Foreign Policy Debate: Critics React

10/23/2012 09:59 am ET | Updated Nov 04, 2012

On Monday, President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney squared off on foreign policy in the third and final presidential debate before the election on Nov. 6th, with the candidates weigning in on topics ranging from the attacks in Benghazi to the crisis in Syria. Each reiterated that Israel is America's most important ally in the Middle East and that both support the use of drones.

One day after the debate, HuffPost World takes a look at what the critics are saying.

TIME's Joe Klein saw a decisive victory for Obama, on both style and substance. Klein said Romney "seemed nervous, scattered, unconvincing — and he practiced unilateral disarmament, agreeing with Obama hither and yon…on Iraq (as opposed to two weeks ago), on Afghanistan (as opposed to interviews he’s given this fall), on Libya and Syria and Iran."

Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration Robert Reich, too, gave Obama the upper hand. "On the few occasions when Romney managed to criticize the President, he called for a more assertive foreign policy — but he never specified exactly what that assertiveness would entail. He wanted 'tougher economic sanctions on Iran,' for example, or 'stronger support for Israel' — the details of which were never revealed."

While The Daily Beast's Andrew Sullivan pointed out that Romney avoided any "Gerald Ford moments," he called this Obama's debate, saying the country has been lucky to have this President at the helm. "After eight years of the most disastrous, misguided, immoral and a catastrophic foreign policy, Obama has brought the U.S. back from the brink, presided over the decimation of al Qaeda, the liberation of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, and restored America's moral standing in the world."

Romney's frequent agreement with the president and emphasis on peaceful resolutions took WIRED by surprise. "No, it wasn’t President Obama who said, 'We don’t want another Iraq. We don’t want another Afghanistan.' Mitt Romney showed up to Monday night’s foreign policy debate as a dove."

In The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald noted how Romney and Obama seemed to prefer to discuss domestic policy rather than foreign affairs. "Both candidates are eager to ignore the topic of this debate — foreign policy — in order to talk about the economy because they perceive, accurately, that this is what most voters care about, and because they don't really have much to disagree in the foreign policy area. And so they are now dispensing with any pretense and regurgitating their economics debate."

Consternation arose midway through the debate as Romney referred to Syria as Iran's route to the sea. March Lynch, professor at George Washington University, quickly pointed out:

One surprise? Romney's mentions (four!) of Mali, where al Qaeda-linked militants have taken control of part of the country's north following a coup in March 2012.

A handful of other countries made the candidates' lists of speaking points; Foreign Policy kept a count and concluded that Iran led the way, with China, Israel and Afghanistan finishing in a group. Syria, Pakistan and Iraq all also earned honorable mentions.

For a visual analysis, Slate laid the geographic concentration in this detailed map.

Finally, HuffPost's Josh Hersh and Ryan Grim pointedly summarize: "If Monday night's debate proved anything, it showed that when it comes to drone strikes, the war in Afghanistan, relations with Pakistan, the intervention in Libya, support for Israel or for 'crippling sanctions' on Iran, there is little difference between the two parties."

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