President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney will meet for the third and final time on Monday night, when the candidates will face each other on stage at Florida’s Lynn University, barely two weeks before Election Day.
With the presidential race deadlocked in many parts of the nation, the importance of the debate cannot be overstated. Monday night’s encounter is the last time Obama and Romney will have the opportunity to reach an audience anywhere close to the approximately 60 million people expected to tune in. As a result, even one memorable gaffe in what will be the last major event of the campaign could have a lasting impact for either candidate.
Debate moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS News has selected the following topics for the 90-minute forum, which will focus on foreign policy: America’s role in the world, the war in Afghanistan, the situation brewing between Israel and Iran, the changing Middle East and the new face of terrorism, and the rise of China.
Foreign policy has assumed a prominent role in a presidential campaign that, at least initially, was primarily focused on the economy. And following the recent attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya -- which led to the death of four Americans -- it has become a pressing and contentious issue.
When it comes to foreign policy, there has been plenty of finger-pointing and accusations by either candidate. Romney has constantly accused the president of being weak on Iran, Russia and China, not doing enough to support Israel, and diminishing the United States’ authority in the global community by constantly “apologizing” for its actions. For his part, Obama has derided Romney for his inexperience and presumed inability to preside over those issues, and has said the Republican candidate is unnecessarily fueling aggression toward Iran.
Here are some of the things to look out for in Monday night’s debate:
The New York Times’ Iran report. Over the weekend, the newspaper reported that the United States and Iran had agreed to one-on-one talks about the latter’s nuclear program, which would take place after the election. So far, officials from both nations have denied the report, but The New York Times is standing by it.
While the Romney campaign has not commented on the story, it is expected to take center stage in Monday’s debate. Iran is one area in which Republicans believe they have a strong case to make, and Romney will likely skewer Obama for even the possibility of agreeing to meet with Iranian leaders, rather than standing strong with Israel.
"This whole thing should be a gift for Mitt,” a Republican operative who works on foreign policy told Buzzfeed. "It's an embarrassing reminder of how little progress they've made on Iran and it comes on the eve of the foreign policy debate."
But for all his talk, Romney has never clearly outlined just how his own policy with Iran would differ from the Obama administration’s. The GOP ticket has frequently accused the president of watering down economic sanctions against Iran, although the Congressional Research Service reports the U.S. now has “the most sweeping sanctions on Iran of virtually any country in the world," even describing those sanctions as “crippling.”
Rematch on Libya. The attack on the Benghazi consulate spawned one of the most notable exchanges during last week’s debate, when Romney insisted the president did not call it an act of terrorism, an accusation refuted by moderator Candy Crowley. After flubbing his point the last time around, expect Romney to be on the attack and highlight reports of failed security and intelligence lapses that he says are demonstrative of Obama’s failed leadership overseas.
Viewers should also expect Romney to call out the Obama administration for being negligent in refusing requests for additional security from American diplomats in Libya. But, as The New York Times reported, those requests were focused on increased security in Tripoli, not Benghazi.
Sending American Jobs to China. Obama says that, while CEO of Bain Capital, Romney invested in firms that outsourced jobs to China. Meanwhile, Romney says Obama has not confronted China about violating trade rules and alleges the current administration has passed up opportunities to label China a “currency manipulator.”
According to several fact-checking websites, two of the companies cited by a Priorities USA advertisement employed workers in China during Romney’s active years as CEO, while another employed workers after Romney left to organize the 2002 Winter Olympics. But there is reportedly no documentation available to confirm whether those companies actually employed “thousands” of workers in China. And while an Obama campaign ad has accused Romney of investing in a Chinese firm producing goods that “could have been made here in America,” PolitiFact reports that trends in global trade made that unlikely.
While the Obama administration has in fact stayed away from labeling China as a currency manipulator, PolitiFact also reports that does not mean the president has let the nation get away with “cheating.” The administration has filed seven trade cases with the World Trade Organization, the same number filed by former President George W. Bush during his two terms in the White House.
Obama Apologizes For America. This has been one of Romney’s favorite lines on the campaign trail, originally appearing in his 2010 book “No Apology: The Case For American Greatness.” But while Romney insists Obama began his presidency with an “apology tour” in the Middle East that “signals to foreign countries and foreign leaders that their dislike for America is something he understands,” a review of speeches from the president’s 2009 foreign travels shows he never once used the words “sorry” or “regret” when discussing American foreign policy.
Romney Wouldn’t Have Gone After Bin Laden. Similar to Romney, this has usually been the president’s go-to line when discussing his efforts to combat terrorism. The accusation is based on an interview Romney gave CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in 2007, when he said “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person," referring to Osama bin Laden.
But while that quote makes it appear as though Romney would not have pursued the al-Qaeda leader, Romney followed by saying he would hunt “the worldwide jihadist effort” and said of Bin Laden: “He is going to pay, and he will die.”