BOCA RATON, Fla. - Foreign policy will take center stage during the third and final presidential debate Monday night at Lynn University, an interesting way to cap an election dominated by the slow-to-recover American economy.
President Barack Obama, once mocked by now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for his lack of foreign policy chops during their 2008 Democratic primary, has developed a strong resume when it comes to world events. Most notably, Obama successfully ended the Iraq War, oversaw the death of top al-Qaeda terrorist and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, is drawing down troops from Afghanistan, and worked with the global community to implement devastating sanctions on Iran.
But Republican nominee Mitt Romney has found room to gain ground on Obama on the foreign policy front, questioning the administration's handling of the deadly attacks in Benghazi, Libya that killed four American diplomats including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Reports say requests for increased security at the outpost may have gone unheeded and the Obama administration's mixed messaging on who carried out the attacks and for what motivation have angered many voters.
Romney has also attacked Obama for the automatic military spending cuts set to occur early next year, but his message is muddled by the fact that his own vice presidential pick, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, voted for the legislation that set up the cuts. In fact, most lawmakers agree the cuts are bad policy and they were meant to trigger action on deficit-reduction legislation but Congress couldn't come to agreement with the president on that front.
The Romney-Ryan pairing marks one of the least-experienced GOP tickets in presidential history when it comes to foreign policy. Romney is a two-term governor and businessman and Ryan is a seven-term congressman whose career has focused on the federal budget. Neither is a veteran, nor is either of the men they are running against.
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has labeled Romney as someone "not ready for prime time" on the world stage, airing a web video featuring former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry criticizing the Republican.
Romney did himself no favors over the summer, either, when he insulted Olympic host city London and offended Palestinian leaders when he said Israelis were more financially successful because of cultural differences. He's also been mocked by the Obama campaign for calling Russia America's top "geo-political foe."
Other topics likely to be brought up by debate moderator Bob Schieffer, host of CBS' Face The Nation, are on-going Middle East and North African violence related to the aftermath of the Arab Spring, and U.S. relations with China, North Korea, and Iran.
Both Obama and Romney face the tough task of drawing contrasts between themselves on some issues that the American public is largely one-sided on, such as ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of late, the Romney campaign has tried to distinguish itself from Obama by saying while they both agree with reducing troop levels, it's foolhardy to announce a firm timeline as the Obama administration has done. Both sides also will argue which would be better at preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, another issue that unites American voters.
Polling has consistently shown an edge for Obama over Romney when it comes to who is more trusted with world affairs, but foreign policy is also one of the last issues on voters minds' when they decide who to vote for this election.
Given that this will be the final time for either candidate to land some blows upon his opponent before millions of voters, the debate is likely to be full of barbs and heated exchanges.
The presidential race is currently deadlocked, with a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal national poll showing Obama and Romney tied at 47 percent.
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Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for
U.S. News & World Report.
You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at email@example.com