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-- good evening from the campus of Lynn University here in Boca Raton Florida this is safe -- -- last debate of the 2012 campaign brought to you by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
This one's on foreign policy I'm Bob Schieffer of CBS news the questions -- -- And I have not shared them with the candidates or their a its audiences taken about silence.
No applause no reaction of any kind except right now.
When we welcome president Barack Obama and governor -- wrong.
-- Gentlemen -- Iraq campaigns have agreed to certain rules.
And they are simple -- asked me to divide the evening and segments.
I'll pose a question at the beginning of each segment.
You -- each have two minutes to respond and then we will have a general discussion until we move to the next segment.
Tonight's debate as both of you know.
Comes on the fiftieth anniversary of the night that president Kennedy told the world that the Soviet Union and it stalled nuclear missiles in Cuba perhaps the closest.
We've ever -- to its nuclear war and it is a sobering reminder.
That every president faces at some point an unexpected threat to our national security from abroad solace but -- The first segment is they got challenge they changing Middle East and the new face of terrorism.
Put this in the -- -- so you'll have to topic questions within this one segment on this subject.
And it concerns Libya.
-- -- controversy over what happened there continues for Americans are dead including an American ambassador questions remain.
A what happened what caused it took was it spontaneous.
Was it and intelligence failure was that the policy failure.
Was there an attempt to mislead people about what really happened governor Romney.
You said this was an example of an American policy in the Middle East that is on -- Before our very allies.
I'd like to hear each of you give your thoughts on that.
Governor Romney won the -- -- you -- first.
Thank you Bob and thank you for agreeing to moderate this debate this evening thank -- -- university for welcoming us here and mr.
presidents good to be with you again.
We were together -- -- humorous about a little earlier and it's nice to.
I maybe can be funny this time not a purposeful see what happens.
-- This is obviously an area of great concern to the entire world and to America in particular which is to see.
A a complete change in the that the structure and he.
The environment in the Middle East.
With the Arab Spring came a great deal of hope.
That there would be a change towards more moderation.
And opportunity for greater participation on the part of women and -- the public life.
And in economic life in the Middle East but instead we've seen in nation after nation.
A number of disturbing events of course we see in Syria 30000.
Civilians -- been killed by the military there.
We see and in.
-- -- Libya an attacker apparently by.
I think we know now by terrorists or some kind against against our people -- four people dead our hearts and and minds go to them.
Molly has been taken over the northern part of Molly by al-Qaeda type individuals.
We have been in Egypt a Muslim Brotherhood president and so what we're seeing is that it.
If they seem pretty dramatic reversal of the kind of hopes we have for that region of course the greatest threat of all is Iran for years closer to a nuclear weapon.
And and we're gonna have to recognize that we have to do was a presence die I congratulate him on I'm taking out of some of the laden.
And going after the leadership and al-Qaeda but we can't kill our way out of this mess we're we're gonna have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy.
To help that the world of Islam and and other parts of the world reject this radical violent extremism which is it certainly not on the run.
It -- would not -- Heidi that this is a group that is now involved in -- are twelve countries.
And it presents an enormous threat to our friends to the world.
To America long term and we must have a comprehensive strategy to help -- this kind of extremism.
Just -- -- -- my first job as commander in chief Bob is keep the American people safe and that's what we've done over the last four years.
We ended the war in Iraq refocused our attention on those who actually killed us on nine elevenths.
And as a consequence Al qaeda's core leadership has been decimated.
In addition we're now able to transition.
Out of Afghanistan and responsible.
-- making sure that Afghans take responsibility for their own secured.
And that allows us also to rebuild.
Alliances and make friends -- around the world to combat.
Now -- respect to Libya.
As I indicated in the last debate.
When we receive that phone call.
I immediately make sure that number one we did everything we could to secure those.
Americans were still in harm's way number two that we would investigate exactly what happened and number three most importantly that we would go after those.
Who killed Americans and we would bring them to justice and that's exactly what we're gonna do but I think it's important step back and think about what happened in -- I keep in mind at that.
-- and Americans took leadership.
In organizing an international coalition.
