'Every time you've offered an opinion you've been wrong' - Barack Obama blasts Mitt Romney on foreign policy as Presidential candidates go to war in final debate

 

Boca Raton, Florida

President Barack Obama effectively harnessed the advantage of the incumbency in the foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney here last night, accusing him of espousing positions that are “wrong and reckless”.  Looking him in the eye, the president said: “Every time you’ve offered an opinion you’ve been wrong”.

For Mr Romney, who seemed less at ease than in the previous two face-offs and more than once found himself  agreeing with stances taken by the president, it was a night mostly of avoiding howlers in an area of American leadership on which he is necessarily less experienced.  Burnish his candidacy, however, he probably did not. 

If Mr Obama was the fiercer of the two it was because his task was more urgent – to stem the recent shift in the polls towards his foe including in some key battleground states.  Mocking a lament from Mr Romney that the US Navy is down to 285 ships from the usual level of 300, he fired: “Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets”. The implication was that his rival was out of date and ignorant of the power of new military technology.

The president also jabbed Mr Romney for a past remark suggesting that Russia – not the terror networks – was America’s greatest “geopolitical foe”.  “The Cold War has been over for 20 years,” Mr Obama said bluntly looking across the small debate table at the former Massachusetts governor. “When it comes to your foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s.”

“Attacking me is not an agenda,” Mr Romney shot back in one of his crisper moments. “Attacking me is not how we deal with the challenges of the Middle East.”  The governor repeatedly contended that after four years in office the president had accumulated a failed record on foreign policy, noting in particular that tumult that persists in parts of the Arab World, that al-Qa’ida remains a threat and Iran is still on course to attain a nuclear capability.

Post-debate instant polling by US news organisations was lopsided in the president’s favour. CBS News, whose news anchor Bob Schieffer was the evening’s moderator, saw 53 per cent declaring Mr Obama the winner versus just 23 per cent for Mr Romney.  A CNN snap poll gave it to the president by an eight-point margin. But after an encounter that was less gripping and lacked the fireworks of the last one, the impact on the race may be limited.

Not a surprise was the frequency with which both men turned the conversation back repeatedly to the domestic front. For Mr Romney it was the flailing economic economy.  For Mr Obama it was his commitment to returning dollars to investing at home, with an emphasis on education. “I think the American people recognise that after a decade of war it’s time to do some nation building here at home,” Mr Obama said, underlining what said had been promises kept: concluding the war in Iraq and setting an end date for the one in Afghanistan.

But Mr Obama took full opportunity in this last debate to tie his opponent to the previous administration. “Both at home and abroad, he has proposed wrong and reckless policies. He’s praised George Bush as a good economic steward and Dick Cheney as somebody who shows great wisdom and judgment,” he said. 

Not predicted was the absence of any fresh attack on Mr Obama for the shifting explanations of what lay behind the 11 September attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. “I think Mr Romney was trying to be informative tonight rather than combative,” explained John Sununu, a campaign co-chair and former New Hampshire governor.  His candidate’s priority, he said, had been show that he could “connect the pieces” on foreign policy.

Quiet satisfaction was the response, meanwhile, of Obama aides here last night. “We are feeling really good about the president’s performance,” suggested campaign manager Jim Messina. “Mr Romney did not look like a commander-in-chief, he did not pass the test and that is a bad moment for him.”

Mr Romney also allowed the question of General Motors and its bail-out into the conversation, a topic that is never likely to play well for him particularly in the key state of Ohio. When he suggested that he had argued for federal assistance for the company as well as advocating that it be allowed to go through bankruptcy, Mr Obama vigorously objected.  “Governor, the people in Detroit don’t forget,” Mr Obama declared.

Back to international affairs, Mr Romney argued Mr Obama had projected weakness upon taking office, resurrecting his claim that he had been an “apologist” for past American policies and had allowed the relationship with Israel to fray.  In turn, he argued, foreign foes of the US, including the “mullahs” in Iran had sensed that weakness and taken advantage.

Yet, beyond the rhetoric of Mr Romney, most viewers may have had difficulty divining what differences lie between them on dealing with specific hotspots including Iran and also Syria. “Mr Romney offered his endorsement on just about everything Mr Obama has done,” a spokeswoman for the president, Jen Psaki, suggested later.

News
Pro-Russia rebels guard a train containing the bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 crash in Torez, Ukraine
i100
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
News
people
News
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
news
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
tvWebsite will allow you to watch all 522 shows on-demand
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Rock to play DC character in superhero film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Damon Albarn is starting work on a new West End musical
artsStar's 'leftfield experimental opera' is turning mainstream
Life and Style
Paul and his father
artsPaul Carter wants to play his own father in the film of his memoirs
Sport
Ben Stokes trudges off after his latest batting failure for England as Ishant Sharma celebrates one of his seven wickets
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
Members of the public are invited to submit their 'sexcapades' to Russell T Davies' new series Tofu
tv
News
Sky's Colin Brazier rummages through an MH17 victim's belongings live on air
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
arts + ents'The Imitation Game' stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a teacher o...

Graduate Sales Executive

17.5k + Commission (£18.5k after probation period): ESI Media: You will be res...

History Teacher

£110 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a teacher o...

IT Teacher

£110 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a suitably ...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor