US & Canada

Obama and Romney in final push

Foreign policy was the focus of the third and final debate between US President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Here, BBC global news correspondents report on the debate and the verdicts given in their part of the world.


BBC's Caroline Wyatt, Kabul:

For a war that American forces have been involved in since 2001, in which more than 2,000 US troops have died and more than 17,700 been injured, Afghanistan featured little in last night's debate. That might be because both candidates know there are few votes to be won by talking about a war that is increasingly unpopular at home.

Mitt Romney made clear he was backing Barack Obama's plan to pull US troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and said the US troop surge which the president had ordered had been successful.

It was a contrast to Mr Romney's position last year, when the Republican nominee criticised Mr Obama for setting a timeline for ending the war, allowing the president to attack him last night for "inconsistency" on the issue.

There was disappointment in Afghanistan that the situation in the region barely featured, and some dismay at the US dismissing the idea of nation-building abroad to focus on nation-building at home.

One Afghan female MP, Farkhunda Zahra Naderi, said the US had worked so hard in Afghanistan for 11 years that it was very disappointing that its work here merited so little attention within the debate.

"We still need their help with nation-building," she said, "to make sure we are capable of doing that properly within Afghanistan, and making that transition succeed."


BBC's Martin Patience, Beijing:

What Beijing regards as "China-bashing" featured once again in this presidential debate. But watching it with a professor and three students at a Beijing Foreign Studies University, I was struck by their sense of optimism.

Both presidential candidates did not pull their punches when criticising Beijing over its trade practices.

One of the students said he did not agree with President Obama's assessment that Chinese workers were taking American jobs.

However among the students there was a feeling that the rhetoric was being ramped up for the campaign but would die down after the election.

Professor Xie Tao said the big surprise of the debate was Mitt Romney's more "conciliatory" tone in regard to China. This was despite Mr Romney's pledging to label China a currency manipulator if elected.

But Mr Xie said Beijing would have been heartened by Mr Romney saying the US could be a "partner" with China.


Bahman Kalbasi, BBC Persian:

There was no spirited clash between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on the issue of Iran. As with much of the rest of the debate, the discussion on Iran was surprisingly tame and Mr Romney was less aggressive than expected.

There is a reason for that. Though substantive differences exist between the two sides on Iran, and though Mr Romney could have conceivably scored major points with the more hawkish circles by attacking President Obama on Iran, such a strategy would carry a significant risk - he could come across as George Bush III.

Mitt Romney knows very well that the momentum he currently has would be quickly lost if Mr Obama could portray him as a warmonger. As a result, Mr Romney mentioned the word peace almost a dozen times - arguably a record for a Republican candidate in a presidential debate.

By conceding the issue of Iran, Mitt Romney may have lost the debate. But he probably did not lose his momentum in the polls.

Barack Obama, while denying the New York Times reports about bilateral negotiations between US and Iran, said Iran had a choice to solve this stand-off diplomatically.

All in all, both sides had no surprises on Iran, except perhaps for when Mitt Romney said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should be referred to the International Criminal Court for incitement to genocide - something experts in international law I spoke to right after the debate said was highly implausible.


BBC's Paul Danahar, Middle East bureau chief:

The big foreign policy idea of the Obama administration is the tilt to Asia, but it was the Middle East that dominated the foreign policy debate.

Mitt Romney will have alarmed many in the region with an extremely negative view of the Arab Spring, citing the democratic election of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as one of the regions "disturbing events".

But many people would also have disagreed with President Obama's statement that his administration is "taking a leadership role in Syria".

The US response to the killing of its diplomats in Libya was expected to be a big issue but neither man dwelled on it for long, perhaps in Mitt Romney's case because it was a subject he fumbled in the last debate.

The audience in the Arab world would have been disappointed by the substance of much of the discussion, but they also know that positions taken during US presidential debates rarely morph into policy.


BBC's James Reynolds, near the Turkey-Syria border:

During the debate, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney shared one major agreement and one potential difference on Syria.

The two agreed that the US should not send its own armed forces to intervene in the conflict.

"Syrians are going to have to determine their own future," said President Obama.

"I don't want to have our military involved in Syria," said Mr Romney - a point he made twice during the debate.

But the two men appeared to differ on the immediate need of giving weapons to Syrian rebels.

Mr Romney made his position clear - the US needed to "make sure they [the Syrian opposition] have the arms necessary to defend themselves". At the same time, he added a warning: "We do need to make sure that they don't have arms that get into the wrong hands."

A close reading of President Obama's remarks shows that he did not rule out arming Syrian rebels.

But Mr Obama suggested that this step needed extremely careful thought: "For us to get more entangled militarily in Syria is a serious step, and we have to do so making absolutely certain that we know who we are helping; that we're not putting arms in the hands of folks who eventually could turn them against us or allies in the region."


Aamer Ahmed Khan, BBC Urdu:

Any Pakistanis who switched on their TV sets at 06:00 local time to tune into the US presidential debate may now be thinking they should not have bothered. No matter who wins, little seems likely to change for their country.

Pakistan remains important to the world for all the wrong reasons - nuclear weapons, terror networks, an overbearing intelligence apparatus and fears of it turning into a failed state.

Is it a US ally? Only "technically", according to Romney, though it is not "behaving like one". So, not yet "time for a divorce" even if drone strikes seem to be the only way of keeping the marriage in place.

The Obama administration's drone war was clearly one area where Pakistanis may have been hoping for a disagreement between the two, but what they got was a respectful consensus.

With little to choose between the two candidates, Pakistanis are unlikely to be encouraged by Mr Romney's emphasis on helping their country in the right direction through continued - although conditional - aid. While many in Pakistan have heard of billions of dollars pouring into the country in the past decade, few have felt it.


BBC's Jon Leyne, Cairo:

The US presidential debate stirred little enthusiasm among commentators and on social media in Egypt. "It's like choosing between bad and worse," said one television presenter, Sherif Amer. "Obama is less harmful."

Another Egyptian, writing on Facebook, warned that Mitt Romney's policies would escalate tension in the region because "he is reckless and seeking war".

Most of the comments suggested that President Obama had come out of the debate the strongest, and looked the most competent in foreign policy.

Many writers pointed out how close both candidates' views were to the policies of the Israeli government. "It seemed as if they were competing for Israel's presidency," said one journalist.

As for policy towards Egypt, most writers did not notice much difference between the two candidates. As one writer put it: "Their views on Egypt's revolution are close and they adopt a stance based on containment with the new government in Egypt."


BBC's Arturo Wallace, Bogota:

The debate was never going to be an audience success in Colombia, but those who tuned in to watch President Obama and Mr Romney discuss foreign policy were left disappointed after Latin America got only a passing mention - from Mr Romney - in the whole debate.

The fact that it was a positive mention - Mr Romney said Latin America was a "huge [commercial] opportunity" the US had to "focus on" - was certainly welcomed, especially since Colombians believe they best represent the opportunities he was referring to.

But many in Colombia - and Latin America - would certainly have liked to have heard more from the candidates on the US-led war on drugs, as many regional leaders have been insisting it needs to be revisited.