Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both revealed weaknesses in a debate that won't be decisive

The American voters were treated to two distinct foreign policy approaches

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Mr Romney put the Arab Spring in harsh perspective last night.  He painted its result as the chaos and killing which has befallen countries across the region, “in nation after nation,” he said. Mr Obama launched a rhetorical monologue in response. “Every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong,” he said, regarding Mr Romney’s foreign policy record. Last night’s debate saw a stark contrast between foreign policy goals.

Mr Romney’s accusation was clear. The hope and promise of the Arab Spring has now faded into chaos, and left the region exposed to the influences of extremism. Jihadist groups like Al Qaeda are spreading throughout the Middle East in a “rising tide,” Mr Romney warned. This is a problem “we need to fix,” he said, congratulating Mr Obama for taking the first step with Osama Bin Laden.

Mr Obama thanked his opponent for acknowledging that success, but immediately turned the discussion. Mr Romney had labeled Russia, not Al Qaida, as “the greatest geopolitical threat facing America,” he noted, highlighting his own foreign policy experience. As evidence, Mr Obama stressed that Al Qaida’s leadership has been “decimated” in key regions during his tenure.

Mr Romney’s argument reverberated that the killing and turmoil across the Middle East threatens American security and needs to be addressed proactively. Events in Mali, Syria, and Libya have proven this, he argued. While acknowledging that indeed Russia is a geopolitical foe, he said “Iran is the greatest national security threat we face.”

Mr Obama focused first on how Mr Romney’s policy is inconsistent, and second his presidency’s accomplishments. America leads in the region, organizing an international coalition that liberated Libya, “a country...under the yoke of dictatorship for forty years,” he said, pointing to demonstrations of American sentiment in the region as evidence.

There were weaknesses on both sides. Mr Romney’s categorizing of Russia’s President Putin and Egypt’s President Morsi as irreconcilable foes was crude. Mr Obama’s diplomatic experience played through, but he stressed mostly unity and success in a region that undoubtedly faces a desperate future. As the concluding presidential debate, voters have been given two clear takes on America’s foreign policy.

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