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2012 Presidential Debate Summary


2012 Presidential Debate

Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama

(Photo credit: Stan Honda / Getty Images)

Summary of Third Presidential Debate:

The third and final debate between Democrat incumbent President Barack Obama and Republican contender Governor Mitt Romney was on October 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. It focused on foreign policy, although it focused primarily on the Middle East, including Syria, Libya, Israel, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. There was also conversation around China and, of course, the U.S. economy.

The previous two debates have largely centered on Obama's past jobs record, Romney's 5-point plan and the Bush tax cuts. The first debate spent more time on Obamacare, including its tax implications, than on details about job creation and healing the housing market -- the two areas most critical to voters' day-to-day lives.

The second debate also talked a lot about the candidates' positions on women, banning assault weapons and the attack on the Libyan embassy.

Although the third debate was not supposed to address the economy, analysts correctly predicted that Romney would use the discussion of China to reiterate his view that Obama hasn't done enough to sanction China as a currency manipulator, thereby increasing exports.

The moderator was Bob Schieffer, CBS News' Chief Washington Correspondent and moderator of Face the Nation. He noted that the debate was on the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy announcement that the Russians had nuclear missiles in Cuba. This signified the importance of foreign policy to the future of the U.S. Mr. Schieffer's questions covered six major foreign policy topics:

  1. The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism.
  2. America's Role in the World.
  3. Our longest war - Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  4. Red Lines - Israel and Iran.
  5. The Rise of China and Tomorrow's World.

Does the Attack in Libya Mean the U.S. Middle East Policy Is Unraveling?

Romney: The U.S. needs a comprehensive approach to foreign policy in the Middle East. The key is to get the Muslim world to reject extremism on its own. The U.S. can foster this with more economic development, promotion of gender equality and the rule of law. The Arab Spring chaos has allowed al-Qaeda to get stronger.

Obama: We've kept the U.S. safe for the last four years. We supported the liberation of Libya, but at the same cost as just two weeks in Iraq. Most Libyans still consider the U.S. a friend. A few weeks ago, Romney said that Russia was the greatest threat to the U.S. and that we should return troops to Iraq. (He otherwise painted Romney as being inconsistent in his comments and policies regarding the Middle East.) I will make sure we protect Israel, protect religious minorities and women, develop their economic capabilities. But also make sure we are doing more nation-building here than in Middle East.

Romney: Disagrees with Obama's representations of his foreign policy statements. I said that Russia is a geopolitical foe, and I would provide more backbone instead of flexibility.

Should We Find a Better Way to Influence Events in Syria?:

Obama: We've isolated Syria, mobilizing its moderate forces, and worked with Israel and other allies to say that Assad must go. However, we don't want to give heavy weapons to the opposition until we know exactly who we are helping. We are playing a leadership role.

Romney: Syria is Iran's route to the sea and its only ally. Removing Assad is paramount. We don't want to get into a military conflict, so we want to organize the opposition and make sure they have the arms they need.

Schieffer: Governor, Do You Think We Should Get More Involved in Syria?

Romney: I don't think it's necessary to put our military into Syria. We need to help organize the insurgents and give them more arms.

Obama: Romney doesn't have different ideas than what we are already doing.

Mr. President, Do Have Any Regrets in Insisting Egyptian President Mubarak Go?

Obama: I have no regrets. We have to support democracy. However, we are putting pressure on Egypt to support women's rights, abide with their agreement with Israel, work with our attempts to fight terrorism. We have to give their young people hope for a better life. We have to also focus on doing the same here, however.

Romney: I wouldn't have stuck with Mubarak, either. However, we should have tried to make for a smoother transition. To have a peaceful world, we've got to lower the U.S. debt, increase our military strength, and stand strong with our allies and principals.

What Is America's Role in the World?:

Romney: We have a responsibility to promote principles such as elections, freedom of speech, etc. We want to end conflicts. To do so, we must be strong by strengthening our own economy. I won't cut $1 trillion from military budget. We have to be prepared for who knows what. We shouldn't have pulled our missiles out of Poland. Obama shouldn't have been silent during the Green Revolution in Tehran. Romney reiterated his 5-point plan: Energy independence (including alternative energy), more free trade with a focus on Latin America, training, create a balanced budget, and foster more small business creation.

Obama: America is stronger than four years ago, because we ended the war in Iraq, which allowed us to focus on other priorities. For example, our alliances are now stronger than ever. We are rebuilding our economy by retraining workers, strengthening auto industry, cutting our oil imports by building alternative energy. Romney's plan doesn't cut the deficit.

Where Will Romney Get the Money to Add to Defense Spending?:

Romney: In eight to ten years, we will get a balanced budget by cutting non-defense spending by 10%. Get rid of Obamacare. (Factcheck: This is designed to cut the deficit, not add to it.) I've had lots of experience in balancing a budget, so I can do that without cutting defense. Our Navy is smaller now - it needs 313 ships to be effective, but has less than 285. Our Air Force is smaller than in 1947. We can now only handle one conflict at a time. Obama will cut the military by $1 trillion, although this includes the fiscal cliff sequestration.

Obama: Military spending has gone up every year I've been in office. (Factcheck: It was $851 billion in FY 2013, and $868 billion in FY 2012, lower than $890 billion in FY 2010. But still higher than any other President in history. For more, see Military budget.)) We spend more on the military than the next 10 countries. I've asked the Joint Chiefs to plan for what we'll need in the future -- cybersecurity and space. It's driven by strategy. It allows us to reduce our deficit by spending smarter, not more. Romney can't spend $2 trillion more on defense, $5 trillion more on tax cuts and still reduce the deficit. We have fewer ships now because we have more aircraft carriers and submarines.

Should We Still Leave Afghanistan in 2014 Even if the Afghans Aren't Ready?:

Romney: They will be ready. Recognize that Pakistan has a major effect on Afghanistan because they have 100 nuclear warheads. We will give Pakistan aid only if they meet certain benchmarks.

Obama: By ending war in Iraq, we could refocus on Afghanistan. We've met many of the objectives that got us there in the first place by decimating al-Qaeda's core leadership. Afghans are now perfectly capable of defending their own country. We've got to transition responsibly. This allows us to free up resources to put our own people, especially veterans, back to work, build our infrastructure. It's especially important to help the veterans with PTSD.

Governor, Is It Time to Divorce Pakistan?

Romney: No, they have too many nuclear weapons to ignore. It's not Obama's fault the relationship is strained. We will have to work with them to make sure the Pashtuns don't rush into Afghanistan as soon as we leave.

Governor, What Is Your Position on the Use of Drones?

Romney: I support it entirely. I agree with the President's decisions on that. We will have to do more by having a more comprehensive strategy to move the world away from Islamic extremism.

Obama: We've have created the partnerships needed to go after extremism, by reducing corruption in government, making sure the free market system works. During the last four years, we've stood with democracy. As a result, attitudes toward America are better.

Would Either of You Declare That an Attack on Israel Is an Attack on the U.S?:

Obama: If Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel. We have created the strongest military and intelligence cooperative in history. Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. Our sanctions are the highest in history. It's working, because Iran's currency has dropped 80%. A nuclear arms race in the Middle East is unacceptable.

Romney: We will stand with Israel militarily. I would tighten sanctions against Iran. Ships with Iranian oil can't come into our ports. Indict Ahmadinejad for genocide in the UN court. I agree that military action is a last resort.

What Is the Goal for Iran?

Obama: End their nuclear program, and they can reenter the global community. Must cooperate with inspections. We won't allow Iran to perpetually engage in negotiations that lead nowhere. If they don't meet demands, we will take all options necessary to prevent nuclear capability.

Romney: Our enemies see weakness in Obama because he ignored the Green Revolution, initially said he would meet with our enemies, and apologized for the U.S. We are four years closer to a nuclear Iran.

Obama: None of these things he just said are true. Iran is now at its weakest point than in many years thanks to our efforts.

What Would You Do If Israel Sends Bombers to Iran?

Romney: That wouldn't happen unless we had talked about it ahead of time. I see our influence waning around the world, thanks to our debt, reductions in military spending, and our deteriorating relations with Israel.

Obama: Romney has been all over the map with his foreign policies, and didn't support our efforts to get bin Laden.

What Is the Greatest Future Threat to the National Security of this Country?:

Obama: Terrorism, obviously. China is a great threat, but it also has the potential to be a great partner. Has set up a Trade Task Force to go after trade violations. Has filed twice as many trade infractions as the previous Administration, and won most of them. Stopped China from dumping cheap tires in the U.S. To compete against China, we've got to beef up education.

Romney: The greatest national security threat is a nuclear Iran. China doesn't want war, protectionism, or chaos. Agrees we can work with them, but they've got to be responsible. On day one, I will label China a currency manipulator. (Factcheck: China's currency is at the highest level in 17 years. For more, see China's Currency.)They are stealing our technology, hacking into our computers, and not playing by the rules.

If You Declare Them a Currency Manipulator, Won't That Start a Trade War?

Romney: We are already losing it, since they sell us a lot more stuff than they sell us. They want a trade war less than we do. (For details, see U.S. China Trade Deficit.

Obama: We need to invest in education and basic research, which the private sector won't do. Currencies are at the best place vis-a-vis China since 1993. The U.S. is focusing on selling to ex-China Pacific region to generate competition to China.

Romney: We should have allowed the auto industry to go through a managed bankruptcy. I never said I would liquidate the industry.

Closing Statements:

Obama: We've made great progress in changing policies that got us into the 2008 financial crisis. I got us out of two wars. Going forward, I want to retrain workers for the jobs of tomorrow, cut spending we don't need, but also ask the wealthy to chip in more. I will maintain a strong military and protect the U.S. After a decade of war, we've got to invest at home and take care of our wounded veterans.

Romney: I want to make the world a safer place, and get the economy going. If we follow the President's path, our debt will be at $20 trillion. I will balance the budget, create 12 million jobs, and work across the aisle. (Sources: C-Span Presidential Debate, October 22, 2012; CNN, Transcript of Third Debate, October 22, 2012)

Summary of Prior Debates:

On October 3, 2012 the first debate was held in Denver, Colorado. Three of six questions focused on the economy. However, most of the conversation centered around Medicare, Obamacare and the budget. Very little specifically mentioned job creation, even though that was the first question posed. Here's a summary of the first Presidential debate.

The second debate was on October 16 at Hofstra University in Hempstead New York. It was a town hall format, in which the candidates answered questions posed by voters. It was moderated by Candy Crowley, the chief political correspondent for CNN. Read the summary of the second Presidential debate.

There was also a debate on October 11 between Vice-President Joe Biden and the Republican VP nominee, Congressman Paul Ryan in Danville, Kentucky. See a summary of the Vice-Presidential Debate.Article updated October 23, 2012.

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