BOCA RATON, Fla. — President Obama sharply challenged Mitt Romney on foreign policy in their final campaign debate Monday night, saying, "every time you've offered an opinion you've been wrong." The Republican coolly responded, "Attacking me is not an agenda" for dealing with a dangerous world.
With the two men seated at a semi-circular table, the early moments of the debate produced none of the finger-pointing and little of the interrupting that marked their debate last week.
But there was little or no agreement, either, on Libya, Syria, Russia and other national security issues in a 90-minute encounter at Lynn University.
Romney said that despite early hopes, the ouster of despotic regimes in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere over the past year have resulted in a "rising tide of chaos." He said the president has failed to come up with a coherent policy to grapple with change sweeping the Middle East, and he added ominously that an al-Qaida-like group has taken over northern Mali.
Anticipating one of Obama's most frequent campaign assertions, Romney said of the man seated nearby, "I congratulate him on taking out Osama bin Laden and taking on the leadership of al-Qaida. But we can't kill our way out of this. ... We must have a comprehensive strategy."
Obama said he had ended the war in Iraq, was on a path to end the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan and has vowed to bring justice to the attackers of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi last month — an assault that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.
He also jabbed at Romney's having said during the campaign that Russia is the United States' No. 1 geopolitical foe.
"Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy you seem to want the policies of the 1980s, just like you want to import the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies in the 1920s," Obama said.
The two men are locked in a close race in national opinion polls. The final debate behind them, both men intend to embark on a final two-week whirlwind of campaigning. The president is slated to speak in six states during a two-day trip that begins Wednesday and includes a night aboard Air force One as it flies from Las Vegas to Tampa. Romney intends to visit two or three states a day.