Who Won the Third Presidential Debate: Obama Dominates Romney on Foreign Policy


Hello everyone! Tonight I will cover the third Presidential debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Previous debate coverage can be found here: debate 1, debate 2, and the vice presidential debate. The topic of tonight's debate will be American foreign policy, though it will likely contain numerous references to domestic economic policies considering the public's concern on that topic.

President Obama is entering the race under extreme pressure to maintain the race's current status quo, which has him up ever so slightly in the polls (using a state-by-state method) thanks to his advantage among women and minority voters. The race tightened considerably since his first debate performance in Denver likely cost him Florida, but he netted a 1/2-1 point bounce with the second debate that may tide him over until November 6. I expect he will debate rather cautiously to avoid many mistakes, while discussing women's rights abroad and immigration reform to invigorate those sections of his base.  That said, the Republican party's foreign policy has degenerated so much over these last few years that it may just provoke him into attack mode.

Romney is also in a bit of a pickle. His standing improved greatly after the first debate, but he came across as overly beligerant in the second debate and stumbled on a question over Libya, leaving him just short in the polls of what he needs to win in November. He needs to aggressively confront the president yet act presidential, all the while coming across as knowledgeable about foreign policy - the one issue area he has little experience in and has generally fumbled (as during his trip abroad last summer). To make matters worse, his primary advisers are the GOP's neoconservative faction, whose ideas on how the world work are off-base, were discredited under President Bush, and are still tied to that administration. Romney will be playing a lot of defense tonight and the chance of him making a disastrous mistake will be higher on foreign policy than on other topics.

Final Presidential Debate:

Topic: Foreign policy

Live stream here: 

PolicyMic will be covering the final presidential debate in its entirety. For live updates, bookmark and refresh this page.


9:55PM Before I forget, probably the strongest line of the night was Obama's critique of Romney's defense spending, saying that it was irrelevant if we had fewer ships today than in 1916 because we had fewer bayonets and horses too. Capabilities matter more than sheer numbers and we are the strongest on this measure. Andrew Sullivan will be delighted.

9:50PM Obama came out strong again tonight and hit Romney repeatedly for either being too extreme, too inconsistent, or for simply agreeing with policies he's already implemented. And he was right on each case. Romney did not do enough to separate himself from the President, and those times he did so were contrary to public opinion i.e. increasing military spending, attacking Iran, etc. He probably did best on Syria, and on Afghanistan where he said he would also pull troops out by 2014, but that was from a rather low standard. Romney played it much too safe tonight and did not help himself, though fortunately for him most people have already made up their mind at this point. Conversely, Obama is in the sweet spot of popular opinion on foreign policy with numerous victories to his credit, but this will only matter if people feel equally confident about the economy. 

9:32PM Romney's argument: I will put us on track to balance the budget and put more take-home pay in your pocket. I will help make sure that America stays the hope of the earth.

9:31PM Texting with my sister, she says that it doesn't even seem like Romney has been trying tonight. Obama is dominating.

9:30PM Final remarks. Obama asks the public to support him and to not go back to the policies of the Bush administration like Romney would like.

9:28PM Time is running low, and Romney is hitting Obama over and over for the increase in unemployment, welfare, etc. over the last four years. His line about teachers isn't going over well with undecided voters though.

9:25PM Well, at least Romney has gone on long enough to secure equal speaking time with the President.

9:23PM Oh jeez. Romney says that he favors American jobs and the American auto industry because he is a son of Detroit and that his father ran a car company. What nonsense. No one is buying that after his New York Times op-ed.

9:21PM Once again, Obama accuses Romney of offsourcing jobs to China and for trying to kill the auto industry - which would mean that we would be buying cars from China not selling them. Brags about doubling U.S. exports and that the currency imbalance is better today than it has been since 1993.

9:20PM Romney started off badly talking about our trade imbalance with China, but argues that we could win a trade war because China is more dependent on us.

9:19PM This debate is much more polite than the last one, except one brief burst early on. The consensus on Twitter seems to be that Obama is ahead. Romney hasn't had a meltdown, but his views are either obviously flawed or else are so similar to Obama's that it makes no sense to select him as few can sell Obama's policies better than he can.

9:17PM Once again, Romney is down four minutes in speaking time. Says that Iran is the biggest threat to international peace today.

9:16PM Naturally, Obama ties this to resurrecting auto manufacturing. Criticizes Romney for saying that he should not have imposed tariffs on Chinese tires against the interests of American workers.

9:14PM Hour and 15 minutes in Schieffer finally asks a question about China. Obama says that terrorists are still a bigger threat than China, but that we should encourage China to follow the rules.

9:12PM Argues though that we need a broader, more constructive strategy. Is that it? I don't think there is a Republican out there who can out argue a Democrat on civil society engagement and broad coalition building. This is community organizing on an international level.

