Welcome to ThinkProgress’ live coverage of the final presidential debate, hosted by Lynn University, in Boca Raton, Florida.
We’ll fact-check both candidates’ claims in real time and offer a wide range of multimedia content. Tonight’s debate is moderated by Bob Schieffer, host of CBS’ Face the Nation, and will focus on foreign policy. This is the 23 (and final) debate of the 2012 election.
Romney closed the debate tonight talking about his time as Massachusetts governor and his ability to “reach across the aisle.” Now that we’re so close to the election, Romney is trying to show how moderate he is, but that’s a big change in tune from a few months ago when we was trying to convince Americans he was “severely conservative.”
During his closing statement, Romney said that the U.S. is headed down a path like that of Greece. But Greece, contrary to popular belief, had a revenue problem rather than a spending problem. While its spending was high compared to US standards — 50.4 percent of GDP compared to 38 percent of GDP in the US — its spending was average among European nations. As CAP’s Michael Linden and Sabina Dewan note, “Over the past 10 years, Greece has consistently spent less, as a share of GDP, than the European Union as a whole.” However, it generated less that 40 percent of GDP from revenue — one of the lowest rates in the EU.
His plan for the auto bailout, however, would have ensured the collapse of the auto industry. In his editorial titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” Romney advocated for letting the private sector finance the bankruptcy of General Motors and Chrysler. Auto insiders, however, have said that plan was “reckless” and “pure fantasy.”
Most of the deficit problems the country is faces were caused not by the Democratic policies of Obama, but by those of President George W Bush — particularly, the Iraq war, which was pushed by many of Romney’s advisers:
Like he just said, as part of the much vaunted “Asia Pivot”, President Obama began a shifting of priorities from the Middle East to Asia. In doing so, Obama has increased ties with Australia, posting Marines at a base in the city of Darwin now. Also, the growing links between the U.S. and Viet Nam, the Philippines, and other Association of South East Asian Nations help balance American interests against China’s in the region.
The value of the yuan has actually appreciated — though admittedly not as much as it should have — against the dollar since Obama took office. The administration has built an international coalition that is accelerating a move toward market driven exchange rates.
Romney’s firm invested in a Chinese company that touted low wages, stringent working conditions and low tax liability. Recently, a company Romney invested in forced its employees to train their Chinese replacements before being fired.
For all his talk on China, Romney has been very vague on the actual impact of his promise to label the world’s most populous nation as a currency manipulator. Perhaps that’s because the outlook isn’t as cut-and-dry positive as Romney implies; applying the label to China would result in increased prices for Chinese imports at best, and a massively destructive trade war at worst.
Romney attacked Obama for the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. That’s odd because Romney said he has no interest in helping achieve peace. “There’s just no way” to achieve Middle East peace, he said at a fundraiser, adding that his policy will be to “kick the can down the the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”
Obama has referenced global women’s rights a few times this debate. It’s worth noting that Romney’s only plan for women abroad is his promise to reinstate the Reagan-era policy of a “global gag rule” via executive order. This rule denies US funding for any international organization that discusses abortion or provides abortion referrals for their clients, thus cutting off some women from family planning services. If Romney were able to do this, it would have a much more far-reaching effect than his effort to defund Planned Parenthood.
Obama has ramped up efforts to get veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan jobs when they return home. First Lady Michelle Obama has spearheaded a program that has encouraged employers to pledge thousands of jobs for vets. Romney’s plan for veterans? He doesn’t have one.
Romney has resisted releasing concrete plans of how he would take care of the extremely high number of veterans in this country. When asked by Reuters for specific policy proposals, the campaign released a one-page document that did not get specific. He has also flirted with transforming veterans health care into a voucher system.
As he has in the debate, Romney recently called for a “complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.” This is Obama’s policy and the current military strategy in Afghanistan.
That’s true – the deceased leader’s compound in Abottabad yielded a “treasure trove” of intelligence on al Qaeda, but in 2007, Romney said he believed “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person,” Osama bin Laden. Romney said he didn’t want to “over-concentrate” on the terrorist mastermind because he didn’t think bin Laden’s death or capture would affect the global jihadist movement, though by most estimates, the President’s anti-terrorism policies have significantly weakened al-Qaeda’s central leadership.
Dan Senor, Mitt Romney’s senior foreign policy adviser, said in late July: “If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing the capability, the governor would respect that decision.”
Obama’s thrown Israel under the bus? That must be news to Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who told CNN, “President Obama is doing . . . more than anything that I can remember in the past [in regard to our security].”
