”
Romney accused Obama of weakening US authority abroad. Obama said Romney’s foreign policy opinions had repeatedly been proven wrong. Yet their positions were sometimes quite similar.
We discussed some of this with ABC News Global Affairs Anchor Christiane Amanpour.
Adrian Lancashire, euronews:
“It’s not clear if last night’s final presidential debate will change many voters’ minds, but from what we saw: did anything really set the two candidates apart in terms of their foreign policy priorities?”
“Not really. Here in the US the headlines are full of ‘who won?’ and by acclamation everybody has declared Barack Obama the winner on substance and on points.
“There’s been very little analysis of what was actually said, and whether either the President, who’s the incumbent, obviously, or the challenger, Mitt Romney, made any visions for the future.
“If you take any of the substantive points that were put to them, from Iran, from America’s position in the world, from the Arab Spring and whether that is a hopeful moment or a challenging, pessimistic moment… on most of those issues, including Israel, the two stood practically shoulder to shoulder.”
“Romney blundered on foreign trips. Did he save face last night?”
“You know, that was in the summer. It was his first foreign trip. Obviously many people made a huge difference at that time between [Romney’s trip and] when candidate Obama made his really quite amazing foreign trip back in the summer of July 2008.
“Of course, Governor Romney went to England, he then went to Israel …and really gave a very hard line couple of press conferences and public statements on Israel itself and on what he would do vis-à-vis Iran.
“In the debate you saw he cast off that hardline, neo-con extreme conservatism when it comes to foreign policy and tagged very much back to the centre. He simply said that he agreed with the sanctions on Iran, that he would even make them tougher.
“When it came to Afghanistan and Pakistan: almost no difference between the two candidates, both Obama kept to his idea that the 2014 deadline [for withdrawing troops] was non-negotiable and so did Mitt Romney.
“The question is would Mitt Romney make any sort of nuanced changes?”
“Voters care more about home than abroad, so which candidate is ultimately more attractive?”
“You can see that in many instances in that debate last night both came back to US domestic issues, most particularly in the middle when they were asked about America’s place in the world. It reverted entirely to the US economy, to education, to preparing a work force for the future.
“But again, very little difference. I think that points out a truism about American foreign policy: that no matter what is said in the primary campaign or in the lead up right to the election, in the end American foreign policy follows a particular line that’s been hewed [adhered to] for decades.
“One of the chances to make a difference was over Syria. And you know, Romney, in his previous and only foreign policy speech had indicated that he would take a much harder and tougher line with Syria and he in fact did not.”
“There wasn’t much said about the Palestinians, but their issue, to a large extent, defines how the Arab world sees the US. Was it a mistake to ignore the Palestinians last night?”
“Well, that was never asked in a question and I agree with you that was a huge, glaring error – because obviously neither candidate wants to talk about the Palestinian-Israeli crisis.
“Mitt Romney said that there hadn’t been a single, you know, talk in the last two years, it’s really you know, in the last year or so there have been no peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and of course this is something that, if there is any hope for it to be resolved, will require American leadership.
“There is no other way to deal with this. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians think so: without robust American leadership this will not be resolved.
“But neither candidate offered even the slightest bit, I think they were like: “Oh no, no, we don’t wanna talk about that!” You know, there is no mileage in talking about that.”