In the final presidential debate, foreign policy proves to be a great unifier


President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney greet each other at the third and final presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, FL.

BOSTON — For months, President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney have painstakingly worked to differentiate themselves and their policies in an attempt to provide two clearly defined choices for the US electorate come Nov. 6.

However, while both Obama and Romney may fundamentally disagree on several domestic issues — economic, energy, and health care to name a few — their foriegn policy positions are more similar than either man would like to admit.

In the third and final presidential debate, Romney and Obama were poised to go head to head on issues of international diplomacy and strategy. But at the end of the evening, it was the commonalities, rather than the contrasts between the two that set the course for discussion.

Below, GlobalPost collected a series of excerpts from Monday night's debate in Boca Raton, Fla., which highlight Obama and Romney's common ground in several foreign policy areas:

On Iran and Israel:
BOB SCHIEFFER: I’d like to move to the next segment: red lines, Israel and Iran. Would either of you be willing to declare that an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States, which of course is the same promise that we give to our close allies like Japan? 

OBAMA: I will stand with Israel if they are attacked. And this is the reason why, working with Israel, we have created the strongest military and intelligence operation between two countries in history. To the issue of Iran, as long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon ... we then organized the strongest coalition and the strongest sanctions against Iran in history. And it is crippling their economy ... their economy is in a shambles. And the reason we did this is because a nuclear Iran is a threat to our national security and it’s a threat to Israel’s national security. We cannot afford to have a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world.

ROMNEY: First of all I want to underscore the same point that the president made, which is, if I’m president of the United States, when I’m President of the United States, we will stand with Israel. And if Israel is attacked, we have their back. Not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily...with regards to Iran, there is no question that nuclear Iran and nuclear capable Iran is unacceptable to Americans. It presents a threat not only to our friends, but ultimately a threat to us. It’s also essential for us to understand what our mission is in Iran, and that is to dissuade Iran from having a nuclear weapon through peaceful and diplomatic means. And crippling sanctions are something I’d called for five years ago...And they do work. You’re seeing it right now in the economy. It’s absolutely the right thing to do to have crippling sanctions. I’d have put them in place earlier, but it’s good that we have them.

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On Syria:
SCHIEFFER: Should we reassess our policy [in Syria] and see if we can find a better way to influence events there, or is that even possible? 

OBAMA: What we’ve done is organize the international community, saying Assad has to go. We’ve mobilized sanctions against that government. We have made sure that they are isolated. We have provided humanitarian assistance, and we are helping the opposition organize, and we’re particularly interested in making sure that we’re mobilizing the moderate forces inside of Syria. But ultimately, Syrians are going to have to determine their own future...And I am confident that Assad’s days are numbered. 

ROMNEY: 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 in a — in a form of — of — if not government, a form of — of council that can take the lead in Syria, and then make sure they have the arms necessary to defend themselves ... Recognize, I believe that Assad 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.

On Egypt and Hosni Mubarak:
SCHIEFFER: During the Egyptian turmoil, 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 a while on that. Do you have any regrets about that?

OBAMA: No, I don’t because I think that America has to stand with democracy. The notion that we would have tanks run over those young people who were in Tahrir Square, that is not the kind of American leadership that John F. Kennedy talked about 50 years ago.

ROMNEY: No, I believe, as the president indicated and said at the time, that I supported his — his action there. I felt that — I wish we’d have had a better vision of the future. I wish that ... the transition towards a more representative form of government ... didn’t explode in the way it did. But once it exploded, I felt the same as the president did, which is these — these freedom voices in the — the streets of Egypt where the people who were speaking of our principles and the — the — President Mubarak had done things which were unimaginable, and the idea of him crushing his people was not something that we could possibly support.


On Afghanistan:
SCHIEFFER: The United States is scheduled to turn over responsibility for security in Afghanistan to the Afghans .... What do you do if the deadline arrives and it is obvious the Afghans are unable to handle their security? Do we still leave?

ROMNEY: Well, we’re going to be finished by 2014. And when I’m president, we’ll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014. The commanders and the generals there are on track to do so. We’ve seen progress over the past several years. The surge has been successful, and the training program is proceeding at pace. There are now a large number of Afghan security forces, 350,000, that are — are ready to step in to provide security. And — and we’re going to be able to make that transition by the end of — of 2014. So our troops’ll come home at that point.

OBAMA: We are now in a position where we have met many of the objectives that got us there in the first place .... We went because there were people who were responsible for 3,000 American deaths. And so we decimated Al Qaeda’s core leadership in the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. We then started to build up Afghan forces. And we’re now in a position where we can transition out, because there’s no reason why Americans should die when Afghans are perfectly capable of defending their own country. Now, that transition — has to take place in a responsible fashion. We’ve been there a long time, and we’ve got to make sure that we and our coalition partners are pulling out responsibly and giving Afghans the capabilities that they need. But what I think the American people recognize is after a decade of war, it’s time to do some nation-building here at home.

On Drones:
SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you, Governor, because we know President Obama’s position on this, what is — what is your position on the use of drones?

ROMNEY: Well, I believe that we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world. And it’s widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that entirely and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology and believe that we should continue to use it to continue to go after the people who represent a threat to this nation and to our friends.

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And last, but certainly not least:

On Teachers:
OBAMA: You know, under my leadership, what we’ve done is reformed education .... We’ve seen progress and gains in schools that were having a terrible time, and they’re starting to finally make progress. And what I now want to do is to hire more teachers, especially in math and science, because we know that we’ve fallen behind when it comes to math and science. And those teachers can make a difference.

ROMNEY: It’s so critical that we make America once again the most attractive place in the world to start businesses, to build jobs, to grow the economy. And that’s not going to happen by — by just hiring teachers. Look, I — I love to — I love teachers, and I’m happy to have states and communities that want to hire teachers, do that. I — by the way, I don’t like to have the federal government start pushing its way deeper and deeper into — into our schools. Let the states and localities do that. I was a governor. The federal government didn’t hire our teachers .... But I love teachers ... I want to get our private sector growing, and I know how to do it.

SCHIEFFER: I think we all love teachers. Gentlemen, thank you so much for a very vigorous debate. We have come to the end.