The Third Presidential Debate

So, third debate time, after the first and second. This is primarily a foreign policy debate and follows much the same rules as the first debate a few weeks ago.

Romney needs something out of this. The polls are stabilising, and another debate like last week’s won’t be enough. It sucks for him, because I think foreign policy is Romney/Ryan’s big weakpoint.

Obama has a lot of success (or things that can be spun as successes) in this area, and so many of Romney’s policies are simply a mirror of the Democratic positions. He has to differentiate, he has to make the President uncomfortable. All Obama has to do is stay on message and keep the debate close, avoid a meltdown.

0202: Starting late. No idea who this moderator is. Questions are his. Romney will answer first, Obama will respond, then an additional bit for debate. A nation a segment? Expect China, Libya, Syria, Israel and especially Iran.

0203: First segment, on the Middle-East in general and the ”changing face of terrorism”. Question: Libya?

0204: Romney to start us off. Calls Libya “an area of great concern”. Doubt that Mitt. Criticises the outcome of the Arab Spring, the continued bloodshed in Syria, the consulate attack in Libya. Keeps saying “types” when describing terrorists. Odd. Namedrops Iran and nuclear weapons. Big talking point. Congratulates Obama for assassinating OBL but says “we can’t kill our way out of this mess”. Interesting stance for him to take, considering his policies.

0206: Obama says he has kept Americans safe in the last four years. Hits heavily on his attacks on al-Qaeda, moves onto the Afghan withdrawal as a “responsible” policy. Emphasis a few times on his targeting of those who “killed Americans”. Bigs up the coalition aspect of the Libyan intervention and the lack of “boots on the ground”. Both basic answers from the two candidates, nothing really to say. Obama looks way more confident than the first debate, but so does Romney.

0209: Romney strategy is to “go after the bad guys”. Hmm. But wants to push the Muslim world to reject extremism. Economic development, law, gender equality all mentioned. All good ideas, but how is the US supposed to do it? Repeating himself a good bit here Romney, not very effective.

0211: Obama on the attack, hitting Romney for previous campaign statements that contradict his peaceful tone here. Criticises his lack of experience, his support for the Iraq War. Not as aggressive as last week, but certainly Obama is trying to unsettle Romney here. Keeps using the word “wrong”, think this is a good answer.

0212: Romney deflects the criticism as Obama trying to avoid the point of the segment, but he’ll respond anyway. Defends comments on Russia, sounded good there. The two divide sharply on “status of forces” agreements in Iraq. Talkover time. Obama goes off on a ramble here, starts talking about his diplomatic initiatives. Thought they were talking about Iraq troop levels? General point is that nation-building is bad for the US in the Middle-East which is fine I suppose.

0216: Syria! Should the policy be reassessed? Obama talks up his role in organising internationally backed sanctions and aid. He’s mobilising the “moderate” sources in Syria apparently. I’m sure. Talks up Israel’s role in the region, bit of a buck pass. Obama says further “entanglement” in Syria is a serious step with a lot of drawbacks. Man, every reason he lists here could be applied to Libya.

0218: Romney emphasises the importance of Syria in a strategic sense, but I think he does a lousy job of explaining why America should care. Also doesn’t seem to realise Iran has a coastline. His “solution” really isn’t that different from Obama’s, just wants to give more guns to the rebels. It’s all about “recognising the responsible parties”. Good luck with that. Basically, Asad bad. Weak stuff from both candidates here.

0220: Obama says the US is playing the leadership role and mirrors Romney’s hopes of only aiding those who will “be friends”. Calls Libya a “unique circumstance”. Yeah, sure it was. I’m very bitter about that whole area by the way.  Obama makes Ghaddafi sound like genuine threat to America, really reaching.

0222: Romney does not support military action in Syria. Both candidates policies are nearly identical here. Romney starts talking about what the US should have done, thinks America can unify the Syrian rebels. What? How? Obama hits Romney on the similarity of their positions, good that he was able to get that shot in.

