October 25, 2012
By Thomas M. Defrank and Jonathan Lemire
President Obama and Mitt Romney will debate Monday for the final time, dueling over foreign policy — an area that was supposed to be a slam dunk for Obama.
After all, he was the President who ended the deeply unpopular Iraq war, hunted down Osama Bin Laden and began the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
But last month’s attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, has changed everything — giving Romney a chance to emerge with a crucial victory just two weeks before the election.
“The Libya incident reminded Americans that we still live in a dangerous world,” said Prof. Wendy Schiller of Brown University.
“And because the administration has not been clear about what happened, it engendered some doubt about Obama.”
Romney, his running mate and Republicans on Capitol Hill have been hammering the President over the attack, using it to seed doubts about Obama’s handling of foreign affairs and his skills as a crisis manager.
Again and again, Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), has declared that Obama’s foreign policy is “unraveling.”
Obama still holds a 47%-to-43% Pew poll lead over Romney on who would do a better job on foreign policy — but the President’s support has dropped 15 points since the attack.
Although Obama got the better of the Libya exchange in the last debate, Republicans will not concede the issue.
“Romney can poke holes in what happened at Libya and you can be certain that he will claim that Obama has not been a great friend to Israel,” said Schiller.
The threat of a nuclear-armed Iran is also certain to come up during the debate — against the backdrop of conflicting reports this weekend about whether the Obama administration has agreed to one-on-one talks with Tehran in a last-ditch effort to forge a nonmilitary solution.
Presidents running for reelection often have an inherent advantage on international affairs, since the incumbent has spent four years on the world stage.
Initially, that was true for Obama, especially in the area of national security, a rare advantage for a Democrat.
“Obama has a greater depth of knowledge on foreign policy and national security,” said Cal Jillson of Southern Methodist University. “If he can boil that down into some memorable and convincing arguments, he’ll be well-served.”...
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