Third presidential debate focuses on foreign policy as early voting begins

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Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama answer a question during the third presidential debate at Lynn University Monday evening in Boca Raton, Fla.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

With 15 days until Election Day in what appears to be a deadlocked race, the two men vying for the position of commander-in-chief squared off on foreign policy in the third and final presidential debate Monday night.

President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney sparred over America’s role as an international power with particular attention given to America’s policies toward Libya, Iran and China. The candidates also discussed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at length.

Seated at a table with CBS News correspondent Bob Schieffer, the first half of the debate continued the testy back-and-forth exchanges that characterized much of the second debate, although the candidates found common ground in drawing the connections between national security and the economy.

Obama emphasized the importance of a strong domestic economy and educational system to achieve America’s goals abroad after he said the math behind Romney’s economic plan “simply doesn’t work.”

“You know, one of the challenges over the last decade is we’ve done experiments in nation-building in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and we’ve neglected, for example, developing our own economy, our own energy sectors, our own education system,” Obama said.

Romney said America has the “responsibility and privilege” of promoting peace and defending freedom abroad. Later in the debate, Romney also said America’s security and strength abroad are dependent on its economic strength at home. He blamed Obama’s economic policies for conveying weakness to the international community during the past four years.

“In order to be able to fulfill our role in the world, America must be strong, America must lead,” Romney said. “And for that to happen, we have to strengthen our economy here at home. You can’t have 23 million people struggling to get a job.”

Throughout the debate, which was held at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., Obama characterized Romney’s foreign policy positions as unsteady and continually changing.

“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,” Obama said to Romney. “And unfortunately, that’s the kind of opinions that you’ve offered throughout this campaign.”

In response, Romney criticized the president for failing to stand up for American values abroad and sending mixed messages to allies such as Israel.

“The president began what I have called an ‘apology tour’ of going to various nations in the Middle East and criticizing America,” Romney said. “I think they looked at that and saw weakness.”

Danny Zeng, College Republicans communications director, said the president failed to put forward a clear and specific foreign policy strategy and instead used the opportunity to score political points.

“The president didn’t really talk about a coherent strategy for the Middle East and for dealing with China,” Zeng said. “What he did do was just attack Romney the whole time.”

Sandra Ogenche, University Democrats vice president, said Obama presented a clear contrast to Romney’s positions on foreign policy.

“Obama made it clear that his foreign policy is based on understanding the region and putting America first, as opposed to Romney’s reversal to the Bush policies,” Ogenche said.

Monday marked the beginning of early voting in Texas. On Monday, 865 people voted at the Flawn Academic Center, an early voting location. Early voting will continue until Nov. 2. Election Day is Nov. 6.

Printed on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 as: Parting shots