Mitt Romney on Libya: Al Qaeda 'Certainly Not On the Run'

Republican candidate hits President Obama on his response to terror attack in Libya.
3:00 | 10/22/12

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Transcript for Mitt Romney on Libya: Al Qaeda 'Certainly Not On the Run'
-- first took question. And it concerns Libya. The controversy over what happened there continues for Americans are dead including an American ambassador questions remain. A what happened. What caused it was it spontaneous. Was it an intelligence failure was -- a policy failure. Was -- an attempt to mislead people about what really happened governor Romney. You said this -- us 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 -- your thoughts on that governor Romney you won the -- -- shoot gophers. Thank you Bob and thank you for agreeing to moderate this debate this evening thank -- -- university for welcoming us here and mr. president's good to be with you again. We were together -- a humorous about a little earlier and it's nice to. Maybe be funny this time not a -- we'll see what happens. This is obviously an area of great concern to the entire world and to America in particular which is to see. -- complete change in the the structure and the 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 and 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 an -- And Libya an attacker apparently by. I think we know now by terrorists of 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. It's a pretty dramatic reversal of the kind of hopes we -- 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 and 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 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 certainly not -- hiding. That this is a group that is now involved in -- or 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 project this kind of extremism. Question. Well my first job as commander in chief Bob -- 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 in -- 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. Future threats. Now -- respect to Libya. As I indicated in the last debate. When we receive that phone call. I immediately made 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 -- -- keep in mind that. And Americans took leadership. In organizing an international coalition. That made short bat. 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 add tens of thousands of Libyans after the -- -- in Gaza. Marching and saying America's -- for a we stand -- them. Out that represents the opportunity we have to take advantage of and you know governor Romney I'm glad that. You agree that we have been successful in going after -- Qaeda. But I have to tell you that -- -- your strategy. Previously has been one that has -- all -- them 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 -- two back kill them to -- Take them out of the picture. The my strategy is broader than that that that's that's important of course. But the key that we're gonna have to pursue is a is 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 and that's not the right course for us the right course for -- is to make sure that we go after that the people who were leaders of these various. Anti American groups and these these -- -- but also help the Muslim world and how we do that. The group of air scholars came togethers -- organized by the UN to look at. How we can help the the world reject these these terrorists -- -- -- they came up with was this one more economic development we should key. Our foreign aid are 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 is rising tide. Of chaos occurred you see al-Qaeda rushing and you see other jihadist groups rushing and 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 Egypt eighty million population. What we want we want to make sure that we're seeing progress throughout the Middle East with -- now having north -- taken over by al-Qaeda with Syria. Having Assad continuing to assess that killed -- murder his own people. That this is a region will tumble and of course Iran let's say a lot on the path to and a nuclear weapon -- -- GeMS in the -- but lets it get president and -- 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 you said Russia. -- 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 governor you know when it comes. Our foreign policy -- seem to want to import that foreign policy is the 1980s. Just like. The social policy of 1950s and economic policies in the 1920s. You say that you're not interested in duplicating what happened in a rock. 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 we've offered an opinion. -- -- -- he said we should have gone into Iraq. Despite the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction. -- said that we should still have troops in Iraq to this day. You indicated that. We shouldn't meet passing. Nuclear. Treaties -- Russia despite the fact that 71. Senators Democrats and Republicans voted for. You've said that. First we should not have a -- and Afghanistan and you said we should -- you -- may be or depends. Which means not only. Were you wrong but you're also confusing and sending mixed messages -- to our troops are -- So what what we need to do with 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 but -- offered throughout this campaign. And it is not. A recipe for American strength or keeping America safe over the. And a couple of -- -- -- -- to give your chance to respond well of course I'd. 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 seeing and the rising tide 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. Follow. Not -- -- one excuse me it's a geopolitical fault and I said in the same in the same paragraph -- 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 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. After 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 engine or you didn't you don't want -- 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 agreement. 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 -- I thought I should have been 5000 troops -- punish a bit more troops but you don't like this and showed us again refused to whatsoever that this is this a few weeks ago that you indicated that we should still have troops in Iraq now I -- that's -- that's it -- -- either candidate to get the -- 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 -- -- dozen -- want going on here that want to. Here's one thing I've learned it's better -- You gotta be clear. Both to our allies and our enemies about where you stand. And what you -- -- you just give a speech a few weeks ago on 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 and Israel's security because it is a true friend. And our greatest ally in the region number three. We do 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. Maintain the kind of American leadership that we --

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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