President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney accused each other of weak leadership Monday night, as domestic issues peppered a spirited final presidential debate that was supposed to focus on foreign policy.
The debate, hosted at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. and moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS News, focused on U.S. policy in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, but topics like unemployment and even teachers' unions crept into the candidates' arguments.
Within minutes, Romney had criticized Obama for not dealing with the "rising tide of chaos" in the Muslim world following the so-called Arab Spring, and he said he wanted to "get the Muslim world to reject extremism on its own."
He applauded the president for successfully killing al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden last year, but said when it comes to battling extremism, "We cannot kill our way out of this mess."
The Republican nominee said that Obama went on an "apology tour" during his first year of office and weakened American leadership in the eyes of the world.
Obama denied the United States is now weaker than four years ago, saying his administration has been successful in reducing conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan and was able to "kill those who attack Americans."
He also blasted Romney for giving what he called "mixed messages" about U.S. policy, saying the Republican candidate was offering "wrong and reckless leadership that's all over the map."
Obama also saw his rival's policies as a dangerous throwback, quipping, "The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back, because the Cold War's been over for 20 years. But governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s."
Romney responded, "Attacking me is not an agenda," and said that he would help promote peace, human rights and free enterprise worldwide and also build up the U.S. armed forces.
He also said that he would encourage the U.S. economy through energy independence, expanded trade with Latin America and increased benefits for small businesses.
The president said that his own global policy encourages equal rights for women and "stands on the side of democracy."
He also said that his leaner military is better equipped for modern conflicts, joking that U.S. troops have "fewer horses and bayonets" and that the country's security could not be ensured by a "game of Battleship."
On the domestic front, Obama said he would encourage U.S. jobs by better educating the workforce, through better math and science education for children.
Both candidates stressed that Israel is a crucial ally, but Obama said that the United States has pledged sufficient support for the Jewish state by saying that he would never allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon.
The president also denied published reports that said that his administration would sit down for one-on-one talks with Iran after the election.
Romney said that he would want to enforce stricter economic isolation on Iran, saying the country was "four years closer" to having a nuclear weapon. He also said he wanted to prevent an attack on Israel and demanded that Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be prosecuted for encouraging genocide.
The candidates also accused each other of not being tough enough on China to control its rivalry in manufacturing and trade.
Like the first debate, the candidates were seated at the same table, but they not speak over each other like in the previous two debates.
Schieffer, who often steered the debate from domestic issues back to international concerns, opened by noting that the debate is on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, saying that presidents sometimes face dramatic moments of global turmoil.
Obama's most recent international crisis was the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, resulting in four American deaths.
The candidates are returning to swing-state campaigning. On Tuesday, the president and Vice President Joe Biden will be in Ohio, while Romney and his vice presidential pick Paul Ryan will be in Colorado.
Leading into the third debate, national polls had the president and the former Massachusetts governor tied, but the projected Electoral College tally gave Obama a small advantage.