President Obama and Mitt Romney wrapped up a series of defining debates on Monday night with a bristling exchange over Americas place in the world as each sought to portray the other as an unreliable commander in chief in a dangerous era.
Picking up where he left off in last weeks debate,Obama went on offence from the start,lacerating his challenger for articulating a set of wrong and recklesspolicies that he called incoherent. While less aggressive,Romney pressed back,accusing the president of failing to assert American interests and values in the world to deal with a rising tide of chaos.
Governor,the problem is that on a whole range of issues,whether its the Middle East,whether its Afghanistan,whether its Iraq,whether its now Iran,youve been all over the map, Obama charged.
Romney countered saying,I dont see our influence growing around the world. I see our influence receding,in part because of the failure of the President to deal with our economic challenges at home.
The debate here at Lynn University,moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS News,was dedicated to foreign policy even though it veered occasionally into domestic issues.
Obama and Romney seemed to align on matters like withdrawal from Afghanistan,the perils of intervening in Syria and the use of drones to battle terrorists.
Obama came armed with a host of zingers. He accused his opponent,sitting at a table next to him,of trying to airbrush historyand of seeking to do the same things we do but say them louder.At times,Obama lectured and even mocked Romney on the details of certain policies,hoping to expose him as an uninformed pretender. Romney at times sat stiffly,his hands before him,back ramrod straight.
At one point,when Romney complained that the Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917, Obama pounced and noted that the comparison works only if aircraft carriers are equated with gunboats. We also have fewer horses and bayonets,because the nature of our military has changed,Obama said.
Obama seemed to have studied each attack line that Romney had used in the past,like his oft-repeated criticism of Obamas supposed apology tourof the world. You said that on occasion America had dictated to other nations, Romney said. Mr President,America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators. Obama hit back fast. If were going to talk about trips that weve taken,he said before pausing dramatically,in a reference to Romneys foreign trip this summer,when he was widely derided for insulting Britains ability to host the Olympic Games and for holding fund-raisers in London and in Israel. When I was a candidate for office,the first trip I took was to visit our troops,he continued. And when I went to Israel as a candidate,I didnt take donors. I didnt attend fund-raisers.
Both men talked tough on Iran,at one point seeming to compete to show how much each is in the corner of Israel,which considers a nuclear Iran a threat to its existence. As long as Im President of the United States,Iran will not get a nuclear weapon,Obama said.
Romney tried to broaden his critique,praising the Presidents counterterrorism efforts but quickly pivoting to call for a more comprehensive strategy to diminish radicalism in the Middle East. I congratulate him on taking out Osama bin Laden and going after the leadership in al-Qaeda, Romney said.