Presidential Debate Highlights: Full Analysis of Foreign Policy Debate


On Monday night in Boca Raton, Florida, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney mercifully participated in their final presidential debate before the election. It was held at Lynn University and was moderated by Bob Schieffer, host of Face the Nation on CBS. The 90-minute debate focused exclusively on foreign policy, which means that for an hour and half, Romney attempted to cast Obama as a dovish liberal unwilling to implement the policies needed to make the 21st century, "an American century." 

What impact this debate will have is anyone's guess, as the candidates spent significant amounts of time discuss countries and geopolitical situations that most Americans have no clue about. The latest polls indicate an incredibly close race, with the polls see-sawing back-and-forth between Obama and Romney. The debate began with an exchange on Libya, where Romney re-launched his attack of Obama's handling of the U.S. consulate assault last month in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. 

The two candidates also discussed Syria, with both being understandbly vague about what they would do. Both said they would not intervene militarily at thsi point in that country's civil war. 

At several points, Obama said that Romney's foreign policy positions are "all over the map," as he attacked Romney for saying that in 2008 that he would not go after Osama bin Laden in Pakistan unless he had the country's permission. Hilariously, Obama threw Biden under the bus when he said that his vice president had said the same thing. Poor Uncle Joe. 

At one point, Schieffer asked Romney if it was time to "divorce" Pakistan, which has came under heavy criticism for allowing bin Laden refuge in the country -- a charge the Pakistanis vehemently deny. Romney replied in the negative, citing its possession of nuclear weapons as the primary reason, which lends itself to the strange conclusion that North Korea should be a U.S. ally because of its nuclear weapons. 

Romney repeated his criticism of Obama's proposed "cuts" to the defense budget over the next decade. Although these have been touted as "cuts" by everyone including the candidates and press, the "cuts" would actually take place against projected increases in defense spending. Thus, the "cuts" would not have the effect of decreasing the Pentagon's budget, as is implied by this word. 

During one reply, Obama took a detour into education policy, where he slammed Romney for his handling of the education system in Massachusetts when he was governor. Schieffer attempted to re-focus the debate on foreign policy, but Romney insisted on responding, which he did before the moderator was able to regain control of the dicsussion. 

Romney again hit the president for going on an "apology tour," which prompted Obama to take exception, calling it Romney's "biggest whopper."


10:34pm: Romney also gives a very vanilla closing statement. Reiterates his claim that he'll create 12 million new jobs. Says, "Washington is broken." How many times has this been said by candidates running for office? 

10:31pm: Obama gives a very vanilla closing statement.

10:29pm: Closing statements. 

10:22pm: Obama says if the country had taken his advice on the auto bailouts, the U.S. would be buying cars from China. Says U.S. exports have doubled because of advantageous exchange rates. Thanks, Helicopter Ben!

10:19pm: Romney: "If I'm president, America will be very strong." Romney says on day one of his administration, he will label China a "currency manipulator."  There it is! It's funny to have American presidential candidates calling China a currency manipulator when Ben Bernanke is perhaps the biggest one of all. 

10:17pm: Obama points to his relatively successful efforts at fighting China's "cheating" at the World Trade Organization. Romney says that the greatest threat the U.S. faces is a nuclear Iran. What? No zombie apocalypse.

10:15pm: Candidates are now talking about China. Romney's drops the "currency manipulator" line in 3...2...1...

10:13pm: Obama says the U.S. stands on the side of democracy. Unless you live in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, etc.

10:11pm: Romney says we shouldn't "divorce" Pakistan because they have nuclear weapons. So does that mean the U.S. should be allies with North Korea?



10:09pm: Obama cites improved unemployment rate among veterans under his tenure. 

10:07pm: Obama says there's no reason Americans should die when Afghanis are capable of looking after their own security. Reiterates call for doing more nation-building at home. 

10:05pm: Romney talking about the strategic importance of Pakistan, a nuclear power with significant presence of Islamic extremists. 

10:04pm: Obama throws Biden under the bus by saying the vice president felt the same way about getting bin Laden as Romney did back in 2008! Hahaha!

10:01pm: Obama again says that Romney's positions are "all over the map." Obama hits Romney for his remarks in 2008 where he said he'd ask Pakistan's permission to go into the country to take out bin Laden. 