-- -- -- -- We were able to without putting troops on the ground at the cost of less than what we spent in two weeks in Iraq.
Liberate a country that have been under the yoke of dictatorship.
For forty years.
Got rid of a despot who had killed Americans.
And as a consequence despite this tragedy you have tens of thousands of Libyans after the events of -- -- Marching and saying America's our front.
We stand -- them.
Now that represents the opportunity we have to take advantage up and you know governor -- am glad that.
You agreed that we have been successful in going after -- Qaeda.
But I have to tell you that help your strategy.
Previously has been one that has been all over the map and is not designed to keep Americans safe or to build on the opportunities that exist in the Middle East.
Well my strategy is pretty straightforward which is set to go after the bad guys.
To make sure we do our very best to it interrupt them to two -- kill them to -- Take him out of the picture.
But my strategy is broader than that that that's that's important of course.
But the key that we're gonna have to pursue as a as a pathway to to get the Muslim world to be able to reject extremism on its own.
We don't want another Iraq we don't want another Afghanistan that's not the right course for us the right course for us is to make sure that we go after that the people who were leaders of these various.
Anti American -- groups and these these jihadist but also help the Muslim world and how we do that.
The group of Arab scholars came togethers that organized by the UN to look at.
How we can help the the world reject these these terrorists and -- they came up with was this one more economic development we should keep.
Our foreign aid our direct foreign investment and that of our friends we should coordinated to make sure that we.
We pushed back and give them more economic development number two better education number three gender equality.
Number -- the rule of law.
We have to help these nations create civil societies but what's been happening over the last couple years is as we watch this tumult in the Middle East -- rising tide.
Of chaos occurred you see al-Qaeda rushing and you see other jihadist groups rushing in and and their threw out many nations in the Middle East.
It's wonderful that Libya seems to be making some progress despite this terrible tragedy.
But next door of course we have Egypt -- -- six million population -- eighty million population.
What we want we want to make sure that we're seeing progress throughout the Middle East with Molly now having north -- taken over by al-Qaeda with Syria.
Having Assad continuing to -- that killed who murdered his own people.
That this is a region will -- -- and of course Iran let's say a lot on the path to and that nuclear weapon we've got real GeMS and laughter.
But lets it get -- president -- as governor -- I'm glad that you recognize that al-Qaeda threat.
Because a few months ago when you were asked what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America -- said Russia.
But al-Qaeda is that Russia in the 1980s are now calling asked for their foreign policy back because.
-- the cold war's been over for twenty years.
But a governor you know when it comes.
Our foreign policy you seem to want to import that foreign policy is 1980s.
Just like the social policy of 1950s and economic policies in the 1920s.
You say that you're not entrusted in duplicating what happened in Iraq.
But just a few weeks ago you said you think we should have more troops in Iraq right now.
And that that that challenge we have -- -- you haven't been a position to actually execute foreign policy.
But every time -- offered an opinion.
You've -- wrong he said we should have gone into Iraq.
Despite the fact that there were -- weapons of mass destruction.
You said that we should still have troops in Iraq to this day.
You indicated that.
We shouldn't be passing.
Treaties with the -- despite the fact that 71.
Senators Democrats and Republicans voted for.
You've said that.
First we should it not have a timeline and Afghanistan and you said we should now you say it may be or depends.
Which means not only.
Where you -- wrong but you're also confusing and sending mixed messages both to our troops and our allies.
So what what we need to do with the respect to the Middle East is strongly steady leadership.
Not wrong and reckless leadership that is all over the map and unfortunately that's the kind of opinions -- -- offered throughout this campaign.
And it is not.
A recipe for American -- or keeping America safe over the.
And a couple of -- -- a -- to give you a chance to respond well of course I.
Don't -- concur with what the president said about my own record of the things that -- said they don't happen to be accurate.
But but I can't say this that we're talking about the middle -- And how to help the Middle East reject the kind of terrorism we're saying and the rising tide of Tom Moulton and confusion.
And an attacking me is not -- agenda.
Attacking me is not talking about how we're gonna deal with the challenges that exist in the Middle East and take advantage of the opportunity there.
And stem the tide of this violence.