0223: Any regrets about Egypt? Obama says no, that America has to “stand with democracy”. What about Iranian protests then? Obama goes on to criticise Egyptian stances on gender rights and minority oppression. Starts talking about Egyptian hopes and dreams, American efforts to introduce commerce and business. Ok, not a bad answer.

0226: Romney would not have supported Mubarak either. Easy answer to give, Romney criticises Obama for not working towards the Arab Spring earlier. Thinks America needs to promote peace. A child could be a candidate in this debate. Beginning to think this is a worthless discussion. Romney decides to start talking about domestic policy and military cuts, off the topic completely.

0228: Moving on, thank God. What is America’s role in the world? Romney: Defending freedom, promoting peace, truth, justice and the American way. Pretty much the same as his last answer. Goes back again to the American economy. This is pathetic stuff here. Romney is deflecting from his lack of foreign policy ideas by twisting the debate back to the homeland. After a while he decides to criticise Obama for his silence on the Iranian protests. Ok, that was a good point at least.

0231: Obama praises American relationship with allies, then goes back himself to the American economy. Suppose he has to respond to Romney’s comments? Still, this is not what this debate is supposed to be about. Really disappointed with this so far. Obama is now talking about Romney’s association with Bush and Cheney. That wasn’t the question!

0233: And the moderator decides to let it go and let the candidates talk about domestic stuff. I’m not writing much until they get back on topic.

0236: I know that voters care more about domestic issues. Of course they do. But this swinging of the debate topic is astonishing. Obama talking about his education policy now.

0237: Moderator tries to get back to foreign policy. Romney isn’t interested. Good Lord…

0239: Obamacare being discussed now, after a question about military spending. Romney did not even attempt to answer the question. Running scared.

0240: Obama hits Romney for his budget plan, for what the military is actually asking for, for how it doesn’t add up at all. All good stuff, but repeated a lot.

0242: Balanced budgets being discussed now. Not only is this off topic, but it’s been repeated in previous debates.

0243: Romney claims the US Navy is smaller now than it was in 1917. True in terms of number of ships – but they have aircraft carriers and submarines now you know? Obama nails him so well on that point.

0245: Ok, back on topic properly now. Is an attack on Israel an attack on the United States? Obama basically says yes, “he’ll stand with Israel if they are attacked”. Plays up America’s relationship with Israel, military co-operation. Says Iran will not have a nuclear weapon in his tenure. Emphasis the sanctions that have made a “shambles” of Iranian economy. Plenty to pick at with that, but it’s a good, strong answer.

0247: Romney similarly declares that he will stand with Israel and prevent a nuclear Iran. Says he’ll tighten sanctions, isolate Iran diplomatically. He does a half decent job of differentiating himself with Obama here, but it’s pretty much the same answer.

0250: What “deal” would you accept with Iran? Obama says he wants Iran to give up its nuclear program and abide by UN resolutions. Pretty simple stuff really, Obama surrounds it with some padding. Wonder if Romney disagrees…

0253: Well, Romney doesn’t answer the question, decides to start criticising past American policy on Iran. Not bad points though. Previous talk of pushing democracy sounds hollow after the “Green” protests. Romney plays the scare card by talking about Iranian nuclear capability which will be “a threat to America”. Yeah, sure.

0255: Obama fights back hard, sounds a bit pissed about this constant “apology tour” thing. Bit angry there, not great I think.

0256: Romney says Iran is four years closer to nuclear capability. Ohh scary! You know just what Romney is trying to pull here. Tries to justify the “apology tour” line, but…doesn’t. At all. Obama decides to just start recounting what he actually did on that tour, it’s all sort of tedious.

0259: If Israel decides to start bombing Iran what would you do? Romney says that won’t happen if he’s President. Ok then. Oh and back to Iran. Romney is just bullying this moderator and changing the topic as he sees fit. After a minute of a topic that is in the past, he hits Obama on the lack of support from Congress for his Israeli policy? See, I personally think these kind of answers are weak, but I can see how they would play to a lot of people.

