Previewing and live-blogging the final presidential debate

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With one debate left, President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney are retreating from the campaign trail to bone up on foreign policy, leaving the work of courting voters to their running mates.

Obama left Friday for Camp David… He was to remain there with advisers until Monday morning. Romney was to spend the weekend in Florida with aides preparing the debate.


4:46 p.m. – Michael Crowley puts the foreign policy debate in context:

Here’s something to keep in mind as the candidates debate foreign policy on Monday night: The course of domestic politics is hard to predict. The course of world events is impossible to predict. White House hopefuls make all sorts of claims about what they’ll do at home that wind up on the scrap heap. Obama initially opposed a health care mandate. And he attacked John McCain for wanting to tax health care benefits before embracing such a tax in 2009. He might also have lowered expectations on things like climate change if he’d had more warning about the financial crisis.

Foreign policy is even more unpredictable, and it tends to shape presidents’ agendas–not the other way around.

3:55 p.m. – Bruce Riedel sees Pakistan as the most important debate topic:

[W]hat we need to hear from them Monday night is how they will keep the pressure on the terrorists in Pakistan when we bring our troops home from Afghanistan. How will we continue to undertake the necessary counterterror missions from Afghan bases? Will we keep some troops behind to ensure security for our drones and other counterterror assets? How many? How will we persuade Afghans to let us use their bases to help us fight terror? How do we persuade Pakistanis the drones are not their enemy? Should we continue our aid programs? Do we have a plan B if the Afghan Army starts to disintegrate? Do we have a plan to protect the more than 3 million young Afghan girls now going to school in their country who would be treated just like Malala if the Taliban regains power? How do we fight terror and help Malala? These are the really tough questions.

3:20 p.m. – Massimo Calabresi wants war with Iran to be debated:

As the U.S. limps home from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Romney and Obama should address explicitly whether they think sanctions [against Iran] are working, whether they should be expanded and under what circumstances they would abandon them in favor of military action.

3:07 p.m. – Zack Beauchamp notes that Romney’s foreign policy relies on the “assumption that the way the President speaks and presents himself is a principal determinant of American policy success”:

What does this mean for Obama in the last debate? Simply put, force Romney to explain himself. Avoid getting caught up in Romney’s attacks on the administration’s record; keep the spotlight squarely on what Romney would do differently. If Romney won’t defend any specific policy changes, he’ll come off as unprepared to respond to Obama’s arguments; if he does engage, Obama will have strong openings to contrast his own foreign policy vision with Romney’s unpopular Bush III position. That’s the problem with a rhetorical strategy – sometimes, the other guy gets to talk too.

2:43 p.m. – Walter Russell Mead thinks Romney needs a tie tonight:

Some hope to see Romney deal a series of devastating, knockout blows to President Obama tonight. Anything can happen in this wacky world of ours, but on balance that strategy is unlikely to work. President Obama has thought a great deal about his foreign policy and is well prepared to defend it. It is very hard to play foreign policy gotcha against a sitting president who is well briefed and who, whether one agrees with his policies or not, clearly knows the foreign policy terrain much better than his challenger. That is especially true when the country by and large hopes that the President is right.

11:50 a.m. – Bob Schieffer announced the topics for tonight’s debate. They are:

* America’s role in the world
* Our longest war – Afghanistan and Pakistan
* 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…

11:35 a.m. –  “Fundamentally, people are not looking for little details,” says Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “They don’t want to know who likes [Syrian President Bashar al] Assad more, or what the name of the group was in Libya that was involved [with the Benghazi attack.] They want to see that the president and the wannabe president are showing a vision.”

10:56 a.m. – President Obama put out a new ad which highlights the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and his plan to end the war in Afghanistan.

The script: “A decade of war. That cost us dearly… President Obama ended the Iraq war. Mitt Romney would have left thirty thousand troops there, and called bringing them home ‘tragic.’ Obama’s brought thirty thousand soldiers back from Afghanistan. And has a responsible plan to end the war. Romney calls it Obama’s ‘biggest mistake.’ It’s time to stop fighting over there and start rebuilding over here.”

“The commercial amounts to a preview of how Barack Obama will cast his foreign policy record in the third and final debate with Romney,” writes Alex Burns, “and it underscores the need for both candidates to make foreign policy relevant to voters as a concrete subject with implications here in the United States.”

9:22 a.m. – @TheStalwart: Since nobody (real) cares about foreign policy, is there any chance they can be convinced to have another domestic policy debate?

