Liveblog: The third and final presidential debate

Nicky Woolf liveblogs tonights debate.


That was a definite Obama win - so much so that even Fox News is admitting right now that "the President did a good job." If that doesn't scream domination, I don't know what does...

There were 3.6 times more tweets post-debate saying Obama won than Romney, and a CBS News snap poll of 521 people shows 53% thought Obama won to just 23% Romney.

Line of the night was Obama to Romney: "the 1980s are calling. They want their foreign policy back."



Obama's closing statement: "As commander in chief, I will maintain the stongset miliary in the world, keep faith with our troops, and go afte the people who did us harm. But after ten years of war, I think we also need to do some nation-building at home. ... If I have the privilege of being your president for another 4 years, I will fight for you."

"I'm optimistic about the future," says Romney. "I'm excited about our prospects. I want to see peace. ... I want to make sure that we get this economy going. I'll get us on track to a balanced budget." No mention of foreign policy for Mitt Romney. Or Obama, in fact, in their closing statements. A real indication of how little importance there is on foreign policy here. "We need strong leadership - I'd like to be that leader. I'll lead you in an open and honest way... to make sure America remains the hope of the earth."



Now - and I have no idea why we're doing this - we're talking about the auto industry bailout again, bickering about who said what and when. "People can look it up," says Romney. "They will look it up." They won't look it up.



The Guardian's Johnny Paige sums up the situation...



"We have brought more cases against China for violating trade rules than the previous administration had done in two terms," says Obama.

Romney's back on safer ground here. 

If you declare them a currency manipulater on day one, won't you start a trade war? "It's pretty clear they don't want a trade war," says Romney. "And there's a trade war going on right now. And they're winning."



Now we're on to China, says Schieffer, but then - bizarrely, adds: "what do you think is the greatest threat to American national security."

"Terrorists," says Obama, with a slightly raised eyebrow. "But... on to China..."

He's talking about China's "cheating" on trade, something that's been in all of Romney's stump speeches.



Drones. "I believe we should use any and all means," says Romney. "I support them entirely."



Romney is being zinged on Twitter by Obama's debate-prep partner, John Kerry:




"What happens if you get the call and Israeli bombers are on the way to Iran," says Schieffer. Mitt says it would never happen. "My relationship with Israel would be that it would never just be a call... it would be discussed in full."

"The problem is that on a whole range of issues, whether it's the Middle East or Afghanistan or Iraq or Iran, you've been all over the map," says Obama. "I'm pleased that you're now endorsing our policy of applying diplomatic pressure, but just a few years ago you said that was something you'd never do."



Obama is really hitting Romney hard. "Everything he just said isn't true," he says, before pointing out that Romney previously did business with Iranian oil. Romney's face is beginning to be frozen in a rictus grin as Obama 

"If we're going to talk about trips we've taken, the first trip I took as a candidate was to visit our troops. When I visited Israel as a candidate, I didn't take donors. I went to yad vashem, the Holocaust museum, to remind myself of the nature of evil."



Consensus in the room appears to be that Obama is dominating maybe even too much. "I feel a bit sorry for Mitt," says one. "Yeah," says the guy to my right. "Mitt has a really hard life." Snigger.



"My opponent hasn't looked at our military recently. We don't have as many horses or bayonets..." A snide but cutting put-down from Obama. Romney is sweating, seems nervous.

Now Israel. "If Israel is attacked, America will stand with them," says Obama. "In fact this week we will be carrying out the largest military exercise with them in history," says Obama.



Twitter is very unimpressed with Schieffer's moderation.




Now both are talking about home policy, it seems, and Scheiffer is doing nothing to keep them on topic. Rommey's talking about the deficit, and Obama's talking about green energy policy. Scheiffer is being very hands-off about keeping them on topic - which is allowing both Obama and Romney to stick to their own tried and tested talking-points. Romney's now in the middle of his "five point plan" stump speech.



Obama has even found an opportunity to score a home policy goal: "For america to be successful in the region, we need to do things at home. We've neglected developing our own economy - it's very difficult for us to project development around the world without doing that."

Romney is still floundering, failing to find differences between himself and Obama on Egypt. "We want a peaceful planet," he says, "but for us to be able to promote peace we must be strong." He briefly mixes up Iraq and Iran. Panicking, he tries to strike out for an area he feels more comfortable - the deficit. But it's not working for him.



Romney is repeatedly denying the possibility of a role for American boots on the ground in Syria, which might come back to haunt him someday - but right here, Obama is not making the same categorical statement. He's leaving himself wide open to a direct question from Romney but he's leaving the open goal.



Second topic is Syria. "What we've done is organise the international community, saying Assad has to go," says Obama. "Everything we're doing is with our partners in the region. What we're seeing taking place in Syria is heartbreaking, and we're doing everything we can to help the opposition. But for us to get more entangled in Syria is a serious step. I am confident that Assad's days are numbered."

"Seeing Syria remove Assad is a very high priority to us," says Romney. "But we don't want ot get drawn in to a military conflict." Romney is really not bringing his A-game tonight. He's enjoying himself less, and his turns of phrase are much less confident.



Obama is immediately on the attack over Romney's Russia comments. "I know you haven't been really in a position to implement foreign policy, but every time you've expressed an opinion... you've been wrong." This is a really aggressive Obama we're seeing tonight.

"I... I don't concur with what the President said about my record, they, they don't happen to be accurate," waffles Romney. "Attacking me is not agenda. Let's stem the tide of this violence. Russia is a geopolitical foe, and I said in the same paragraph that Iran is the greatest national security threat we face. But I said to Putin that after the election he will get more backbone."



"Great to see you again" says Obama to Romney as the two shake hands.

"This is the 50th anniversary of the night President Kennedy told America that the USSR had installed missiles in Cuba," says Schieffer, introducing the debate, and then leads straight into Libya -a tough issue for both candidates. "[There is] a complete change in the structure and the environment in the middle east. With the Arab Spring came a lot of hope," says Romney, "but we're seeing a complete reversal," he says, listing Iran, Egypt's new government and the Benghazi attacks. "We can't kill our way out of this mess," he says, "but we must have a comprehensive strategy."

Obama lists his achievements; Bin Laden topping that list. "With respect to Libya, when we recieved that phone call, I made sure that we did everything to secure those in harms way, to investigate what happened, and go after those who did it and bring them to justice. But it's important to remember what happened in Libya. I took leadership in forming an international coalition, and for what we spent in two weeks in Iraq, without putting troops on the ground, we toppled Gaddafi."



The danger-points for the President tonight will be on Iran - a tricky subject for an incumbent, who wants to sound bullish but also wants to avoid an international incident - and the response to the Libyan embassy killings, where Romney will be looking to get back the ground he lost in last week's debate. Romney will also want to hit him on his apparent snub of Israeli leaders during the recent UN summit.

Romney will be looking to capitalise on his campaign-message on Chinese currency and patent controls - he calls them "cheaters" on the campaign-trail, but Obama will be looking to paint him as inexperienced, and look to imply that his sabre-rattling on Iran and China and Russia are dangerous - Romney already put American interests at risk by calling Russia "our number one geopolitical foe" back in March.



Hello and welcome to the New Statesman's live-blog of the third and final Presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in Boca Raton in the swing state of Florida. This debate, presided over by CBS's Bob Scheiffer, will be about foreign policy. No audience questions this time; Scheiffer will be asking the questions of the two candidates, who will be sat at a table in the same way as the Vice-Presidential debate - a more intimate format, and one more conducive to conflict. Should be good fun. Stay tuned.

The debate. Photograph: Getty Images

Nicky Woolf is reporting for the New Statesman from the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.