But he suggested Obama had failed on Iran, calling it “the greatest threat of all ... four years closer to a nuclear weapon.”
Romney also sought to allay concerns that he might be spoiling for war, saying that the US mission in the Middle East – and more broadly, the planet – is to ensure peace. (Women voters in particular, a cohort where Romney has made recent gains in polls, are turned off by saber-rattling.) Then he pivoted to his strong suit as a candidate, the economy.
“[F]or us to be able to promote those principles of peace requires us to be strong, and that begins with a strong economy here at home, and unfortunately, the economy is not stronger,” said the former Massachusetts governor.
Obama went after Romney on the “strength” issue by criticizing him for calling for $2 trillion in additional military spending and a bigger Navy.
To Romney’s assertion that the Navy is smaller than at any time since 1917, Obama quipped, “Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed.”
“So the question is not a game of Battleship, where we're counting ships,” Obama added. Still, the comparison of ships to horses and bayonets won't help him win the military vote in the battleground state of Virginia, home to the world's largest naval base.
But the candidates agree on the core issue of linking a stronger US economy to the nation’s ability to project power overseas. That led into a discussion of nationbuilding at home, including education policy. When the candidates began arguing about Romney’s record on education in Massachusetts, debate moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS nudged them back to the prescribed focus of the debate.
“Let me get back to foreign policy,” he said.