Barack Obama and Mitt Romney debated foreign policy Monday night, with the president, based on his experience, turning in the better performance in their third and final debate.
Yet Americans watching the 90-minute discussion under the skillful moderation of CBS News' Bob Schieffer could walk away reassured that the nation's foreign policy won't veer sharply regardless of who wins on Nov. 6.
On the Middle East, Mr. Romney, the Republican nominee, showed himself to be geographically challenged, suggesting that Iran's alliance with Syria was based on Syria being Iran's route to the sea. In fact, Iran has long coasts of its own on several seas and the two countries lack a common border.
Mr. Obama, the Democrat, beat his challenger to the punch on relations with Israel, expressing dedication to America assuring its security, both by cooperating in Israel's defense and watching out for its interests in U.S. policy toward Syria and in Egypt's observance of its peace treaty with Israel. He called Israel America's "true friend and our greatest ally in the region." In that fashion Mr. Obama pre-empted any attempt by Mr. Romney to score points on that topic.
The candidates took different positions on the size of the military budget. They agreed that the nation needs a strong economy at home if it is to play a formidable role abroad. Mr. Romney said the Navy should have new ships to assure America's security, but provided no information on how to pay for them while reducing budget deficits and the national debt. Mr. Obama retorted that the number of ships was not the point, saying the armed forces also has fewer horses and bayonets than in the past. He said the country needs to fight today's wars with the latest weaponry and he maintained that his budgets meet the country's needs and Defense Department requests.
Both nominees expressed opposition to Iran's obtaining nuclear weapons and the need for continued firmness in economic dealings with China.
The difference between the performances of the two lay chiefly in Mr. Romney's career in overseas investment and equity management, as opposed to Mr. Obama's presidential experience in conducting foreign affairs.