Cheat Sheet: Tonight's Foreign Policy Debate

Cheat sheet for tonight's presidential debate, which focuses on foreign policy.

October 22, 2012, 2:32 PM

Oct. 22, 2012— -- President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, in the third presidential debate, face off exclusively on foreign policy tonight at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

The debate will be the candidates' last opportunity to address each other directly on a slew of foreign policy questions. For Obama, the debate is an opportunity to defend his policy in the Middle East. And for Romney, it is an opportunity to convince voters that he has the foreign policy chops to be commander in chief.

Tune in to ABC tonight at 8 p.m. ET for anchored coverage of the final presidential debate, held at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

Here's what you need to know about the big foreign policy questions of the day:

Libya: the Benghazi Attack

Perhaps more than any other foreign policy issue, the death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stephens has dominated headlines and has penetrated the consciousness of American voters, who are otherwise preoccupied with their own economic security.

Most recent reports indicate that an amateur anti-Islamic video was not what provoked the attacks, as the administration said originally. But recent reports also indicate that intelligence officials do not believe the attack was pre-planned.

The issue may also be Romney's clearest opportunity to challenge Obama's foreign policy record.

Romney has suggested that the Obama administration, for political reasons, misled the country about what triggered the attacks in Libya. Republicans have also roundly criticized Obama for saying to comedian Jon Stewart that Stevens' death and the deaths of other Americans at the embassy were not "optimal.

Iran: Nuclear Weapons

Obama and Romney largely agree that Iran must be prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons.

The Obama administration said that it has imposed strenuous sanctions on Iran, including strictly enforcing sanctions that have been in place for decades.

But Romney said in a recent foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute that Obama's foreign policy had "emboldened" Iran.

Meanwhile, a report in The New York Times over the weekend suggested that Iran had agreed to one-on-one talks with the U.S. about its nuclear plans.

Iranian officials have denied that they have agreed to any talks.Romney is likely to be questioned about his position on one-on-one talks with Iran. When asked about whether he would be open to one-on-one talks with Iran over the weekend, Romney declined to answer.


Both Obama and Romney will emphasize the importance of the U.S.'s relationship with Israel, and the U.S. commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Romney has staunchly criticized Obama for allowing his relationship with Israeli President Bibi Netanyahu to deteriorate over the course of his presidency.

Romney and Netanyahu are old friends, a friendship dating back to their days at Boston Consulting Group, when they were both business consultants.

Obama's relationship with Netanyahu has been rocked by several public strains in the past four years, including disagreements about Israel's expansion of settlements in the West Bank. Most recently, Obama was criticized by Republicans for not meeting with Netanyahu when both leaders attended the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September, however the two did speak by phone. And in his speech at the U.N. General Assembly, Obama reiterated his commitment to a "secure Jewish state of Israel and an independent prosperous Palestine."Note: This article initially incorrectly referred to settlements in the Gaza Strip.The settlements are actually in the West Bank.

Iraq and Afghanistan: Ending the Wars

Ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are central to Obama's foreign policy re-election message. Obama, who ran on a platform of ending the Iraq war and refocusing U.S. efforts on al Qaeda in Afghanistan, announced that the last troops pulled out of Iraq at the beginning of 2012. And the last surge troops left Afghanistan in September, and the U.S. and NATO allies plan to drawdown troops in the country by 2014.

Romney will acknowledge the ending of the war in Iraq, the drawdown in Afghanistan and perhaps Obama's greatest foreign policy achievement, the killing of Osama bin Laden early in the debate as he has done in other foreign policy speeches.

Romney and Obama agree on the 2014 date to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. However, Romney has said that his drawdown will be guided by "conditions on the ground" and "the best advice of our military commanders."

Both candidates may also be asked to weigh in on the surge of so-called "green on blue" violence in Afghanistan, where Afghan soldiers turn their weapons on the American and NATO troops who train them. Those attacks have accounted for more than 15 percent of coalition casualties so far in 2012, which is more than double the rate of casualties in 2011.

Syria: Humanitarian Crisis

The uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has continued for 19 months without much evidence that a cease-fire is near in that conflict, which has killed more than 30,000 civilians.

The Obama administration has provided nonmilitary aid to the Syrian rebels and has supported international actors in pursuing a cease-fire but has been slow to provide arms and weapons to the rebels. Romney has been sharply critical of Obama's handling of the humanitarian crisis in Syria. He has pledged to increase sanctions against Assad's regime and arm rebel forces.

Both candidates may be asked to outline their criteria for intervening in a humanitarian crisis like the one in Syria.

Currently, a United Nations and Arab League peace envoy is reportedly working to negotiate a cease-fire between Assad and rebel forces. Two other Middle Eastern countries that are central to the conflict in Syria are Turkey, which has supported the rebels and is an ally of the United States, and Iran, which is widely considered to be Syria's closest ally in the region.

China: Currency Manipulation and Outsourcing

When Obama and Romney memorably locked horns over China in the second presidential debate last week, it was over two issues: outsourcing of jobs and currency manipulation.

The president accused Romney of investing in companies that outsourced jobs to China and Romney, insisting that he would label China as a currency manipulator "on day one" of his presidency.

Currency manipulation is the practice of undervaluing the Chinese yuan on the global market so that products sold from China are cheaper than U.S.-made products.

Both candidates say that a top priority of their administrations would be to encourage companies to create jobs in the U.S. and not in low-wage countries such as China.

In the past, Obama has said that he would "close loopholes" that give companies incentives to hire workers oversees. And on the issue of currency manipulation, the Obama administration has steered away from officially labeling China a currency manipulator, despite calls from Republicans and from within his own party to do so.

Expect both candidates to be pressed for more details on what they would do to address the loss of jobs in the United States to cheap labor in China and how the U.S. economy can compete with China's in the future.

Defense Spending: Strong Military and Automatic Cuts

At the end of 2012, the Department of Defense may face mandatory, across the board $500 billion budget cuts, also known as "sequestration," if Congress fails to agree on a long-term deficit reduction plan.

The cuts would come on top of the $100 billion in savings that former Defense Secretary Bob Gates announced in 2010 that the department would find over five years in response to increased fiscal belt tightening and the need to reduce waste.

Both Obama and Romney oppose the $500 billion cut to the defense budget and agree that the cuts would be detrimental to the country's national security.

Romney has argued in past debates that if Obama is re-elected, those "arbitrary" cuts would go into effect. And he has said that as president, he would boost military spending to 4 percent of GDP in an effort to strengthen national security.

Obama's policy has been to pursue "nation-building here at home" by using the savings from drawing down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to reduce the deficit and to invest in domestic infrastructure projects.

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