0301: Obama hits Romney on his flip-flopping in regards foreign policy, like Iraq troop numbers, al-Qaeda, etc. It’s all true too. Then goes sentimental about children of 9/11 victims. Works I suppose, it’s impossible to criticise Obama on OBL.

0303: After a brief bit of Romney bitching about debate format, it’s time for Afghanistan. If Afghanistan is clearly not ready by 2014, what? Romney says they’re gone by 2014 and that the surge has been successful!? Good Lord. Spends more time talking about Pakistan really, which is actually fine because it’s more important. Didn’t answer the question.

0306: Obama plays up the surge and the “many objectives” that have been met. The Afghan’s are able to defend their own country, apparently. Gone by 2014. Time to go home. All known points. And back to domestic policy. At least it’s a good one, talking about the need for more resources for PTSD-related problems.

0309: Time to “divorce” Pakistan? No says Romney, the nuclear factor is too hard to ignore. The consequences of anarchy are too dangerous, which is true. Danger of Afghan refugees flooding back over the border, ok, interesting point. Basic gist is that Pakistan has to become more democratic. Romney just agreeing with so many Obama points that I’m struggling to see the worth of this entire debate.

0313: Obama talks about the efforts they’ve made in Pakistan and other areas, all sounds a bit weak to my ears. Al-Qaeda is weaker, first time I’ve heard that! This is just repeated points over and over again.

0315: Greatest future threat to America? Obama says terrorist networks, describes China as a “potential partner”. An expected positive approach, to differ from Romney’s expected attack. Obama has a trade tax force to deal with China apparently. Not sure how well it’s working. Some swipes at Romney’s budget and we’re done.

0317: Greatest threat to the world is a “nuclear Iran”. Not North Korea or Russia then? Criticises China’s breaking of “the rules”, how military cuts makes America look weak, more stuff on trade problems with China. When asked if this could be antagonistic, he says no, that a trade war won’t happen because China is more dependent on the US. Really? As I’ve said before, lot of talk here, but I have no faith in Romney actually doing anything about this if elected.

0321: Obama just nails Romney, again, on his outsourcing of American jobs to China. Romney’s never been able to actually respond to that at all in these debates. Obama keeps namedropping his education policy, oh and there’s the obligatory mention of “green energy”.

0324: All domestic policy stuff now, all things that have been covered before. Both candidates are saying their points strongly, clearly, but it’s all been said before so I don’t really have much to add. Good line when Obama says that if they followed Romney’s plan for auto industry they’d all be buying foreign cars. Obama talks over Romney here, but he’s a good bit over time.

0326: Ok, at least they seem to be disagreeing here a bit about spending cuts and the like. This was supposed to be a foreign policy debate, I’m just not interested.

0329: Closing statements. Obama: Romney’s economic policies will protect the rich, while  the President’s will bring back manufacturing, control our energy yaddayaddayadda. This is parrot debating. He’ll go after “those who does us harm”. Uses the “nation-building at home” line for the third time tonight. He’ll fight for America. Woo.

0332: Romey: Positive about the economy, he can create jobs, balance budget (no he won’t. Sorry, he just won’t).  He’ll be a strong leader, etc, etc, etc.

0334: And we are done. Thank God.

What can I say? It was an awful debate, where the two candidate spent most of their time insisting that they had opposing views even when they didn’t, and altering the subject of the debate to what they wanted it to be. Poorly moderated too.

On actual policy, I’d give it to Obama. On vote winning, I think it can be called a tie. If pressed I’d hand it to Obama, but only just. A bit better in his points, landed some good shots on his opponent, though nothing of great substance. Both candidates were clear and thorough with their words, but it had nearly all been said before.

I said at the start that Romney needed something more than just a good showing here, and that has not happened. I think this election, barring some major scandal or similar earth-shattering news, is over. The polls stabilized in the last week, the electoral geography does not favour Romney as it stands…I don’t think he can do it at this point.

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