Obama bayonets defensive Romney in final debate

Oct 23, 2012

Republican was too defensive for many, as polls suggest Obama won final debate – but do voters care about foreign policy?

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PRESIDENT Barack Obama won the US presidential debate by a distance in Boca Raton, Florida, last night, according to overnight polls. The subject of the night was foreign policy – a perceived weakness for Romney – and Obama mocked his Republican challenger mercilessly.

When Romney complained the US navy now has fewer ships than in 1916, Obama replied: "Well Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets."

He added: "The nature of the military has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."

Obama also slated Romney for suggesting that Russia, rather than al-Qaeda, was the biggest geopolitical threat to the US, joking: "The 1980s called. They want their foreign policy back."

Romney, for his part, frequently attempted to return the debate to domestic matters. In a rare attack on Obama, he accused the president of going on an "apology tour" of the Middle East soon after he entered the White House in 2008 – and of purposefully not visiting Israel. "By the way, they noticed that you skipped Israel," he said.

A CBS News poll found that 53 per cent of viewers thought Obama won the debate, while just 23 per cent gave it to Romney. A PPP survey of 11 swing states found Obama won the night by 53-42.

A number of commentators thought Romney had purposefully avoided going on the attack during last night's debate in order to avoid making any gaffes. He has already enjoyed a surge in the polls and a debate on foreign policy was not expected to change voters' minds.

Victor Davis Hanson writes in the National Review: "In the third debate, Obama had to show in 90 minutes that the first two debates were a fluke, and that Romney was not presidential enough to end his tenure. He did not do that by any means; for all his pique, interruptions, and attacks, Obama scored few points against the workmanlike Romney who knew that he simply did not have to lose."

Fox News's Joe Trippi called the debate "The Big Hug", adding: "Romney tried to embrace Obama's policies on many of the major foreign policy questions of the day in an attempt to block the president from painting him as reckless and extreme... the subtle message from Romney tonight, that foreign policy shouldn't be a deciding issue in this election, may have been the one that broke through the most."

However, Romney's defensive posture was criticised as ineffective by other commentators.

"Romney was constantly trying to parry Obama attacks; he knocked some down but plenty got through too," said Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post, labelling Romney a "loser" of the night.

Obama's 'bayonets' and '1980s calling' putdowns are the two moments that the media coverage will focus on over the coming days, he added. "Obama came across as the more confident and commanding presence — by a lot."

In a Leader, the New York Times said that Romney appeared "completely lost" during the debate. "On issue after issue, Mr. Romney sounded as if he had read the boldfaced headings in a briefing book — or a freshman global history textbook — and had not gone much further than that...

"Mr. Romney's closing statement summed it all up. He said almost nothing about foreign policy. He moved back to his comfort zone: cheerfully delivered disinformation about domestic policy."

Peter Foster, in The Daily Telegraph, agrees. "So intent was Mr Romney in appearing presidential and in countering the Democrat charge that he and his team of Bush-era advisers were reckless warmongers, that Mr Romney at times failed to advance any foreign policies at all."

This was as bad a performance by Romney as Obama's own showing in the first debate in Denver, he says. And while few Americans care about foreign policy, "passing the 'commander-in-chief test' is crucial to broader electability: Mr Romney didn't disqualify himself, but in the particular battle, he did nothing to cover himself in glory either".

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"The Iranian press has reported on the debate, but so far has not come out with criticism towards anything the candidates said."
That is about as clear a sign as we are going to get before the election that Iran is indeed negotiating with the U.S. for an entirely civil nuclear program -- with thorough and regular inspections that extend for decades.