“When I look at the record of President Obama concerning the major issues, security, I think it’s a highly satisfactory record, from an Israeli point of view,” said Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Romney again said that Obama went on an “apology tour” around the world upon becoming president. “There was no apology tour,” the Washington Post fact checker noted. “This has been the biggest whopper that has been told on this campaign,” Obama replied.
Shirin Ebadi, Iran’s Nobel Peace Prize winning activist, believed Obama’s approach was appropriate, saying: “What happens in Iran regards the people themselves, and it is up to them to make their voices heard. I respect his comments on all the events in Iran, but I think it is sufficient.”
In July 2012, Obama signed into law the most effective sanctions ever put into place against Iran, targeting the country’s oil and financial sectors. These sanctions were imposed unilaterally by the U.S. and come in addition to the four rounds of sanctions the UN has enacted since 2006. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the sanctions “very effective,” and Romney has said he would continue them if elected.
“I want also to thank President Obama and you for handling the more complicated issue and the most dangerous issue of all time, Iran. … I think the coalition you have built — and a coalition should have been built, it’s not a matter for one country — and the measures that you have taken are beginning to have their impact, are the right start,” Israeli President Shimon Peres said in July.
Polls show the US does not want a war with Iran, and a majority believe a unilateral Israeli strike would worsen the US’s strategic position in the Middle East. In addition, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found 53 percent of Americans opposed bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities, even though 84 percent believed Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.
As Romney said, the U.S. Navy IS smaller than it was in 1917. However, when Romney says that, he doesn’t take into account a multitude of things. First, the navy has actually grown in the sheer number of ships under Obama. Second, his plans to increase shipbuilding is unrealistic. Finally, the claim does not take into account that, as President Obama says, “we have ships that have planes land on them, we have nuclear submarines” and other high-tech warfighting weapons. Politifact ranked Romney’s claim as “Pants on Fire.”
Polls consistently show the Israeli public generally does not want a war with Iran — unilateral or otherwise. Forty-six percent of respondents said “Israel should not attack Iran’s nuclear facilities” in one poll, and in another, only 19 percent favored unilateral action, which President Shimon Peres has ruled out.
There is wide consensus — even among some Republicans — that an attack on Iran would only delay its nuclear program a maximum of 4 years. It would also encourage Iran to pursue a nuclear weapon, even though both the IAEA and Israeli intelligence agree Iran has not made the decision to build a bomb at this point.
Romney would like to bring ship production for the American Navy back up to the levels it was at toward the end of the Cold War. Reduction in the number of ships produced is not a policy of the Obama administration, it’s a trend. During George W. Bush’s presidency, in fact, fewer ships were produced than under Obama:
Obama mocked Romney’s widely debunked Navy claim during the debate, noting, “Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets.” Watch it:
Romney’s campaign has not been able to say how Romney would finance his plan to increase military spending by $2.1 trillion. One Romney adviser said that Romney will continue war spending indefinitely. When asked to explain tonight, Romney said, “Go to my website.” Go to the website. There’s no answer.
Romney touted his supposed success with education policy in Massachusetts. But education experts have faint praise for his proposals while he was governor. “His impact was inconsequential,” said Glen Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. “People viewed his proposals as political talking points, and no one took Romney seriously.”
Romney’s the one who said we don’t need more teachers or firefighters. Here’s the full quote of him attacking Obama for wanting more workers in those sectors: “he wants another stimulus, he wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”
In fact, his Lt. Governor Kerry Healey (R), in her failed 2006 bid to succeed Romney she criticized him for not doing enough to help small business, saying “I think the emphasis when the governor came into office was very much on `How do we go outside of Massachusetts and bring jobs in?’ My orientation is very different.”
Romney called for strengthening the economy though job training. But Paul Ryan’s budget calls for spending 33 percent less on “Education, training, employment, and social services” than Obama’s budget.
Romney’s belief that Obama didn’t do enough to support Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution has been well-documented. In a foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute in early October, Romney said “when millions of Iranians took to the streets… when they cried out, ‘Are you with us, or are you with them?’—the American President was silent.” Yet would aligning with the fledgling opposition movement have helped? Probably not – many believe it would have discredited the movement and only served to destroy their attempts at democratizing Iran.
