Obama, Romney debate foreign policy in final presidential debate

CBS's Bob Schieffer moderated the final debate of the campaign season.
Rachel Michaels / Graphic Designer

The third and final presidential debate between Republican candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama was held Monday and focused on foreign policy. The debate took place at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., a state important to the candidates for its 29 electoral votes. CBS's Bob Schieffer moderated.

Romney had the first word in the debate, beginning the discussion with the Middle East.

"We can't kill our way out of this mess," he said, after congratulating Obama on going after al-Qaida leadership, including Osama bin Laden.

Romney described his strategy as straightforward, his main goals including gender equality, education and economic development in the Middle East.

Obama said throughout his presidency he has worked toward and will continue to work toward getting countries to support counterterrorism efforts, protect religious minorities and women and stand by the security of Israel.

He also said he will develop economic capabilities and continue nation building not only in the Middle East, but in America as well.

Romney stressed Syria's importance as Iran's only ally in the Arab world and its “route to the sea.” He said it is critical to see Syrian President Bashar Assad's removal, but America does not need to be drawn into military conflict.

Obama said he did not regret saying former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had to step down.

“The notion that we would have tanks run over those young people who were in Tahrir Square, that is not the kind of American leadership that John F. Kennedy talked about 50 years ago,” he said.

Now that there is a democratic government in Egypt, they need to recognize rights of women and minorities and help with counterterrorism, Obama said.

In his response, Romney tied American presence overseas to the need to strengthen the economy.

Romney highlighted Latin America, whose economy is "equal to China's." He brought this into his five-point economic plan.

Obama assured Romney and American citizens this country is stronger than when he took office.

"America is the one indispensable nation," Obama said. "The world needs a strong America."

In regard to strength, Romney addressed the military, saying the U.S. Navy is smaller now than it has been since 1917. The Air Force is older and smaller now than it has been any time since it was founded in 1947, Romney said.

Keeping the public safe should be the highest responsibility of the president, he said.

Obama reiterated American troops will leave Afghanistan by 2014.

"There's no reason why Americans should die when Afghans are perfectly capable of defending their own country," Obama said.

After a decade of war, it's time to focus on nation building at home, an agenda that includes rebuilding roads and schools, putting veterans back to work and educating veterans, he said.

It is not time to “divorce” Pakistan, particularly because it has more than 100 nuclear warheads, Romney said.

He specified he does not blame the current administration for the strained relationship with Pakistan.

"I believe we should use any and all means necessarily to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world," Romney said in regard to the use of predator drones.

The candidates also addressed China and the United States' future relationship with the country, particularly involving trade.

Obama called China an adversary and a potential partner, saying China needs to "play by the rules."

Romney said China, like the U.S., wants a stable world without war and chaos.

On Romney's first day in office, he said he would label China a “currency manipulator.”

“They're stealing our intellectual property, our patents, our designs, our technology, hacking into our computers, counterfeiting our goods,” Romney said.

Obama said his goals include getting America to have the best education system in the world, training workers for the jobs of tomorrow and researching energy sources of the future.

He said he will always listen to the voices of the American people, and the country will pull together and bounce back from hard times.

“I will fight for your families, and I will work every single day to make sure that America continues to be the greatest nation on earth,” Obama said.

Romney, who had the final words in the 2012 debate season, focused on the need to fix a broken Washington, D.C.

“This nation is the hope of the Earth,” he said. “We've been blessed by having a nation that's free and prosperous thanks to the contributions of the greatest generation.”

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