9:11PM Ooooh, Schieffer asks Romney about his policy regarding drones. Civil libertarians will be interested to hear his views...only they aren't any different from Obama's, which are extremely controversial as it is.

9:10PM Schieffer asks Romney if he supports aiding Pakistan despite all the times it has undercut us. Romney says that we should not do so, and agrees with the President's move to defy the government and kill Bin Laden.

9:07PM Obama says that we have met all of our objectives in Afghanistan - killing Bin Laden and building up the state government - and can now leave successfully. Says that it is time to pull out and redirect resources to America. Obama's views are popular, but he elides how our goalposts regarding Afghanistan have moved repeatedly over the years.

9:06PM Romney ties aid to Afghanistan with ensuring that Pakistan does not become a failed state.

9:05PM Schieffer asks Romney what he will do if, when the time comes to pull out of Afghanistan, the Afghanistan security forces prove unready. Tough question. Glad I don't need to answer it!

9:04PM Obama has somehow managed to get an extra 3 minutes tonight. He's been able to secure an advantage consistantly these last two debates.

9:01PM Obama has been stressing again and again tonight that Romney has vacillated on foreign policy issues and would not be credible. Ties it to Romney's stance on killing Bin Laden. The women portion of the undecided voter instant reaction poll is off the charts, thanks in part to a story he relates of a child who was haunted by her father's death on 9/11.

8:59PM Schieffer asks how the candidates would respond if they got a sudden call from Netanyahu saying that his bombers were on the way to attack Iran. Romney - rather impressively I might add - demurs and says that such a hypothetical would never happen. I bet the President is glad he tackled that first.

8:58PM Obama says that he has traveled to Israel, was aware of the dangers they faced, and sponsored the Iron Dome missile system to keep them safe.

8:56PM Thank god I'm not doing that Salon.com drinking game. Romney just said "4 more years closer to a nuclear Iran" twice and I'd be wasted (not that I wouldn't have gotten wasted long ago).

8:54PM Obama says that he never went on any such tour and that Romney would never support proper sanctions against Iran because he invested in a Chinese firm that dealt in Iranian oil.

8:53PM Romney once again accuses Obama for going on an apology tour and for failing to show proper strength to scare off our enemies. If Obama doesn't knock this out of the park it'll be political malpractice.

8:52PM Obama also declares that the U.S. will not wait forever, will not let Iranian negotiators delay us. The undecided voter instant reaction poll has been favoring Obama for some time now.

8:50PM Obama says that his administration has not delayed in implementing sanctions, but that such work is difficult and that such a thing was only possible because we worked closely with our allies for a long time to create a successful regime. It is painfully obvious which candidate on the stage really knows foreign policy.

8:48PM Romney says that Obama delayed in putting sanctions onto Iran, could do more. Says that the U.S. should try Ahmedinijad for inciting genocide and making Iranian diplomats pariahs all over the world. Boy, Romney can't talk much tougher than that.

8:47PM Obama notes - accurately - how crippled the Iranian economy is, and that he will not preemptively attack Iran. War is not the first answer. Both he and Romney are making sure that there is no daylight between the U.S. and Israel.

8:44PM Obama is focusing on our military's capabilities when talking about budgeting: it doesn't matter if we have fewer ships than we had in 1916; we have fewer horses and bayonets too. War has changed and our ships are much better than they once were. Excellent answer.

8:43PM Romney says the military's equipment is old and worn out and needs to be replaced.

8:40PM Obama finally mentions that the U.S. spends more on defense than the next 12 countries combined. Our budget ought to be driven by strategy not politics. Also mentions again how Romney's math doesn't add up. How this point has not yet penetrated the mind of all people I don't know.

8:39PM Romney will get the cash by cutting Obamacare and other programs. Says that he would have states run Medicare as they could run it more cost effectively. Says he could balance the budget in 8-10 years.

8:38PM Schieffer asks Romney point blank where he will get the money for increased defense spending.

8:35PM Obama says that Romney's policies do not actually help small-businesses and mentions how poorly Massachusetts did under Romney. Goes into a discussion about education. Foreign policy seems to drifting off into the sunset.

8:33PM Romney denies that his policies are reckless, says that he has an agenda for the future and can do what Obama has failed to do: create jobs. Hmm, mentions the importance of Latin America too. That's surprising. I thought it would drop out of the debate altogether, although they haven't mentioned the drug war in Mexico yet. 

8:30PM Obama: America remains the one indispensible nation, and it is stronger today than it was when I cam into office, largely because I pulled us out of Iraq and Afghanistan and refocused on our allies. I've repositioned us so that we can rebuild the country - and then he talks about his own economic program: manufacturing, insourcing, alternative energy, etc.

8:28PM Schieffer asks: what is America's role in the world? Romney: the U.S. must be a world leader promoting democracy and peace, this requires that America be strong first - and transitions into a discussion about the economy. 

