Foreign policy takes center stage during final Obama-Romney debate

10/23/12 Janelle Irwin
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In their final debate, President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney doubled down on foreign policy last night in Boca Raton. With only two weeks left until Election Day, the two presidential contenders were throwing punches about everything from sanctions on Iran to military spending. During the speech, Obama refueled criticism that Romney flip-flops on key political issues.

“Every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong. You said we should have gone into Iraq, despite that fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction. You said that we should still have troops in Iraq to this day. You indicated that we shouldn't be passing nuclear treaties with Russia despite the fact that 71 senators, Democrats and Republicans, voted for it. You said that, first, we should not have a timeline in Afghanistan. Then you said we should. Now you say maybe or it depends, which means not only were you wrong, but you were also confusing in sending mixed messages both to our troops and our allies.”

But President Obama’s nose isn’t exactly clean either. Opponents have accused him of misleading Americans about the attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi last month that killed four people. Obama defended the administration’s actions in the early minutes of last night’s debate, but it did little to appease Romney supporters at a watch party in Pinellas Park. John Spasiano is registered with the Independent Party, but is voting for Romney. He said the President’s handling of the Libya attack paint him as untrustworthy.

“I just think there’s a lot of fracturing in his administration. As an example, Hilary Clinton falls on the sword for it and the next day she retracts it – something is very broken, I think, in the way the command in control is going on in this administration.”

Obama and Romney have many similar opinions when it comes to foreign policy. Both support sanctions in Iran and Syria and withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in 2014. But Romney disagrees with the President on an arms reduction treaty that was signed in 2009 between America and Russia. He has also has criticized Obama for watering down sanctions in Iran. Mike Guju, vice chair of the Republican Party of Pinellas County agrees with Romney’s stance that more needs to be done to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

“You know, we have to augment sanctions – Romney wants sanctions also – but I think you have to augment it with more aggressive action – not necessarily violent action, not necessarily war. But I really think you have to up it because, quite frankly, every day you delay means a they’re a day closer to the inevitable.”

Romney tried hard to tame the bully image though, by suggesting that the U.S. try harder to make friends with Middle Eastern countries.

“One, more economic development. We should key our foreign aid, our direct foreign investment, and that of our friends, we should coordinate it to make sure that we -- we push back and give them more economic development. Number two, better education. Number three, gender equality. Number four, the rule of law. We have to help these nations create civil societies.”

Part of Romney’s foreign policy plan includes upping military spending to 4% of gross domestic product. When asked how he’d pay for that Romney did two things – criticize the economy under an Obama presidency and tell people to go to his website. Romney said military branches like the Navy and Air Force need new equipment.

“Our Navy is old -- excuse me, our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We're now at under 285. We're headed down to the low 200s if we go through a sequestration. That's unacceptable to me. I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy. Our Air Force is older and smaller than at any time since it was founded in 1947.”

His claims were debunked by PolitiFact for reasons similar to Obama’s critique last night. He said comparing the today’s military to one decades ago is unrealistic.

“The budget that we are talking about is not reducing our military spending. It is maintaining it. But 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 also claimed Obama went on an apology tour early in his administration apologizing to other countries apologizing for various American actions. Romney wrote a book about it in 2010. Even though those claims received mixed reactions from experts, Romney supporters still don’t trust the President’s foreign policy track record or plans for the future. Phillip Russell, a Tampa Bay area attorney, said all he needed to see from Romney during the debate was competency.

“My hero, Ronald Reagan, had no foreign policy experience yet delivered the greatest foreign policy success of my generation with the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

Russell practices employment law, representing employers. He said Obama is actually good for business because of increased regulations, but he’s still voting for Romney.

“So, under four more years of Obama, especially when he doesn’t have to concern himself with another election, I would expect that it would be even more aggressive, it would be even busier, but that’s not how I cast my vote. I vote for what I think is good for business which is in turn good for the country, so that’s why I’m voting for Romney.”

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released today has Obama holding a slight lead over Romney – 47 to 46%. The same poll has Obama leading key states like Florida, Ohio and Virginia.

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