10:00pm: Schieffer asks Romney what he would do if Netanyahu called a President Romney to say that he was going to bomb Iran. Romney says he doesn't want to get into hypotheticals of that nature. Yes, how dare the moderator ask Romney what he would and wouldn't do as president!

9:59pm: Obama is winning this debate.

9:57pm: Romney hitting Obama for skipping Israel on his "apology tour." 

9:55pm: Obama: Nothing Governor Romney just said is true. 

9:54pm: Romney again criticizes Obama for going on "an apology tour" when he went abroad during his first year in office. Obama said that the U.S. had acted arrogantly in the past. Romney is reiterating his insistence that the U.S. show "strength." Nice and vague, like this debate in general. 

9:51pm: Can either candidate say the word "sanctions" without placing the modifier "crippling" in front of it? 

9:49pm: Ewww:

9:47pm: Romney says, "If Israel is attacked, we have their back." 

9:45pm: Schieffer asks a bad question. Asks if they would consider an attack on Israel an attack on the U.S. Obama says, "I will stand with Israel if they are attacked." Says, "As long as I'm president of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon."

9:44pm: Obama zings Romney for pointing out the decreasing number of military hardware. Says we also have less horses and bayonets!

9:43pm: Romney says U.S. Navy is smallest it's been since 1917, and that the air force is the smallest it's ever been. 


9:41pm: Obama slamming Romney's plans for cutting the budget and taxes. Says his math simply doesn't work. 

9:38pm: Schieffer retakes control of the debate. Asks Romney where he's going to get the money to get the nation's fiscal house in order. Romney says, look at his website. Booooo!

9:37pm: Schieffer says he wants to get back to foreign policy. Hahaha! Romney also wants to go off-topic and defend his record as Massachusetts governor. 

9:35pm: Obama talking about education in a foreign policy debate. Awesome. Hits Romney on his handling of education in Massachusetts.  

9:34pm: Romney says we need to expan trade in Latin America, in no doubt what is an effort to reach out to Hispanic voters in swing states. 

9:31pm: Romney slams Obama for “staying silent” during the protests in Iran in 2009 after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reelected to a second term in what was likely a rigged election.

9:30pm: Romney says it’s America’s responsibility to promote peace in the world. Uses the question as a pivot to criticize Obama on domestic policy.

9:29pm: Question: “What is America’s role in the world?”

9:28pm: Romney says we need a strong economy and a strong military. Knocks Obama for the president’s proposed defense “cuts.”

9:26pm: Romney says he agreed with Obama’s call for Mubarak to step down. Obama only called for the former president of Egypt to step down, after it became clear that those protestors weren’t going away. The Obama administration backed Mubarak until the last possible second.

9:26pm: Obama says to be successful abroad, the U.S. is going to have to do some work at home.

9:25pm: Yawn.                                                                         

9:22pm: Obama is explaining how arming rebels can be precarious given that insurrectionists are often a wild card in terms of their long-term agenda.

9:21pm: Obama says the U.S. is in fact playing a leadership role. Notes his administration’s intervention in Libya that helped topple Muammar Gaddafi.

9:20pm: Romney says we must coordinate with allies and have an effective leadership effort. Says Assad must and will go. Neither candidate has any specific ideas for what to do about Syria. That may be a good thing. “We should be playing the leadership role there.”

9:19pm: Romney: We don’t want to get involved in an armed conflict in Syria. Well that’s good to hear!

9:17pm: Obama: Ultimately, the Syrians are going to have to influence their own future. Says what’s happening in Syria is heart-breaking, but becoming “entangled” in Syria is “a serious step.” Says he’s “confident [President Bashar al-] Assad’s days are numbered.”

9:16pm: Schieffer asks about possibly “influencing” the ongoing civil war in Syria.

9:15pm: Obama says we can’t continue to nation build abroad, but need to refocus on nation-building at home.

9:12pm: Obama is pounding away at Romney’s insistence that the U.S. should have more soldiers in Iraq. He’s rattling off a litany of Romney foreign policy positions that cast the former governor as someone whose positions are “all over the map.”

9:11pm: Romney mentions Mali for the second time in six minutes, referencing the fact that Islamists have taken over the northern part of that country.

9:09pm: Romney says his foreign policy is straightforward. It’s “to go after the bad guys.” Ha! What a foreign policy. You can’t make this shit up.

9:08pm: Obama says Romney’s foreign policy strategy is “all over the map.”

9:07pm: Obama is defending his handling of the consulate attack, which took place on September 11.

9:05pm: Romney says we can’t kill our way of our problems against terrorism.

9:04pm: Moderator Bob Schieffer starts the debate by asking about Libya and the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. This is the only area Romney can perhaps "win" on concerning foreign policy. 

9:00pm: It's just about showtime. This debate will likely be the least substantive of all. Foreign policy tends to be discussed in an extremely pedestrian manner in the nation's public discourse. 

8:58pm: Two minutes until the final presidential debate between Obama and Romney. Thank Zeus!

8:56pm: Romney will have to avoid gaffes like this if he wants to avoid setting the social media world on fire again:


8:51pm: Real Clear Politics provides a snapshot of the latest polls. Pay no attention to them, as they will continue to gyrate wildly in the run-up to the election on November 6. 

8:32pm: This will be Obama's view at the debate tonight:

8:27pm: Top contributors to Mitt Romney during the 2012 election cycle. NOTE: "The organizations themselves did not donate, rather the money came from the organizations' PACs, their individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals' immediate families. Organization totals include subsidiaries and affiliates." (Courtesy of

8:20pm: Top contributors to Barack Obama during the 2012 election cycle. NOTE: "The organizations themselves did not donate, rather the money came from the organizations' PACs, their individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals' immediate families. Organization totals include subsidiaries and affiliates." (Courtesy of

8:15pm: Tale of the fundraising tape, courtesy of


7:36pm: Earlier today Obama's campaign tweeted this now-famous photo of his national security team getting live updates during the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden. 

7:30pm: T-minus 90 minutes to pandering political bullshit.

A good portion of this debate is likely to hinge on Obama's response to the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The administration's explanations in the wake of that attack appear to have shifted, after the attack was initially blamed on the production of a low-budget anti-Islam film, but later turned out to have been a planned attack.

As a Republican, Romney has reflexively run to the right of Obama on every issue, especially foreign policy. But given Obama's overall hawkishness in this realm, Romney has essentially come off as just another neoconservative with a nasty case of priapism brought on by fantasies of endless war. Indeed, many of Romney's foreign policy advisers are recycled Bush administration neocons, including Robert Kagan — the chubby-faced warhawk who co-founded the Project for a New American Century with William Kristol. The geniuses at the now-defunct PNAC, which included Donald Rumsfeld, Elliott Abrams, John Bolton, and Paul Wolfowitz, established the "intellectual" foundation for the toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq in the late 1990s

That should concern anyone who's hoping to avoid another Iraq-like disaster in the Middle East or anywhere else. On foreign policy, Obama has been pro-active and interventionist. 

Despite his administration's claims that Obama is winding down the war in Afghanistan, there are more U.S. soldiers there now than when he took office. 

With Iraq, Obama tried (unsuccessfully) to get the Iraqis to disregard the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by the Bush administration and allow a continued U.S. troop presence. 

In February 2011, Obama commenced a months-long bombing campaign of Libya under humanitarian pretenses without any authorization from Congress whatsoever.

Regarding drones, Obama has increased the number of drone strikes, and also the number of countries in which they are now taking place. In September 2011, the administration assassinated Anwar al-Awlaki — a U.S. citizen — via drone strike without Constitutional due process because the administration said he was al Qaeda's chief propagandist. Two weeks later, a U.S. drone strike killed Awlaki's 16-year old son. 

On Iran, the Obama administraion has imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic, while maintaining a massive U.S. naval presence in the Persian Gulf, within easy striking distance of the country. Obama has repeatedly stated, rather cryptically, that when it comes to Iran's nuclear program, that "all options are on the table."

Concerning Israel, Obama has continued the flow of billions of dollars in unconditional aid and arms to the country, despite continued settlement-building in the Occupied Territories, in direct violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions. In January 2011, the Obama administration vetoed a resolution that would have condemned the building of illegal settlements on Palestinian territory. The vote was 14 to 1 in favor, but failed. Furthermore, when the Palestinians sought, and received, admission to UNESCO by a vote of 107 to 14, the U.S. responded by withdrawing funding from the sub-organization. 

On all of these issues, Romney's position is basically that Obama has been too dovish — a pansy, if you will. And that is absolutely insane.