Foreign-Policy Showdown

10.22.12

WATCH VIDEO: Best Moments From the Final Presidential Debate

President Obama and Mitt Romney duked it out on America’s approach to Libya, Israel, China—and bayonets?—in the third and final presidential faceoff Monday evening. Watch the most memorable moments.

‘We Can’t Kill Our Way Out’

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Mitt Romney began Monday’s foreign-policy debate in Boca Raton, Fla., with a line that seemed to clarify his previously murky statements on our involvement in Iraq: “We can’t kill our way out of this mess,” he said. Romney has repeatedly criticized Obama’s decision to withdraw American troops from Iraq—and, more vehemently, has critiqued Obama for publicly announcing the U.S. withdrawal date—but has also, at times, refused to state whether he would send troops back to the country. Will this Etch a Sketch shakeup stick?

‘The 1980s Called …’

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… and they want their expressions back? In a line seemingly designed to ignite memes across the Internet, Obama chided Romney for saying that Russia was America’s “No. 1 geopolitical foe.” Of course, Romney said that back in March—on Monday, the GOP standard-bearer shifted the “scary foreigner” mantle to Iran, which he called “the greatest threat of all.” (Side point on Iran: Romney referred to Syria as Iran’s “route to the sea.” Two problems: Iran and Syria do not share a border, and Iran has about 1,500 miles of coastline. The Washington Post has a more thorough fact check here.)

‘Attacking Me Is Not an Agenda’

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Throughout his campaign, Romney has attacked Obama for, well, attacking him—and the GOP candidate doubled down on this approach Monday night: “Attacking me is not an agenda,” Romney scolded Obama during the debate. Indeed, over the past few months, the president has come on strong against Romney’s time at Bain Capital and his lack of foreign-policy experience, and has tried to paint the former governor as an out-of-touch plutocrat. Who wins the sympathy battle?

Romney to Obama: Where’s the Leadership?

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In an attempt to differentiate himself from Obama on Syria, Romney said he would arm rebels to fight back against Bashar al-Assad, but that he would not put American military boots on the ground. “This should have been a time for leadership,” Romney said. Obama, meanwhile, admitted that “what we’re seeing in Syria is heartbreaking, but … getting more entangled militarily in Syria is a serious step.”

People Vote For Peace

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Asked to explain America’s role in the world, Romney said “America has a responsibility and the privilege of helping defend freedom.” Fleshing out his “great power/great responsibility” reasoning, Romney explained: “When there are elections, people tend to vote for peace.” So America, he said, should “promote those principles around the world.” Or, you know, the U.S. should promote global peace because it’s the right thing to do.

Se Habla Español?

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Forget China, Romney told Americans—look to Latin America for an economic boost. “Latin America’s a huge opportunity for us,” he said. Why? Um, “time zones, language opportunities …”

Indict Ahmadinejad! Oh, Wait …

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What would Romney do about Iran, if he were president? “I’d make sure Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention,” he said. Just a quick question, Governor: How do you plan to enforce the Genocide Convention, which is an international treaty? Passed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948, the Genocide Convention requires that “Persons charged with genocide … be tried by a competent tribunal of the State in the territory of which the act was committed, or by such international penal tribunal as may have jurisdiction with respect to those Contracting Parties which shall have accepted its jurisdiction.” In other words, Ahmadinejad would have to be tried for genocide in Iran, or by an international tribunal like the International Criminal Court, which the U.S. doesn’t honor.

Giddyup! Obama’s Big Bayonet Slam

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The Internet was abuzz after Obama’s biggest smackdown of the debate. ‘Governor Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works,’ the president said in his preamble. And then, referencing Romney’s call for more naval ships, he finished: ‘Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military’s changed.’ Boom.

Who Loves Israel More?

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Obama attempted to clarify how his relationship with Israel differs from his opponent’s by contrasting their respective trips to the Holy Land. “When I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn’t take donors, I didn’t attend fundraisers,” Obama said. “I went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself [of] the nature of evil, and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.”

Schieffer’s Obama/Osama Slip

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We’ve all done it. And we’re not trying to accuse the president of being a secret Muslim extremist—we swear. So when moderator Bob Schieffer accidentally said “Obama” when he meant to say “Osama,” America let out a collective sigh of relief. And then ripped him apart on Twitter.

Romney Loves Teachers!

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For a debate devoted to foreign policy, the candidates managed to talk a lot about domestic issues. And teachers. “Look, I love teachers,” said Romney, who had previously derided his opponent’s plan to hire more educators. “I think we all love teachers,” quipped Schieffer in response. According to PBS’s Gwen Ifill, the candidates managed to avoid foreign policy for an entire 15 minutes of the hour-and-a-half debate.