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.

Photo: Getty
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In the chaos of the Middle East, the world must stand behind the Kurds

The Kurdish people have shown themselves to be a small beacon of light in a sea of darkness.

It is one year since the lifting of the Siege of Kobanî. Many of us can recall harrowing images of the black flags of Isis flying threateningly from the surrounding hills, of car bombs being driven into the city’s defences, and of heroic citizens defending their houses and families from the despotic invaders intent on killing them. The Siege of Kobanî was the Stalingrad of the Syrian civil war – a true turning point in the battle against Isis.

Since then, we have seen a significant escalation in the involvement of the international community in Syria and Iraq. But to what end? Syria remains divided between various competing forces; Iraq is a half-governed country with declining influence over its populace. Foreign governments play power games across international boundaries which have long-since ceased to be relevant, least of all to those wishing to establish an Islamist caliphate.

Beheadings, suicide bombings, barrel bombs, religious extremism, violent intolerance, mass movements of people – these are just a few terms most associated with the Middle East today. To say the region is complex is an understatement bordering on ignorance.

In a recent PBS documentary, Inside Assad’s Syria, a television crew was sent to Damascus to cover its sectarian, religious and ideological divides. It showed us two halves to the city: one which lives in liberty and security; and another which resides in barrel-bombed apartment blocks and streets overrun with groups opposed to Bashar al-Assad.

In the southwest of Syria, pro-democratic force control pockets of land and fight Assad’s forces. In the northwest, Hezbollah works with Assad’s army to fight Islamist groups. Further north are areas ruled by groups with affiliations to Al Qaeda, such as the powerful al-Nusra Front. In the east, highways and cities have fallen to the apocalyptic regime of Isis, which stretches far across the old border into Iraq. What future does the Middle East have with such contrasting ideological and religious divides? It is near-impossible to offer a positive view for the future.

Resolving these issues will only be achieved in the long term and through a combination of local agreements (and perhaps the portioning of areas) of international oversight. In the short term, what can we do as citizens of a country with vested interests but limited power?

One of the problems of Western coverage and commentary is that we rarely view the Middle East in any way except through the prism of war. Debate is focused narrowly on the issues of intervention, extremism and migration. People are commonly talked about in derogatory terms with most mistakenly referred to as migrants, when many are fleeing from death and destruction.

These are people who, like us, desire to live in peace and security. They want to raise families and contribute to their communities. Although there are theological differences between Shias, Sunnis, Kurds, Christians, Jews and various minorities, for centuries these groups have lived alongside each other with general tolerance and respect. Churches have existed in the same cities as mosques. Yet the internecine conflicts have ruined the multiculturalism balances in Syria and Iraq. Communities have been divided against each other, sometimes on pain of death. The region is overrun with regressive forces.

Here in the UK, our view of foreign policy is shaped by the forming of alliances with progressive forces – that is those countries, governments and parties committed to values similar to our own. With the conflicts in Syria and Iraq as they are, dominated by regressive forces, our foreign policy is in disrepute. Who should we support in Syria? How can we continue to support Iraq’s army if it is being led on the ground by Iranian generals?

There is one force within the region that is progressive. They share our commitment to democracy, the rule of law and liberty. They have cohesive, well-led armed forces which not only protect their peoples, but also others in fear of persecution. Their women fight alongside their men, often in leadership positions. They have been the bulwark against Isis advances in both Iraq and Syria. They liberated Kobanî from oppression in tandem with US forces.

The Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria and the Peshmerga in Iraq have proved their strength and longevity in the face of enormous challenges. Lacking the weaponry appropriated by Isis, they have fought bravely and slowly liberated areas from tyranny. In doing so, they have treated non-Kurdish citizens well and protected them as they would wish to be protected by others. They have put their lives on the line for the common good, such as the taking of towns and cities outside of Kurdish areas. In doing so, they have refrained from declaring an expansion of Kurdish territory, instead stating that such lands will be handed over to local progressive groups when it is ready to do so.

Perversely, Western governments depend on Peshmerga and YPG forces to fight without adequately arming them. In Turkey, the same Kurdish citizens who would fight for the YPG against Isis are prosecuted and sometimes killed during clashes for protesting in favour of devolution. Turkey’s Kurdish populations in towns like Sur, Cizre, Nusaybin and many others are living under curfew. Yet we do nothing to raise this an issue.

Yet is it the Kurdish people that will be the first army to defeat the ideology of Isis. And because of this they are the biggest target. Their men and women are free. They live in lands governed by democracy, social justice and equality. They hold values in direct opposition to Isis but living in cities just miles apart. The Kurds are the only progressive force in the region which shares our values, has a commitment to democracy and has armies strong enough to protect its peoples.

If we believe in supporting those who share our values, we must show them our solidarity. Our support must go to Kurds as a whole not just those who fight for our interests, because the challenges Kurds face go beyond the borders set by the UK and France in 1920. These borders have been disregarded not only by Isis and al-Qaeda but also by Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which have each ignored international boundaries in pursuit of their interests.

It is fair to say that this simple notion of solidarity leads us to certain complications. Kurdistan is an ancient region divided up by imperial powers between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. How do we support the Kurds without alienating our allies in Ankara and Baghdad?

During the 1991 Gulf War, the US, UK and France established a no-fly zone over Iraqi Kurdistan to protect Kurds from Saddam Hussein’s air force. A year later, the first free and fair elections were held in Kurdistan. It was also the first such election in the whole of Iraq. A decade on, whatever the merits of the conflict, the Peshmerga were allies of the Coalition during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Since then, Kurdistan has remained steadfast in its commitment to a democratic future.

In Iraq, there is already a functioning Kurdish state in all but name. It is a pioneering force for democracy in the Middle East. In Iraqi Kurdistan there is a core set of values based on tolerance, respect and freedom of expression. Inclusiveness is enshrined in law. Women are recognised as equal citizens, with a law requiring that a minimum of 30 per cent of National Assembly seats must be taken by women. Furthermore, seats are also reserved for minority communities, with the Christian and Turkmen communities guaranteed at least five seats each. These values mirror our values.

We should adequately arm the Kurdish forces of the YPG and Peshmerga to adequately protect their lands. We must do whatever it takes to ensure Isis is restricted from further post-liberation resurgences, as was seen in the Kobanî region following the redeployment of Kurdish forces to Iraq. Over 350 were killed or injured in that resurgence, simply because YPG and Peshmerga forces are overstretched.

We should also seriously consider supporting Iraqi Kurdistan in its long-term ambition to be an independent state – when the time is right. No other people deserves it as do the Kurds. It is the largest homogenous nation on earth not represented by a unified state. They have a right to determine their own future. True, there are major issues to contend with – most notably corruption, political infighting and the continued presidency of Masoud Barzani beyond his legal mandate – however these issues can be overcome with the close help and guidance of the international community.

Outside of Kurdish controlled-areas lie lands ridden with conflict. We have seen our fellow citizens, friends and trading partners have their lives ruined by the twisted and hate-filled soldiers of Isis. In Syria, close to Kurdish cities, pro-democratic forces have been wiped out by Isis or other Islamist groups linked to Al-Qaeda. The rest of Syria is pock-marked with the barrel bombs dropped by Assad’s forces. Even within Kurdish-controlled areas, bombs have been dropped from Turkish planes on Kurdish YPG soldiers fighting for values which we would call our own. The region is highly complex and constantly changing.

Turkey is therefore a key player. Yet in recent years President Erdogan’s administration has escalated the conflict with the Kurdish citizens it represents. Peace talks between Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and the Turkish government ended unsuccessfully in 2015. Erdogan appears determined to militarily crush the PKK before any negotiations around a lasting peace can recommence.

Turkey has refused to recognise either the YPG or the PYD – the main political party of Kurds in Syria – as a legitimate force on the ground, due to its concerns that any Kurdish autonomy in Syria may motivate Kurds in Turkey to demand similar rights. Before the Syrian civil war there were thought to be between 16-20 million Kurds resident in Turkey, in contrast to just two million in Syria.

For Erdogan, this issue is of greater importance than what is occurring in Syria and Iraq. During the Siege of Kobanî, Ankara refused Kurdish YPG fighters the right to travel across the border into Kobanî to fight Isis forces. Rather than allow them to protect their families and friends, Turkey sprayed them with tear gas and removed their weapons. Significant international pressure belatedly led to Ankara allowing Peshmerga Forces to travel from Iraqi Kurdistan and enter Kobanî through Turkey – and just in time to save the city from Isis. In the interim period, Isis recruits routinely crossed over the border with ease.

The Erdogan administration’s conflict with its own Kurdish citizens is undoubtedly complex. Many Kurds in Turkey want some level of recognition and autonomy but it is not known how many desire outright independence. A free and fair poll has never been carried out and would not be tolerated by Ankara. President Erdogan prefers to suppress opinion rather than encourage it. Where is our solidarity for people demanding human rights?

While Turkey’s air forces have been bombing the Kurdish-controlled Kandil mountainous areas in Iraq, often missing Kurdish forces, Ankara has remained a strong ally of the government in Iraqi Kurdistan, which it sees as a correcting force against the regional influences of Riyadh and Tehran. However, Ankara fears an independent Kurdistan and the effects this may have on the Kurdish populations of Turkey and Syria. Ankara fears the establishment of a Greater Kurdistan, an option which is not on the table and most Kurds do not think is achievable.

Each of these issues is interconnected. Though Kurds in Iraq may carry different passports to those in Syria and Turkey, they similarly identify as Kurdish peoples. They share a culture, a religion and a language. The challenges faced by Kurds in Syria are of utmost concern to Kurds in neighbouring countries. There is a fraternity that must not be dismissed.

The Kurdish question in Turkey is obviously complicated. Turkey remains a critical member for the NATO alliance with its landing strips used to carry out bombing raids on Isis. Therefore, keeping Ankara on side is important to Washington. This is why we in the West have been relatively silent on the Kurdish issue. Meanwhile, the international and national boundaries of Iraq and Syria are now so distorted to be almost beyond repair. Kurds control areas beyond that of Kurdistan, with no other force strong enough to protect people in those areas. In our determination not to ‘put boots on the ground’, we ask Peshmerga and YPG forces to do the heavy lifting and endure the casualties of a conflict we in part caused. This is unfair to the Kurdish people.

We must encourage Turkey to end the Kurdish conflict within its borders. Ankara must resume peace talks with Abdullah Ocalan and the HDP – now the third biggest group in the grand assembly of Turkey. Ankara should accept that the Kurdish question cannot be resolved by militarily means. The overarching issues of inequality, equal citizenship and minority rights are beyond the control of even the strongest of strongmen.

The UK can help resolve the Kurdish question. We have long been a supporter of Turkey’s aspiration to become an EU member. We should agree to accelerate that process in return for allowing the EU to broker a peace. We have a duty to the citizens of any state which harbours ambition to join us. We have a duty to protect people’s human rights.

At the same time, we should support the Peshmerga and YPG as they fight a common foe. Defeating Isis forces in Iraq and Syria would reduce the Islamists’ ability to train home-grown jihadists and send them back to European cities. We should support them with weapons and finances in return for guarantees over human rights and post-conflict governance of the areas they retake from Isis.

The Kurdish people have shown themselves to be a small beacon of light in a sea of darkness. If we believe in the values of democracy, tolerance and freedom of expression – we must support those peoples that practice them. There are small steps we can take to show them our solidarity. We must do what we can to support them.

Ibrahim Dogus is the Director of the Centre for Turkey Studies (www.ceftus.org) and the Director of the Centre for Kurdish Progress (www.kurdishprogress.org).