8:26PM Romney says that he also supported the removal of Mubarak, but says that we needed a better vision of the future. That said, he is not divorcing his views enough from the President on this, and Romney is not getting a lot of support in the reaction poll.

8:25PM And Obama is still talking...wrap it up before you lose the audience!

8:23PM Schieffer asks Obama whether he regrets saying that Mubarak of Egypt should go. Obama says no, that he supports democracy. Also says that he is pressuring them right now to protect the rights of women, religious minorities, and the security of Israel.

8:22PM Romney says that he doesn't want the military to get involved in Syria - not even to impose a no-fly zone. Once again accuses Obama of not showing leadership - despite what we've done - simply because the war isn't over yet.

8:20PM Obama relates Syria back to Libya, and says that Romney once attacked the Libya from suffering from mission creep in trying to overthrow Gaddafi.  

8:18PM Romney declares Syria a humanitarian disaster and says that we should hit the regime, protecting both Israel and damaging Iran. Says that we shouldn't get drawn into a military conflict there. Wants to arm the rebels too, yet in a way that we can control. Goooood luck with that.

8:16PM Ouch, Schieffer asks Obama what he is going to do about Assad since tens of thousands have died since Obama declared that Assad had to go. Obama says that we are mobilizing our international allies and arming the rebels. Hewing close to the center on this one.

8:14PM Now they are getting into a fight over the status of force agreement in Iraq. 15 minutes in and things are getting ugly. Obama gets the last word and starts going through a bullet list of what the U.S. needs to do. Gets a lot of support for talk of nation building at home.

8:12PM Obama is tearing Romney apart, but sadly the undecided voter instant reaction poll doesn't seem to recognize this.

8:10PM Obama hits Romney for changing his position - used to say that Russia was the biggest threat facing the U.S., now terrorists. Says that Romney's policies are dated and are of no use today, and that Romney's opinions on foreign policy to date have been confused and inconsistent.

8:07PM Romney talks about going after terrorists - but that is precisely what Obama has done. Now he's dropping buzz words about what the U.S. should do in the region as though what the native's think doesn't matter. He's all over the place.

8:06PM Obama mentions how he ended the war in Iraq, is transitioning out of Afghanistan, and has decimated AQ's core leadership. Hitting all of his selling points right off the bat. Says that the administration would do all that it can to see that our diplomats are kept safe and justice done. Also brags that our intervention in Libya was the best intervention the country has ever had.

8:05PM Romney discusses the Arab Spring and how our initial hopes in the movement has been dashed. Mentions Iran, but surprisingly enough also Mali's problems. Says that Al-Qaeda is not on the run and is not hiding. We cannot kill our way out. 

8:04PM First question - again - is on Libya: what happened, was it spontaneous, was it a policy failure, was President Obama's reaction to it really misleading? Your reactions.

8:03PM Alright, the final debate starts!

7:58PM A friend of mine referred me to a drinking game designed by Salon.com. Looking at the terms they're using, I'm staying as far away from it as possible! I could easily see 3/4 of the terms used in the first half hour.

7:54PM Hmm, CNN is interviewing Candy Crowley, the moderator from the last debate, and she notes that Bob Schieffer has done this three time. He ought to have this thing in hand, but then again, I said the same thing about Jim Lehrer.

7:53PM Alright, sitting down for the debate. I will be watching CNN again this time. What can I say, the undecided instant voter reaction tool they've got it just too interesting.

2:35PM I should read Drezner more often as he has a convenient analysis of how voters in Ohio and Florida view foreign policy, with Floridans being more isolationist and Ohioians seeking more international engagement. A majority of voters also thought that the Arab Spring has harmed American interests or were unsure of its impact.  Assuming both campaigns are aware of these numbers, that's gonna have a big impact on the debate. If Romney toes the neoconservative line too closely he may lose voters in Florida right as he is locking up the state. If Obama doesn't have a strong defense of his administration's policy towards the Arab Spring, then Romney is going to try and claim that he has endangered American interests. This is kind of a sad reality, unfortunately. Despite how many people claim to believe in freedom for others on one hand, it seems that they would gladly throw many people in the Middle East back into the arms of dictators with the other.

2:28PM Politico released a list of tonight's debate topics, 2/3rds of which will focus on the Middle East, and Daniel Drezner over at Foreign Policy is angry - and rightfully so. As Drezner notes, the debate will totally ignored the Eurozone financial crisis, Latin America, Africa, Russia, India, North Korea, and other important topics. Its amazing how we were on the verge of another great recession this summer as the Eurozone flirted with disaster yet apparently that warrents no consideration whatsover. Drezner also has a concise list of several lies told by both candidates on foreign policy during last week's debate.

2:19PM Running the latest analysis of the polls and fundamental factors, Nate Silver at the New York Times finds that Obama still remains the favorite in the swing states. Romney will need some sort of push to get over the top and secure 270 electoral votes.