US Presidential Election 2012

US presidential candidates prepare for final debate

With candidates now neck and neck, the two candidates go head to head on foreign policy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 October, 2012, 4:31am

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney spent the weekend hammering out their foreign policy battle lines ahead of their third presidential debate, their final chance to lay out policy platforms and engage in verbal jousting in front of tens of millions of TV viewers.

Romney is tied at 47 per cent with President Obama in an NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll released yesterday.

With both sides conceding that the race to November 6 will go down to the wire, and amid a consensus that each candidate won one of the previous two debates, the stakes for Monday's clash (Tuesday morning 9am Hong Kong time) are enormous.

The 90-minute debate, on foreign policy, will be divided into six segments: America's role in the world; the war in Afghanistan; Israel and Iran; the changing Middle East; terrorism; and China's rise.

From accusations of unfair trade practices to a discussion of whether it is proper for the candidates to have investments in Chinese companies, the word "China" came up 22 times in the second debate. This time around, with one segment earmarked for the country's rise, harsh anti-Chinese sentiments are likely to be expressed by both candidates.

And just as they study up on the particulars, The New York Times reported a possible breakthrough on talks with Iran - a report quickly squelched by the White House. Tehran also denied it yesterday.

But the report could yet provide a fresh avenue for Romney to cast Obama as too willing to accommodate. He has also accused Obama of failing to give adequate support to Israel over the issue.

While the economy has been the dominant theme of the election, foreign policy has attracted renewed media attention in the aftermath of last month's attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including US Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Obama had ranked well with the public on his handling of international issues and in fighting terrorism, especially following the death of Osama bin Laden.

But the administration's response to the Libya attack and questions over levels of security at the consulate have given Romney and his Republican allies an issue with which to raise doubts about Obama's foreign policy leadership.

But Romney's missteps in criticising Obama's handling of Benghazi have complicated his broader strategy. What Romney hopes to do is press his point, drowned out in the last debate, that the recent wave of anti-American violence in Libya and other parts of the Middle East shows Obama's foreign policy is "unravelling before our very eyes".

Obama -- who has touted the US withdrawal from Iraq as a signature foreign policy accomplishment - has signalled he could use the debate to caution war-weary voters of the risk of a more hawkish Romney presidency.

Additional reporting by Associated Press, Reuters

Winner of Obama-Romney race faces variety of US foreign policy challenges...

Whoever sweeps into the White House in January will find his desk overflowing with a host of foreign policy issues. Here are some of the key ones:

Afghanistan -The withdrawal of US combat troops amid a deadly Taliban insurgency. The question will be "how to leave some modicum of lasting stability", said Martin Indyk, vice-president and director of the foreign policy programme at the Brookings Institution think tank.

China - Tensions are likely to grow over rival claims to islands in the South China Sea and elsewhere in East Asia, pitting Beijing and Washington allies against each other. America's pledges to defend its allies mean "US credibility at a minimum would be implicated", said James Lindsay, senior vice-president at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Euro-zone crisis - Washington can do little to influence the outcome as it has no financial assistance it can bring to the table. Paramount will be maintaining good relations, particularly with decision makers in Paris and Berlin.

Fiscal cliff - For some, this is the No 1 challenge. "A failure to deal effectively with that … will affect the economy, relations with key trading partners and allies, our ability to build up forces overseas, or at least maintain the forces that we have," Indyk of the Brookings Institution said.

Iran - Despite biting sanctions, Tehran has shown no signs of halting its uranium enrichment programme. The New York Times report that Iran had agreed to one-on-one talks with the United States has been denied by both sides.

Russia - The famously reset relationship with Moscow will likely need to be reset yet again as, despite co-operation on Iran, hostilities have flared over Russia's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria and the Arab spring nations - Indyk warns of fears that "a descent into chaos and eruption of a sectarian war" in Syria risked spreading to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, key US allies. President Barack Obama has come under fire from Republicans for a failure of his Middle East policy since the attack last month on the US consulate in Benghazi, where the ambassador and three other Americans were killed.