Liveblog: The third and final presidential debate

Nicky Woolf liveblogs tonights debate.

10:48PM

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."

 


10:31PM

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."

 


10:27PM

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.

 


10:25PM

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

 


10:20PM

"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."


 

10:17PM

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.

 


10:13PM

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

 


10:12PM

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

 

 


10:03PM

"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."

 


9:59PM

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."

 


9:53PM

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.

 


9:48PM

"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.

 


9:34PM

Twitter is very unimpressed with Schieffer's moderation.

 

 


9:34PM

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.

 


9:28PM

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.

 


9:24PM

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.

 


9:19PM

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.

 


9:13PM

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."

 


9:08PM

"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."

 


8:55PM

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.

 


8:49PM

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.

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The lute master and the siege of Aleppo

Luthier Ibrahim al-Sukkar's shop was bombed; when he moved, militants came for him. Over WhatsApp, he told me what's next.

Aleppo was once a city of music, but this year the 400,000 residents who inhabit its eastern suburbs can hear nothing but the roar of Russian warplanes, and ear-shattering blasts from the bombs they drop. To the north, west and south, the city is encircled by ground troops from the Syrian armed forces, Hezbollah and Iran. Most residents are afraid to flee, but soon, now that supply lines to the city have been cut off, many will begin to starve. We have reached the crescendo of Aleppo’s suffering in year five of the Syrian civil war.

One clear August morning in 2012, in the early weeks of the battle for the city, a man approached a street corner shop and found a hundred shattered lutes scattered across the floor. Ibrahim al-Sukkar, the engineer who had made the lutes (Arabs know the instrument as the oud), was overwhelmed. He wandered between the tables of his workshop and peered up at the sky, suddenly visible through holes in the roof. He wept on the floor, amid the dust and ash.

Some of the wooden shards that lay around him had been lutes commissioned by musicians in Europe and America. Others were to be used by students in Damascus and Amman. Each oud was built for a specific purpose. In every shard Ibrahim saw a piece of himself, a memory scattered and charred by government bombs. He packed his bags and headed for Idlib, a few hours to the west, where he set up shop a second time. A year later, his workshop was destroyed again, this time by Islamist militants.

It was at this point that Ibrahim came to a stark realisation – he was a target. If barrel bombs from government helicopters could not succeed in destroying him, the Islamists would. The cost of sourcing materials and getting goods to market had become unmanageable. The society that had inspired his desire to make musical instruments was now trying to lynch him for it.

The 11 string courses of an oud, when plucked, lend the air that passes through its bowl the sounds of Arabic modes known as maqamat. Each one evokes an emotion. Hijaz suggests loneliness and melancholy. Ajam elicits light-heartedness and cheer. An oud player’s competence is judged by his or her ability to improvise using these modes, modulating between them to manipulate the listener’s mood. The luthier, the architect of the oud system, must be equal parts artist and scientist.

This is how Ibrahim al-Sukkar views himself. He is a trained mechanical engineer, but before that he was a lover of classical Arabic music. As a young man in the Syrian countryside, he developed a talent for playing the oud but his mathematical mind demanded that he should study the mechanics behind the music. Long hours in the workshop taking instruments apart led him to spend 25 years putting them together. Ibrahim’s ouds are known for their solid construction and, thanks to his obsessive experimentation with acoustics, the unparalleled volume they produce.

Ibrahim and I recently spoke using WhatsApp messenger. Today, he is lying low in the village where he was born in Idlib province, close to the Turkish border. Every so often, when he can, he sends some of his equipment through to Turkey. It will wait there in storage until he, too, can make the crossing. I asked him if he still felt that his life was in danger. “All musicians and artists in Syria are in danger now, but it’s a sensitive topic,” he wrote, afraid to say more. “I expect to be in Turkey some time in February. God willing, we will speak then.”

Ibrahim’s crossing is now more perilous than ever. Residents of Idlib are watching the developing siege of Aleppo with a sense of foreboding. Government forces are primed to besiege Idlib next, now that the flow of traffic and supplies between Aleppo and the Turkish border has been intercepted. And yet, to Ibrahim, the reward – the next oud – is worth the risk.

I bought my first oud from a Tunisian student in London in autumn 2014. It is a humble, unobtrusive instrument, with a gentle, wheat-coloured soundboard covering a cavernous, almond-shaped bowl. Some ouds are decorated with rosettes, wooden discs carved with dazzling patterns of Islamic geometry. Others are inlaid with mother-of-pearl. My instrument, however, is far simpler in design, decorated only with a smattering of nicks and scratches inflicted by the nails of impatient players, and the creeping patina imprinted by the oils of their fingers on its neck.

My instructor once told me that this oud was “built to last for ever”. Only recently did I discover the sticker hidden inside the body which reads: “Made in 2006 by Engineer Ibrahim al-Sukkar, Aleppo.” 

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle