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.

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In Russia, Stalin is back

New statues and memorabilia are appearing, as Russians overlook the terror to hark back to a perceived era of order and national safety.

It was during the Victory Day march to commemorate those who fought in the World War Two, the Great Patriotic War (as it is known in Russia) that I saw the face of Stalin. A young woman carried a crimson flag with the image of the Leader which appeared amidst the black and white photographs of grandparents remembered on the seventieth anniversary of the victory over the Nazi Germany. Just a few months later I was back in Moscow to face the fact that the fleeting image of Stalin, like a seed dropped into rich soil, has sprouted everywhere. At the busy Moscow Domodedovo airport you can now buy souvenir mugs and badges featuring a man with a moustache, coiffed hair and unsmiling eyes; men wearing Stalin T-shirts walk the streets of Moscow and just in time for the festive season 2016 calendars with the twelve photos of the ”Red Tsar” are spread across the counters of the book shops. Most shockingly, new statues of Stalin have appeared in Lipetsk, Penza and Shelanger, a village in a Russian republic Mari El. The monuments were commissioned and erected by the Russia’s Communist Party. Its leader, Gennadiy Zyuganov, promised new statues to be built in Irkutsk in Siberia and in Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine. Charles de Gaulle, the former French president was right: “Stalin didn't walk away into the past, he dissolved into the future.”

According to a January 2015 survey by an independent, non-profit organisation, founded by a Russian sociologist Yuri Levada, 52 per cent of Russians think that Stalin played a “definitely positive” or ”mostly positive” role in Russia’s history. Stalin’s positive image today is cultivated mostly through his association with the Great Patriotic War. Throughout 2015 the Russian media have been obsessively commemorating the 70th anniversary of the victory over the Nazis, with Stalin, the generalissimo, at its helm. Political psychologist Elena Shestopal, quoted by the Levada Centre, explains that the positive opinion of Stalin is a reflection of the society’s demand for order and national safety. In her view, Russians associate Stalin with the role of the father: strict, demanding and powerful.

Stalin’s resurrection is astounding not least because his role in history and his “personality cult” have been consistently condemned in Russia since 1956. Three years after Stalin’s death, the then General Secretary Khrushchev denounced it at the Communist Party conference. Stalin’s body was removed from the Red Square mausoleum; the monuments commemorating him were taken down and destroyed. During glasnost, the openness period initiated by Gorbachev, some state archives revealing the extent of Stalin’s purges and mass repressions were made public. My own grandfather, Aleksandr Bakunin, who devoted his entire life to the history of the Russia’s Communist Party and its accomplishments, set to work in his seventies to research the newly available materials and write a trilogy about the history of Soviet totalitarianism. In popular literature, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn made stunning revelations about mass repressions and his personal experiences as a prisoner in a labour camp in his novel The Gulag Archipelago, first openly published in a Russian literary magazine in 1989. In Gorbachev’s days Nikolai Svanidze, a popular Russian TV host, historian and journalist – related to Stalin through his first wife, Ekaterina (Cato) Svanidze – declared that Stalin and Hitler were cut from the same cloth on national television. I do not believe that such a statement would be made by the Russian media today. 

An example of a “Red Tsar” calendar

With knowledge about collectivisation and famine of the 1930s, mass arrests and forced labour, the culture of terror and the totalitarian governance, it is difficult to understand the current sentiment in Russia which makes it acceptable to print Stalin’s image onto T-shirts and mugs. Russians, who approve of Stalin, credit him with turning around the backward agrarian economy with its mostly rural population into an economic and scientific powerhouse, responsible for sending the first man into space. It was allegedly Churchill who said that “Stalin inherited Russia with a wooden plough and left it in possession of atomic weapons”. These sympathisers hail rapid industrialisation and economic progress, forgetting its costs. Mayakovskiy put it well in his poem about the construction of Kuznetsk: “The lips are turning blue from the cold, but the lips recite in unison: ‘In four years this will be a garden city!’”

Stalinists are especially vocal in giving their hero credit for winning the war. By the end of 1930s, the Soviet Union had become the largest economy in Europe and in the 1940s it was the defence industry that carried the Soviet campaign against Hitler. Stalin united people and inspired them to fight the enemy both on the front line and in the factories, according to those who believe in Stalin as “the Leader”. “The European nations are being ungrateful”, they say. “Stalin saved them from the Nazis.” It is inconvenient to remember that it was Stalin who had signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler in August 1939 and had been falsely assured that Germany would not invade the Soviet Union. Stalin disregarded several reports from his own intelligence agents and defected German spies about the advancing of Hitler’s army in 1941. Millions of lives were lost as a result in the first months of the war. As for the gratitude, the Baltic and the eastern European nations are quite right to dispute the post-war reorganisation of Europe, implemented after the Yalta conference, when Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to divide their spheres of influence.

After the war, the USSR became the second most powerful nation in the world and a force to be reckoned with in geopolitics, economics and technology. Previously illiterate peasants, Soviet citizens enrolled in universities, became engineers and doctors, went to the theatre and cinema, read and became part of the Soviet miracle. There is a great deal of nostalgia among the older generation in Russia, who mourn the ”golden decades” of the Soviet Union and wish for Russia’s international status to climb again. “We lived better with Stalin than with anyone else who came to power after him. He looked after us. Today only oligarchs live well,” said a Russian woman in her late seventies. One Russian blogger writes that mass repressions were necessary to align the Soviet consciousness to the new ideology, to replace individualism with collective responsibility. He believes that the terror was necessary to maintain order. There is also rising support among the younger generation who see parallels between Putin and Stalin, the two rulers who favour autocracy and ubiquitous state control.

Already in his seventies, my grandfather wrote two books about the genesis and the evolution of the totalitarianism in the Soviet Union. His third book was meant to be about the fall of Stalinism. Despite several heart attacks and a stroke, he continued working. He died from the fatal heart attack, his book unfinished. Perhaps, it was meant to be. Section 86 of the German Criminal Code makes it illegal to display Nazi images and to hail Hitler in Germany. In Russia, Stalin has never been similarly condemned. The Russian government ostensibly does not object to the new statues of Stalin being erected just 60 years after they had been taken down. The nation that has forgotten its own history is terrifying.