'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 The implication was that his rival was out of date and ignorant of the power of new military technology.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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor