Mitt Romney, Barack Obama facing five key issues at Boca Raton presidential debate

Workers spent Sunday getting the stage ready for Monday night's final debate between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. AP video. (Oct. 21, 2012)

advertisement | advertise on newsday

WASHINGTON -- The deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Iran's nuclear ambitions and the U.S.-Israeli relationship are expected to dominate the debate on Monday night between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, analysts said.

The pressure will be on both candidates as they sit debating side by side at a table for 90 minutes in the third and final presidential debate, this one devoted to foreign policy, at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

"Obama has a clear advantage on foreign policy because he has been conducting foreign policy for four years. Romney doesn't have that experience," said assistant professor Jordan Tama at American University's School of International Service.

Yet Obama, still making up for his subpar first debate, faces pressure to repeat his energetic second debate performance, and must defend his record, he said.

Moderator and CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer said he will ask questions on five topics in six 15-minute segments.

Here are the topics and comments previewing the debate by Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights), ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.

THE CHANGING MIDDLE EAST AND THE NEW FACE OF TERRORISM

No issue will be more important, or contentious, than the current events in the Middle East, starting with the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Tama said. Schieffer has set aside two 15-minute segments to cover this topic.

In an effort to undercut Obama's foreign policy advantage, Romney will again press him on why it took so long to call the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans a coordinated terrorist assault, King said.

For more than a week, the Obama administration said the attack was part of a protest against a U.S. YouTube video considered insulting to Islam, before acknowledging that terrorists launched the attack.

King said that incident points to the larger issue of how Obama's weak responses to changes in Arab governments have made the Middle East "more dangerous, spinning out of control."

Obama will shoot back that Romney politicized a national security issue by sending out a critical news release before anyone knew the ambassador had been killed, Ackerman said.

As in the second debate, Obama will say he called the Libya attack an act of terror on the day after it happened, as he called for a probe of what happened and vowed to bring the attackers to justice, Ackerman said.

AMERICA'S ROLE IN THE WORLD

advertisement | advertise on newsday

A key difference between Obama and Romney is their views of how the United States should be wielding its strength as the world's last superpower, said Tama.

On many issues, he said, Romney's position is similar to Obama's, but there are differences in style and approach.

Romney will attack Obama for being a weak leader, King said. Obama "almost apologizes" for the U.S. being a superpower and "leads from behind" in the world, he said.

Obama can say Romney will return to the policies of President George W. Bush, and that Romney offended Great Britain and Palestinians on his travels, Ackerman said, while his own careful, nuanced leadership has restored world respect for the United States.

OUR LONGEST WAR -- AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN

Both Obama and Romney have indicated they want to wind down the war in Afghanistan without an al-Qaida resurgence, but they have some differences, Tama said.

Romney will say Obama gave terrorists a heads-up by setting a timeline for U.S. withdrawal. He will state he will follow the advice of U.S. generals on withdrawing troops, King said.

Obama will argue the U.S. has achieved its goal of taking out top al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden, and that Afghanistan must provide its own security, Ackerman said.

RED LINES -- ISRAEL AND IRAN

Iran's drive for nuclear weapons and the U.S.-Israeli relationship will be a key point of contention on Monday, Tama said.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants the U.S. to back drawing a "red line," and attack if necessary, to stop Iran's progress.

Romney attacks Obama for a distant relationship with Netanyahu. He can say we should not let Iran go nuclear, King said, then "pivot into Obama's cool relations with Israel that sends troubling signs to our allies in the Middle East."

Obama can say he imposed "very tough sanctions" against Iran and that they're working, Ackerman said. Obama can also say that U.S.-Israeli ties have never been stronger.

THE RISE OF CHINA AND TOMORROW'S WORLD

The rise of China, Tama said, is "probably the most important issue for the coming decades."

Romney will attack Obama for not being tough enough on China, especially its manipulation of its currency and the ensuing effect on trade with the United States, King said.

Obama can argue he has cracked down on China's currency manipulation, and attack Romney for investing in companies that outsource American jobs to China, Ackerman said.

 

The final debate

 

WHEN: Monday, Oct. 22, 9-10:30 p.m.

WHERE: Lynn University, Boca Raton, Fla.

ON THE AIR: All major networks, C-SPAN, PBS, cable news channels including News 12 Long Island, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC

ON THE WEB: Live-streaming available via most major news outlets' websites, including newsday.com.

FORMAT: Moderator Bob Schieffer said he will ask questions on five foreign-policy topics in six 15-minute segments.

You also may be interested in: