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Commentary: At Core, Obama and Romney Close on Foreign Policy

Author: James M. Lindsay, Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair
October 22, 2012
PBS NewsHour


President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney meet Monday night in Boca Raton, Fla., to debate foreign policy. Both campaigns see the third and final debate as their best opportunity to reach the public before Election Day. The two candidates will be speaking to voters who expect to hear affirmations of U.S. leadership but who are also skeptical of foreign entanglements in the midst of tough economic times and after more than a decade of war.

Although the harsh rhetoric on the campaign trail sometimes suggests otherwise, Monday's debate won't pit fundamentally different visions of American foreign policy against each other. Obama's and Romney's views are broadly similar. Both men are internationalists with a strong pragmatic streak; they largely agree on the chief threats the United States faces overseas. The imperatives of the debate, however, will push the two candidates to stress their differences far more than their similarities.

The six topics that moderator Bob Scheiffer has selected for discussion -- one for each of the debate's six 15-minute sections -- focus primarily on the greater Middle East. Obama and Romney largely agree on U.S. objectives in the region: stopping Iran from going nuclear, supporting Israel, turning security responsibilities over to the Afghans by 2014, encouraging the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government, and dismantling al Qaida and its affiliates.

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