9:13 a.m. – The New York Times’ David Sanger explains: A primer on major foreign policy issues: Libya, Iran, cyberspace, Afghanistan, and China.

9:11 a.m. – @mattyglesias: Hoping the foreign policy debate consists of geography bee questions — what’s the northernmost EU capital? What’s Peru’s top export?

8:14 a.m. – Smart cheat sheet on tonight’s debate via The Third Way here.

8:11 a.m. – Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald writes how, from defense spending to Cuba, Florida is a foreign policy state.

8:01 a.m. – Mitt Romney’s toughest debate – by Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen : “The Romney campaign sees this debate as the last chance to move the needle in any significant way in the swing states that will decide the election. … ‘The debates have not so much fundamentally changed the race as they have returned it to where it was before the Democratic convention,’ said Vin Weber, the Romney campaign’s special adviser on policy. ‘The candidates are close, and the economy is the Number One issue. Foreign policy is really important, but it is not driving this election.’ A top Republican official put it more bluntly: ‘I don’t think there are a lot of soft voters who are waiting to hear a position on the Eurozone.’ … Throughout the race – starting with his proclamation that Russia is the biggest strategic threat to the U.S., through his bumpy Europe trip, and ending with his politicized statement moments after the Libya killings and clumsy exchange about that terrorist attack in the last debate – Romney has not been at his best when trying to add a global dimension to his campaign.

7:17 a.m. – Chris Cillizza: “With the level of preparation that goes into these debates by both candidates — not to mention the litigating of the format to within an inch of its life by the campaign lawyers — surprises are a rarity. But the foreign policy-themed debate does offer the possibility that a question is asked for which one (or both) of the candidates doesn’t have an answer at the ready… A gap in knowledge would be very problematic for either man, but even more so for Romney, who, as mentioned above, largely remains an unknown (or unproven) commodity on foreign policy for most voters.”

6:38 p.m. – Charlie Crist scores tickets to Monday’s debate.


Ahead of Monday’s presidential debate on foreign policy, a new Pew Research poll finds that President Obama and Mitt Romney run about even on most foreign policy issues.

On the question of who can do a better job making wise decisions about foreign policy, 47% of voters favor Obama and 43% Romney. This represents a substantial gain for Romney, who trailed Obama by 15 points on foreign policy issues in September.

CIA documents support Obama on Libya attack:

Washington Post: “The Romney campaign may have misfired with its suggestion that statements by President Obama and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice about the Benghazi attack last month weren’t supported by intelligence… ‘Talking points’ prepared by the CIA on Sept. 15, the same day that Rice taped three television appearances, support her description of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate as a reaction to Arab anger about an anti-Muslim video prepared in the United States.”

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports the assault “appears to have been an opportunistic attack rather than a long-planned operation, and intelligence agencies have found no evidence that it was ordered by Al Qaeda.”

Dan Larison expects Romney to do poorly in Monday’s foreign policy debate, which might tilt this election’s momentum in favor of the president:

There are many things that aren’t Romney’s “natural” subjects, but he doesn’t struggle with any other kind of policy as much as he struggles with this one. As a former governor, it is understandable that he prefers talking about domestic policy issues, but favoring this preference has caused him to neglect foreign policy to a remarkable degree for someone who has been running for president since 2006. Until now, most voters likely haven’t noticed the result of this neglect, but they will see it in Monday’s debate.

Paul Waldman makes related points:

[W]hat is Mitt Romney’s primary criticism of Barack Obama on foreign policy? It’s that Obama allegedly “apologizes for America” (he hasn’t actually ever apologized for America, but you’ll forgive me if I don’t have the energy to debunk that one for the millionth time). In short, it’s that Mitt Romney thinks Obama says things that aren’t right. What’s the problem with Obama’s policy toward Israel? There’s “daylight” between us and Israel! What kind of daylight? Why, rhetorical daylight. The worst kind.

Monday’s debate is going to be an absolute festival of this kind of ridiculousness. Maybe if we’re lucky Obama will come up with some clever way to move the discussion toward what we should do, instead of just what we should say.

The left-leaning Truman National Security Project has purchased airtime an hour before and an hour after Monday’s presidential debate for a new ad about the potential costs of a war with Iran. “There’s a lot of guys on TV talking about a war with Iran, and nobody can tell me how this thing ends,” an Army veteran says in the ad, with Dick Cheney and AEI’s John Bolton in the background. “My friends and I – I think we deserve an answer.” The ad can be viewed here:

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.