But I'll respond to a couple of things you mentioned first of all Russia I indicated is a geopolitical.
-- Not I'm not one excuse me it's a geopolitical fault and I said in the same in the same paragraph I said and Iran is the greatest national security threat we face.
Russia does continued to battle us in the UN time and time again I have.
It's clear eyes on this I'm not gonna Wear rose colored glasses when it comes to Russia or mr.
-- and I'm certainly not gonna say to him I'll give you more flexibility -- the election.
-- election he'll get more backbone.
Number two with regards to Iraq you and I agreed I believe that there should have been a status of forces agreement antigen or you didn't you don't -- a status of -- what I.
What I would not.
Have done is left 101000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down and that's certainly would not help us.
In the Middle East I'm sorry you actually there was a there was an effort on the part of the president to have a status of forces in -- -- And I concurred in that and said that we should have some number of troops stayed on.
That was something I concurred we -- governor posture.
That was my posture as well.
Yeah I thought I should have been 5000 troops got an audition in more troops but you know what the answer those we got -- we could go to whatsoever that this is this a few weeks ago that you indicated that we should still have troops in Iraq now I doubt that's -- that's yeah I know I indicated that you've been.
Each type indicated that you.
Failed to put in place a status of forces agreement at the end of the conflict that is just over a year Europe doesn't -- want going on here that -- I don't know.
Here's one thing I've learned it's better -- You've got to be clear.
Both to our allies and our enemies about where you stand.
And what you make.
Are you just give a speech a few weeks ago -- what you said we should still have troops in Iraq that is not a recipe.
For making sure that we are taking advantage of the opportunities and meeting the challenges the Middle East now.
It is absolutely true that we cannot just meet these challenges military.
And so what I've done.
Throughout my presidency and will continue to do.
Is number one make sure that these countries are supporting our counterterrorism efforts number two.
Make sure that they are standing by our interests in Israel's security because it is a true friend.
And our greatest ally in the region number three.
We -- have to make sure there were protecting religious minorities and women because these countries can't develop.
-- -- All the population not just half of it is developing.
Number four we do have to develop -- economic.
-- economic capabilities but number five the other thing that we have to do is recognize that we can't.
Continue to do nation building in these regions part of American leadership is making sure that we're doing nation building here at home that will help us he.
Maintain the kind of American leadership that we need.
Let me interject the second topic question in this segment about the Middle East and so on.
And that is you both mentioned.
Alluded to this and that is Syria.
War in Syria's now spilled over into Lebanon on we have what to more than a hundred people that were killed there and a bomb.
There were demonstrations they're eight people dead.
President has been morning years -- you saw you told us odd that he had to go cents and 30000 Syrians and I.
We've had 300000 refugees the war goes on he's still there.
Should we -- assess our policy.
And see if we can find a better way to influence events there or is that even possible and it shouldn't you go first.
What we've done it is organized the international community.
Saying Assad -- to -- We've mobilized sanctions against that government.
We have made -- that they are isolated.
We are providing humanitarian assistance and we are helping the opposition organized and were particularly interest and making sure the -- mobilizing.
The moderate forces inside of -- But ultimately the Syrians are gonna have to determine.
Their own future.
And so everything we're doing we're doing in consultation -- our partners in the region including Israel which obviously has a huge interest in seeing what happens in Syria.
Coordinating with Turkey and other countries in the region -- have a great interest in this.
Out this what we're seeing taking place in Syria is heartbreaking.
And that's why we are gonna do everything we can to make sure that we are helping the opposition but we also have to recognize that.
-- for us to get more entangled militarily in Syria is a serious stuff.
And we have to do so making absolutely certain that we know who we are helping.
So we're not putting arms.
In the hands of folks who eventually could turn them against us or allies in the region.
And I am confident that -- -- days are numbered.
But what we can't do.
Is to simply suggest that as governor Romney at times has suggested that.
Giving heavy weapons for example to the Syrian opposition.
Is a simple proposition that would lead us to be safer over the long.
Well let's step back and talk about what's happening in Syria -- how important is first of all 30000 people being killed by their government is a humanitarian disaster.
Secondly -- -- an opportunity for us because Syria plays an important role in middle these particular right now Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab world.
It's their route to the C.
It's the route for them to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon which threatens of course our ally Israel.
And so seeing Syria remove -- is a very high priority for us number two singing I did replacement government being responsible people.
It's critical for us.
And finally we don't -- -- have military involvement there we ought to get drawn into a military conflict.
And so the right course for us is working through our partners and with our own resources to identify responsible parties within Syria.
Organize them bring them together and make any form of of it not it got government a form of of counsel.
They can take the lead in Syria and then make sure they have the arms necessary to defend themselves we do need to make sure.
That they don't have arms -- get into that the wrong hands that those arms could be used to hurt us down the road.
We need to make sure as well that we coordinate this effort with our allies in particular with with -- -- of Israel.
But the saudis and the qatari and and and the Turks are all very concerned about this they're willing to work with us we need to have a very effective leadership effort.
Making sure that they take the insurgents there are armed and that the insurgents that become arm.
Are people who will be the responsible parties recognize I believe that a -- must go.
I believe he will go.
But I believe we want to make sure that we have the relationships of friendship with the people that take his place.
Such that in the years to come we see Syria as a as a friend.
And Syria as a responsible party in the Middle East this this is a critical opportunity for America and what I'm afraid of as we watched over the past year or so.
First the president saying well we'll let the UN deal with it and -- -- -- make a Kofi Annan came in and and said we're gonna try to at a cease fire that didn't work that went to the Russians and said.
I look and see if you can do something we should be playing the leadership role there not on the ground with military are by the march April.
We are playing leadership will reorganize the friends of Syria.
We are mobilizing humanitarian support and support for the opposition.
And we are making sure that those we help are those who will be friends of ours and long term and friends of our allies in the region over the long term.
But -- going back to Libya because this is an example of how we make choices -- felt when we went into Libya.
And we were able to immediately stop the massacre -- because of the unique circumstances and the coalition that we had helped to organize.
We also to make sure that Wal-Mart Gadhafi didn't stay there.
And to the governor's credit you supported us going into Libya and the coalition that we organize.
But when it came time to making sure the Gaddafi did not stay in power that he was captured.
Governor your suggestion was that this was mission -- That this was mission model.
Imagine if we had pulled out at that point.
Out -- Gadhafi had more American blood on his hands that any individual other -- some of them lot.
And so -- -- make sure that we finish the job that's part of the reason why the Libyans stand with us.
But we did so in a careful thoughtful way.
Making certain that we knew we were dealing with that those forces of moderation on the ground -- once that we could work -- it.
And we have to take the same kind of -- thoughtful leadership when it comes to Syria that's exactly what we're don't.
The governor cannot just ask you would you go -- on what the administration would do like for example would you.
But in no fly zones over Syria I don't I don't have our military involvement in Syria.
I don't think there's necessity to put our military in Syria at at this stage I don't and anticipate that in the future as I indicated our objectives are to replace -- And to have in place a new government which is friendly to us a responsible government if possible.
And I wanna make sure they get arms and they have the arms necessary to defend themselves but also -- to remove remove aside.
But -- do not want to see a military involvement on the part of a part of our troops what and this this isn't this is gonna be necessary.
We we have with our partners in the region we have a sufficient resources to support those groups but look that's been going on for years.
There's -- time this should have been a time for American leadership.
We should have taken a leading role not militarily but a leading role organizationally governmental.
To bring together the parties there to find responsible parties it is you hear from intelligence sources even today.
The the the that the be -- insurgents are highly disparate.
They haven't come together they haven't formed a unity group a cop a console of some kind that needs to happen American can't help that happen and we need to make sure they have the arms they need.
To carry out the the very an important role which is getting rid of -- -- would get a quick crisp.
-- as long as the cause I want I'll I'll I'll I'll I'll be there I'll be very quick.
What you just heard governor Romney said -- he doesn't have different ideas.
And that's because we're doing exactly what we should be doing.
To try to promote.
-- moderate Syrian.
And -- an effective transition so that we get us out up that's the kind of leadership we've -- that's the kind of leadership will continue to show.
May I ask you.
You know injured during the Egyptian turmoil there there came a point when you said it was time for President Mubarak to go.
Some in your administration thought perhaps we should have waited while on that.
Do you have any regrets about that.
No I don't because I think that America has to stand -- democracy the notion that we would have.
Tanks run over those young people who weren't -- square that is not the kind of American leadership that John F.
Kennedy talked about fifteen years ago.
But what I've also said is that.
Now that you have a democratically elected government in Egypt.
But they have to make sure that they take responsibility.
For protecting religious minorities and we -- put significant pressure on them to make sure they're doing that.
To recognize the rights of women which is critical throughout the region these countries can't develop -- young women are not given cut education that they need.
They have to abide by their treaty would this work that is a red line for us.
Because not only is Israel's security at stake but our security is at stake if that unravels.
They have to make sure that the cooperating with us when it comes to counter terrorism and we will help them.
-- respect to.
Developing their own economy because ultimately.
What's gonna make the Egyptian revolution successful.
For the people of Egypt but also for the world is if those young people who gathered there.
Are seeing opportunities -- aspirations are similar to young people -- -- they want jobs they want.
To be able to make sure their kids are going to a good school they want to make sure that.
They have a roof over their heads and that they have.
The prospects of a better life in the future and so one of the things that we've been doing this is for example organized enough nor should conference's.
Where these egyptians.
-- -- give them a sense of how they can start rebuilding our economy in a way that's not corrupt the transparent.
But what is also important for us to understand this is that for America to be successful in this region.
There are some things that we're gonna have to do here at home as well.
-- -- what are the challenges over the last decade as we've done.
Experiments -- nation building in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
And we've neglected for example developing.
Our own economy.
Our own energy sectors -- on education system and it's very hard for us to project leadership around the world -- we're not doing what we need -- -- Romney.
-- want to hear your response to that but I would just ask you would you stop with Mubarak.
I know I believe is the president today.
Indicated -- and -- at the time that I supported his his action there I felt that.
I wish we'd -- had a better vision of the future I wish that looking back at the beginning of the president's term even further back than that that we to recognize.
That there was a growing energy and passion for freedom.
In that part of the world -- that we would have worked more aggressively -- our friend and with other friends in the region to have them make the transition.
Towards a more represented a form of government such that it didn't explode in the way it did.
But but once it exploded.
I felt the same as the president did which is these these freedom voices -- the that the streets of that the Egypt for the people who -- we're speaking of our principles in the the President Mubarak had done things which were unimaginable.
And the and the idea of him crushing his people was not -- -- that we could possibly.
Support let me let me step back and talk about.
What what I think our mission has to be in the Middle East and even more broadly.
Because our purpose is to make sure the world is more -- is peaceful.
We want a peaceful planet we want people to be able to enjoy their lives and know they're gonna have a bright and prosperous future and not be at war that's our purpose in the mantle of leadership for the promoting the principles of peace has -- to America.
We -- -- but it's an honor that we haven't.
But for us to be able to promote those principles of peace requires us to be strong.
And that begins with a strong economy here at home unfortunately.
The economy is not stronger when that when that the president of of Iraq should be of Iran Ahmadinejad.
Says that our debt makes -- not a great country.
That's a frightening thing that former chief restarted at a cheaper than a Joint Chiefs of Staff said that admiral Mullen said that are dead as the biggest national security threat we face.
This we have weakened our economy we need a strong economy we need to have as well a strong military.
Our military second to none of the world.
We're blessed with terrific soldiers an extraordinary technology and intelligence.
But the idea of a trillion dollars in cuts and sequestration and budget cuts to the military would change that we need to have strong allies.
Our association and and connection -- allies is essential.
To America's strength whether the great nation that has allies 42 allies and friends around the world and finally we have to stand -- principles.
And if we're strong in each of those things American influence will -- but unfortunately.
In no -- in the world.
Is America's influence greater today than it was four years ago are and that's because -- -- -- -- -- could not even -- short of perfect you're gonna get a chance to respond to that because such a perfect Segway and cart next segment and that.
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