Romney wants to increase military spending from 3.5 percent of GDP to 4 percent. This amounts to a $2.1 trillion increase over a ten year period, and he has no plan to pay for it. CAP’s Lawrence Korb ran the numbers on Romney’s defense budget:
Though the world was caught off guard by the overthrown of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, experts say the decades of economic stagnation and authoritarian rule under Mubarak virtually guaranteed an uprising at some point. Not so, according to Romney surrogate John Bolton. He recently told Fox News that “instead of supporting a loyal ally . . . we threw Mubarak over the edge,” as if the lack of US backing was the sole reason causing the dictator’s toppling.
He used to blame the Obama administration for it, saying “President [George W.] Bush urged [deposed Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak to move toward a more democratic posture, but President Obama abandoned the freedom agenda and we are seeing today a whirlwind of tumult in the Middle East in part because these nations did not embrace the reforms that could have changed the course of their history, in a more peaceful manner.”
On Twitter, she’s said: “In last 2 debates, Mitt wasted first Q completely–meandering answrs…missed oppty 2lacerate Obama off the bat. Why no Libya press conf?!” and “For the life of me, I don’t understand why Romney’s first answer wasn’t focused and clear. It sounded like GWB–changing hrts & minds.”
Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan once said that Obama’s policy, particularly on Syria is to “subjugate ourselves to the United Nations.” While Russia and China have vetoed multiple resolutions at the U.N. Security Council on Syria, the United States has also been working through the Friends of Syria group and other allies in the region.
During his much-panned foreign policy speech, Romney only briefly mentioned possible solutions to the various problems around the world. In speaking on Syria, Romney said he would seek to “work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets.” In actuality, this would be extremely difficult to achieve and is hindered by the fact that, according to a recent New York Times report, the major beneficiary of current arms flows into Syria are jihadist groups.
The risk of a “heavy weapons” push in Syria is real: such weapons could easily wind up in the hands of jihadists. Even Syria’s closer neighbors like Saudi Arabia and Qatar have stopped short of sending heavy weaponry to Syrian rebels for the same reason. The administration has sent the CIA to Turkey to help facilitate the flow of weapons and try to make sure they stay out of the hands of militants.
In a debate on November 22, 2011, Mitt Romney floated the idea of a “no-drive” zone in Syria – a total military interdiction on ground vehicles. How this would be accomplished is less than clear, as it would involve massive air support of such an operation.
After being challenged by Obama, Romney still didn’t refer to al Qaeda as the greatest national security threat that the United States faces. Instead, he focused on Iran.
This reflects 2007 well, when Romney believed “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person,” even when that person was Osama bin Laden. Romney didn’t want to “over-concentrate” on the terrorist mastermind because he didn’t think bin Laden’s death or capture would affect the global jihadist movement, though by most estimates, the President’s anti-terrorism policies have significantly weakened al-Qaeda’s central leadership.
He issued a statement attacking the Obama administration for taking our troops out at the time. He made a similar claim in a recent speech: “America’s ability to influence events for the better in Iraq has been undermined by the abrupt withdrawal of our entire troop presence.”
“The 1980s called, they want their foreign policy back,” Obama said to Romney, referring to the former governor’s Cold War mentality. Romney had previously claimed that Russia remains the US’s “number one geopolitical foe.”
It’s true that Romney has been “all over the map,” as Obama just said, on the topic of intervention in Libya. In April of 2011, he criticized the entire concept of the intervention, claiming the President undertook “under-deliberated and ad hoc” action and allowed for “mission creep and mission muddle” to set in. Not two months later, though, he attacked Obama for “leading from behind,” not taking an active enough role in Libya.
Though European NATO members led the mission in Libya, US involvement was essential for its success. The US launched 97 percent of the missiles used against Gadhafi’s air defenses and provided 75 percent of aerial refueling and reconnaissance flights.
Romney says that the Libya incident was carried out by “terrorists of some kind.” He has previously claimed that the perpetrators were “affiliated with those that attacked our homeland on September 11th, 2001.”
During the debate, the Fox network will be airing the final game in the NLCS baseball playoffs between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants. ESPN will show the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions.
Romney, who won the coin toss, will receive the first question and then each candidate will have two minutes to respond, with the moderator asking follow-up questions. There will be six 15-minute segments and both Obama and Romney will deliver two-minute closing remarks, with Obama going first. Here are the general topics:
— America’s role in the world
— Our Longest war – Afghanistan
— Red Lines – Israel and Iran
— The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism – I
— The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism – II
— The Rise of China and Tomorrow’s World
Just moments before the start of the debate, Romney foreign policy adviser Dan Senor struggled to explain how the GOP presidential candidate’s approach to Iran would differentiate from Obama’s. He also didn’t say if Romney would back one-on-one negotiations: