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Final debate

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President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney squared off for the third and final debate Monday night to discuss foreign policy.

When a president has been conducting foreign policy for the past four years, he usually has an edge over an opponent who has not been involved in international affairs — that is, unless the rival can attack policy blunders.

Mr. Obama brought his knowledge of the world, its issues and his administration’s strategies to the debate table. To “win” the debate, Mr. Romney would have had to vigorously challenge administration policies much as he did in the first debate. Or the former Massachusetts governor could simply try to show that he would be competent in foreign policy if elected.

The challenger apparently chose the second course for the debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. The Associated Press observed: “From drones to Afghanistan to Syria, Romney and Obama spoke in agreement on goals, if not strategy.”

The most controversial foreign policy issue these days — the deadly assault on the U.S. Consulate in Libya — did not come up as a major topic. That is because Mr. Romney chose not to raise it.

The president, however, was aggressive, asserting his authority as commander in chief and head of foreign policy. At one point in the debate, moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS, Mr. Obama told his rival: “I know you haven’t been in a position to actually execute foreign policy, but every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong.”

When the former Massachusetts governor questioned the Pentagon budget, the president replied: “I think Gov. Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the Navy, for example, that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well. Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them.”

Calmly replying to Mr. Obama’s barbs, Mr. Romney said, “Well, of course I don’t concur with what the president said about my own record and the things that I’ve said. They don’t happen to be accurate. ... Attacking me is not an agenda.”

Analysts observed that Mr. Romney sought to show that he understands the sweep and details of foreign policy rather than criticize the administration’s strategies at every turn.

Judging by how the two men handled the debate, it would seem that Gov. Romney feels he has some momentum in the race while President Obama may want to shake things up.

A majority of viewers saw President Obama as the victor, next-day polls showed. Mr. Romney may have accomplished what he wanted to do, although he may come to regret that he did not come on stronger in his final meeting with the president.

So concludes the debate season. They have played their parts in the election process.

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