WASHINGTON (EJP)---US President Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney are preparing for their final campaign debate Monday which will focus on foreign policy.
The a 90-minute debate will take place at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida.
Obama was holed up in Camp David in Maryland's Mountains, where he arrived Friday to prepare for the debate.
With him at the presidential retreat were top advisers including National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, campaign strategist David Axelrod and White House senior adviser David Plouffe.
Romney planned to spend the weekend in Florida, continuing intensive preparation that has consumed large amounts of his time in recent weeks.
Foreign policy has surfaced as a prominent issue in the waning weeks of the race, elevated by a deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and a restive situation in Syria. Although polls show voters continue to prioritize economic issues, both candidates are aggressively pitching themselves as more competent to be commander in chief.
Last Tuesday, at the second presidential debate Obama sought to regain ground lost in the first debate two weeks ago.
The president vigorously defended accusations from Romney of ‘pursuing a strategy of leading from behind” on the Middle East.
Whilst Romney paid special focus to Obama’s much-maligned relationship with the Israeli administration, accusing the Democrat leader of deliberately establishing “distance between ourselves and Israel”, Obama switched discussion to Libya, insisting he assumed the role of “a commander in chief” in reacting to last month’s Benghazi embassy bombing in Libya, whist “Romney put out a press release trying to make political points”.
Electing to focus on domestic concerns rather than foreign policy, he concluded: “You don't turn national security into a political issue, certainly not right when it's happening.”
Rejecting the assumption of responsibility for the Benghazi attacks by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he asserted: “I’m the president. And I’m always responsible,” once more reverting the Democrats’ preferred campaign tool of highlighting Romney’s lack of practical foreign policy experience.
Denying recent allegations that the White House sought to mislead the electorate by initially claiming the attack was the result of protests against Islamophobic film The Innocence of Muslims, he slammed the insinuation he elected to “play politics or mislead” America in the face of the deaths of four consulate staff.
Undeterred however, and with Obama polling better to date with the electorate regarding foreign policy and with the last of the three presidential elections next Monday devoted entirely to the issue, Romney sought to drill holes in his record on defending US security in light of the recent attacks on US embassies in Egypt, Yemen and Libya.
The Republican candidate further criticised the president for opting for appeasement on the global stage as opposed to genuine diplomacy, as he insisted that he had enabled the Iranian regime to buy time and gain four years worth of development of nuclear capabilities. “The president's policies throughout the Middle East began with an apology tour and pursue a strategy of leading from behind, and this strategy is unravelling before our very eyes,” he concluded.
Analysts were quick to respond to Romney’s emphasis on foreign policy, with the economy perhaps providing a more natural platform for him to campaign on, and with no incumbent president successfully securing reelection with US unemployment as high as its current level of 8%. A CNN survey on the second debate showed Obama won majority approval, with 46% as opposed to 39% for Romney, while rival US broadcaster CBS had Obama the winner by 37 percent to 30 percent.
In the meantime, in response to a questionnaire from the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Republican candidate pledged not to issue “public warnings” to Israel as part of the Middle East policy.
Both Romney and Obama completed the questionnaire, which was posted on the AJC website.
“I do not believe that we should be issuing public warnings that create distance between the United States and Israel,” Romney wrote. “Israel does not need public lectures about how to weigh decisions of war and peace. It needs our support.”
In his responses, Romney did not mention a commitment to a Palestinian state, although neither did the AJC – directly – ask whether each candidate endorsed the concept.
Obama, in contrast, wrote that “the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own.”
At the same time, the incumbent stressed that peace can only be achieved by decisions made by the parties themselves, and that unilateral steps are not the way to get there.
Concerning the upheavals in the Arab world and how that would affect US aid, Obama warned that “it will be many years before the story of the Arab Spring is complete.” But while assistance to Egypt would continue during that time, he said the new government must uphold the peace treaty with Israel and transition to democracy.
Romney didn’t directly answer the AJC’s question about whether aid might be affected. Instead, he wrote generally that “my administration would support groups and governments seeking to advance the values of representative government, economic opportunity and human rights and oppose any extension of Iranian or jihadist influence.”