City | 4:20 pm | October 23, 2012 | By Michelle Hackman

First Reactions: Third Presidential Debate

U.S. President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney
U.S. President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney Photo by Michelle Hackman.

President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney faced off in their third and final debate Monday night in Boca Raton, Fla.

Though the two candidates ostensibly debated issues of foreign policy, both sides spent considerable time highlighting domestic differences — chiefly on the economy — in their last moments of prime-time television.

Afterward, student leaders on campus involved in politics and international affairs shared their thoughts on each side’s performance:

Liang Yu ’14, Vice President of the Yale International Students Organization

I was surprised that the debate devoted a disproportionate amount of time to terrorism in the Middle East. Topics such as climate change, the emergence of China as a superpower, Mexico, Canada, the Eurozone and the rest of the world as just as important, if not more. How is this truly a debate on “foreign” policy?

Diana Enriquez ’13, President of MEChA

The debate ended up being half focused on domestic policy and half back and forth about the Middle East. In both cases, the candidates made an effort to connect our national security and presence in the world to strong domestic policies, perhaps as a way to avoid longer foreign policy discussions. Romney could speak pretty smoothly about his business background or some of his domestic concerns, but as soon as he needed to discuss American policy toward the Middle East or other regions of the world, it was much harder to follow his reasoning. Obama came across and confident and able to justify U.S. foreign policy over his current term. I do wish the candidates had spent more time on BRIC, but I genuinely enjoyed this debate.

Azad Amanat ’14, President of Iranian Students at Yale

I enjoyed hearing Romney say that Syria was Iran’s only route to the sea, which is so wrong its hilarious. As a whole it’s pretty disappointing to see how low American political discourse goes with regards to foreign policy. Specifically, talk about Iran was filled with major holes. As much as I am against the Iranian regime, there was very little talk of how crushing American-led sanctions are on the Iranian people. While I’m not necessarily opposed to sanctioning the Iranian government, the widespread affect of such sanctions and the human implications are easily forgotten. Thankfully, the possibility of war seems farther and farther away. Yet very rarely is the human damages of such a strike considered, or the suffering of those people remembered. Sure, we might hear a few empty words here and there about the “Green revolution” (which I think most people don’t consider to be a revolution) but as a whole, we too often forget how misguided and destructive American foreign policy in Iran (and the Middle East as a whole) has been. Far too easily.

Katie Naples-Mitchell ’13, President of Amnesty International

From a human rights perspective, both candidates were disappointing in tonight’s debate. Governor Romney wholeheartedly supported the increased use of drones which has been a cornerstone of President Obama’s approach to combating terrorism; neither candidate talked about the civilian deaths that have been associated with drone strikes nor their violations of international law. Governor Romney was the only candidate to mention human rights nominally, but he immediately extrapolated to “freedom” and “elections,” an extremely limited and insufficient construction of what it means to champion human rights and uphold human dignity.

Neither candidate gave sufficient specifics about how to transition out of Afghanistan, although President Obama assured us it should happen “in a responsible” way. President Obama’s comments on Syria were cautious but insufficiently specific, and Governor Romney simply regurgitated a version of the same basic policy approach to Syria, except one more stringently focused on arming the resistance movement. Syria is being ravaged, and human rights are being aggressively trampled via indiscriminate air attacks from an unfettered army, but perhaps the focus should be on disarmament of the army and ending arms trade deals via a strong Arms Trade Treaty, which both candidates neglected to mention. Overall the candidates’ foreign policy positions were unsettling in their similar disregard for human rights.

Mario Kranjac ’15, Executive Director of the Yale College Republicans

It appears that President Obama only sounds tough when he talks to candidates. Tonight, Mitt Romney ripped President Obama’s foreign policy and exposed it for what it is: a record of apologizing for America’s past and current greatness. Romney made it clear that America needs to restore its leadership position in the world, especially now that the Obama administration finds itself idling while mass murder continues in Syria, Iran becomes closer to developing a nuclear weapon, and the Muslim Brotherhood governs over Egypt.

Nicole Hobbs ’14, Elections Coordinator for the Yale College Democrats

As President Obama made clear during the debate, our Commander-in-Chief needs to be able to present a consistent foreign policy vision. President Obama has done so over the past four years, while Governor Romney has not been able to articulate a consistent foreign policy vision throughout the course of his campaign. Finally, President Obama correctly stressed that for America to be a leader among the nations of the world, we must also make sure our domestic house is in order.

Alexander Crutchfield ’15, Floor Leader of the Right for the Yale Political Union

Tonight, although largely uneventful, did bring up some important distinctions. First, Obama was unable to answer his comments to Vladimir Putin about “having more flexibility” after the election. This is a troubling sign especially considering Russia’s recent actions regarding Syria. Secondly, Romney scored a large win when he attacked Obama’s comment about previous American policy being too forceful in the past. Romney rightly pointed out that policies of freedom are never forceful. Finally, it was unfortunate that neither candidate was able to discuss Syria in an intelligent manner. Obama’s comment that the Friends of Syria organization was sufficient to deal with the Syria’s problems and Romney’s comment that terrorism in Syria was not a current problem were both misplaced. Although foreign policy is not the center of this election, I would have appreciated a more profound debate.

Nicholas Eckenwiler ‘14, Vice Chair of the Liberal Party

Obama continued his aggression from the second debate, and Romney ended up on the receiving end of a few more discursive punches than he gave out. But overall, I found the debate fairly vacuous — the political disagreements, though presented forcefully, were not stark.

I am, by most people’s standards, a radical leftist, and neither candidate echoed anything resembling my views, though Obama came noticeably closer than Romney. (Read: please, somebody talk about poor people, or — given that this is a foreign policy debate — imperialism. These are important issues.)

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