* Obama hits Romney on Middle East, Russia
* Debate veers often to domestic policy
* Poll says Romney passed "commander-in-chief" test
By Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick
BOCA RATON, Fla., Oct 22 President Barack Obama
scolded challenger Mitt Romney for being "all over the map" on
foreign policy in their final presidential debate on Monday, but
the Republican appeared to have passed the "commander-in-chief"
test of looking authoritative on national security issues.
With two weeks left until Election Day, the high-stakes
debate strayed frequently into domestic policy, with Romney
seeking to bolster his argument that Obama had bungled the U.S.
Running neck and neck in polls, neither man threw a knockout
punch or made a noticeable gaffe as they clashed over Israel,
Iran, Russia and the size of the U.S. Navy in the encounter at
Lynn University in Boca Raton.
While tamer than the second debate last week in New York
state, the matchup had its share of zingers and putdowns, most
of them doled out by an aggressive president eager to stop a
surge in polls by the former Massachusetts governor.
"I know you haven't been in a position to actually execute
foreign policy, but every time you've offered an opinion, you've
been wrong," said Obama.
"Attacking me is not an agenda," was Romney's frequent
retort, alluding to Republican accusations that Obama had not
laid out enough of a policy plan for a second term.
Snap polls declared Obama the winner, but 60 percent of
people in a CNN survey said Romney was capable of being
commander in chief, accomplishing a key goal set out by his
A CBS News poll said 53 percent believed Obama won the
debate, versus 23 percent for Romney and 24 percent calling it a
draw. The CNN poll put Obama as the winner by 8 percentage
With foreign policy a low priority in a campaign focused on
the economy, it was unclear what impact the debate would have on
the race. Respondents in the CNN poll were split over whether it
would influence their votes in the Nov. 6 election.
The campaign now enters its decisive phase with two weeks of
campaign rallies across battleground states. Polls show a tied
race, after Romney clawed back from a deficit by outdueling
Obama in their first debate on Oct. 3.
The Boca Raton showdown was one last chance for the
candidates to appeal to millions of voters watching on
television and Obama was the aggressor from start to finish.
'HORSES AND BAYONETS'
He criticized the Republican for lacking ideas on the Middle
East, mocked his calls for more ships in the U.S. military and
accused Romney of wanting to bring the United States back to a
long-abandoned Cold War stance.
"On a whole range of issues, whether it's the Middle East,
whether it's Afghanistan, whether it's Iraq, whether it's now
Iran, you've been all over the map," Obama said.
He had a biting and perhaps condescending response when the
Republican said the U.S. Navy had fewer ships now than at any
time since 1917 and needed more.
"Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets," Obama
said, suggesting that Romney's worldview was obsolete. "We have
these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on
them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear
Romney was cautious throughout and often refused to take the
bait when attacked, which may have led viewers to declare Obama
The former business executive's approach seemed to be a sign
that he feels he has the momentum in the campaign and was trying
to avoid the kind of mistakes he made on a trip abroad in July
to London, Jerusalem and Poland. He often steered the
conversation back to the economy.
"The president's path means 20 million people out of work
struggling for a good job," Romney said in his closing
statement, delivered as he sat at a table with Obama and facing
CBS News' moderator Bob Schieffer. "I'll get people back to work
with 12 million new jobs."
Romney accused Obama of failing ally Israel, which the
Democrat has not visited since taking office four years ago.
Both men declared, however, they would defend the Jewish
state if it were attacked by Iran and both vowed to pursue tough
policies against Tehran's nuclear ambitions and keep military
action as a last resort. Iran says its atomic program is for
Increasing the pressure, Obama said the Republican
presidential candidate was seeking to turn back the clock to the
1980s by once declaring Russia the top "geopolitical foe" of the
The 1980s, said Obama, were "now calling to ask for their
foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War's been over
for 20 years."
Romney pulled his punches on Libya, a potential weak spot
for Obama after the White House gave a shifting story about the
Sept. 11 attack by militants on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi
in which four Americans were killed.
But he did concentrate on Obama's handling of crises
throughout the Middle East, from Syria to Egypt and north Mali.
Romney said Obama's policies toward the Middle East and
North Africa were not stopping a resurgence of the threat from
al Qaeda in the region.
While Obama has conducted a policy of using unmanned drones
to attack al Qaeda targets, Romney said more was needed, a
"comprehensive and robust strategy" to persuade the world to
reject militant Jihadists.
"We can't kill our way out of this mess," he said.
On China, both vowed to get tough on Beijing's trade
policies, but touched only briefly on the security challenge the
fast-rising country poses to a U.S.-led alliance system in Asia.
Obama suggested he would not allow drastic reductions in
defense spending as part of $1.2 trillion in proposed government
cuts over 10 years, known as "sequestration." The cuts would
begin taking effect if Obama and Congress cannot reach a
deficit-reduction deal by Jan. 2.
"First of all, the sequester is not something that I've
proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed. It will
not happen," he said.
Advisers on both sides were quick to declare that their men
did what they had to do.
Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said Obama
may have come across as aggressive "because Mitt Romney could
not go beyond his talking points."
Romney's aides said he did enough to convince voters he was
knowledgeable about foreign affairs and could handle the
responsibilities of the Oval Office.
"President Obama is falling behind in the race for
president. So he shows up and launches one attack after another.
He looked desperate," said Romney senior adviser Eric