Martin Bashir | October 22, 2012
>> we are just hours from the third and final debate of 2012 , and tonight is the last chance for these candidates to command an audience of millions and to persuade voters that they deserve the trust of the american people for the next four years. both the president and mitt romney have arrived here in boca raton , florida, and as they take the stage tonight, the polls could not be tighter. the race is dead even at 47% according to our new nbc news/" wall street journal " poll. the president still leads on the commander in chief question, but that gap is narrowing, down from seven points to just three. now within the margin of error. with tonight's focus on foreign policy , it's a matter of trust. first, in order to deal with our greatest enemies, you have to know who they are.
>> governor romney not too long ago said, you know, the russian federation is our number one geostrategic threat. well, come on. think.
>> come on, mitt, think. when you have no foreign policy experience, you better think of a scapegoat to get the base going.
>> i'll crack down on china .
>> when heting tough on china , keep in mind that governor romney invested in companies that were pioneers of outsourcing to china and is currently investing in countries -- in companies that are building surveillance equipment for china to spy on its own folks. that's -- governor, you're the last person who is going to get tough on china .
>> okay, china , china might be problematic. so why not fuel a politically motivated conspiracy theory about the deaths of four americans , including our ambassador to libya.
>> one of the narratives that the obama campaign has laid out is that bin laden is dead, they bragged about that forever, and al qaeda is in retreat. you start to wonder, did they basically say do not allow any story to emerge that counters that narrative?
>> he's asking the president of the united states to get to the bottom of why there has been an impenetrable fog around his administration since september 11th or since september 12th , 2001 , where it's been very difficult to get straight answers.
>> did you notice that little slip of the tongue ? it's been very difficult to get straight answers since september the 11th, 2001 . well, i guess that's a bit of a freudian slip because it was during the dark days of the bush administration that he rose to the heights of the spin machine telling americans daily that everything was plain sailing over in iraq . as we said, tonight it's all about trust. let's get right to our panel now. holding down the fort in new york city is msnbc political analyst karen finney. in washington, dana milbank a political columnist for the washington post and here in florida, michael hastings . great to have you here. mike, if i can start with you, given the fact that 17 of mr. romney 's foreign policy advisers out of 24 are all from the bush administration , that's 70%, shouldn't george bush be the one here for this debate? wouldn't he be the right person.
>> the ma man you put on earlier was the chief spokesperson during the worst days of the american occupation of iraq . the fact that he's one of governor romney 's top advisers is very concerning. i think in terms of the foreign policy issue that you're dealing with now, afghanistan , iraq , these were legacy foreign policy issues that obama inherited and had to fix. he withdrew from iraq and he decided to escalate in afghanistan .
>> karen , romney at least in public is sprinting away from his neocon advisers quicker than usain bolt 's 100 meter record but isn't his foreign policy as befuddled as his economic plan. he attacks the president but doesn't offer a specific plan on aflg, on taliban, on iran , nothing.
>> that's exactly right. here we are back to boca, baby. it's an opportunity, remember, this was the scene of the crime of the 47%. it's also where mitt romney said, oh, with the middle east , you kick the can down the road and nothing is really going to happen and that if there was a foreign policy crisis in the context of the campaign, he'd take advantage of it. so i hope president obama will, you know, use those openings to press him on some of these things. i think as you saw joe biden do during the vice presidential debate. let's talk about iran or syria or afghanistan . are we talking about more troops on the ground because a majority of americans don't want that, and so -- he's basically saying he wants to do everything obama has basically done, and so i hope obama really presses him to say what else would you do because i don't think he has an answer and he certainly can't say i will commit to troops which dan tried to walk away from on the "today" show.
>> remarkably show. dana , iran and not russia remains this planet's number one geopolitical foe. the president has corralled an international coalition, sanctions are devastating the iranian economy . tell me something that mitt romney would do in relation to iran that the president has not done. tell me, dana .
>> well, martin, he can start a war , and we --
>> that's right. he can start a war .
>> it's been a while since we had a good war.
>> not for ten years. absolutely.
>> we're about due for one, and i suspect this is the -- sort of the quandary that mitt romney has. he wants to be critical of the obama foreign policy , but obama has basically been following what is a centrist mainstream, consensus, realist policy. what's the alternative? it's the neocons. we saw where that got us. he has imported a bunch of neocons because that is the republican idealistic alternative right now. you have this tension between what romney 's instincts seem to be which are fairly sensible but then he has no difference from obama and introducing a criticism brings us back to the days of the neocons being dominant in the pentagon.
>> martin, if i may --
>> go ahead.
>> i think it's important to underscore what is a difference. if governor romney is going to follow a kneow cons, a majority of americans , if you go down the line, those are not the policies americans want. even on an issue like iran --
>> but you never tells you the truth. this is serious, karen . six months ago he was the most aggressive individual out of all the candidates talking up a potential what i thought was a potential invasion of iran , but now he doesn't want anything to do with that. how can you believe that?
>> i think that's why the president really has to try to press him to point out he doesn't have -- in the case of iran as dana just said, the only other thing to do would be to start a war . he can't say that because the majority of americans don't want to do that and a majority of americans actually agree with sort of the progressive multilateral approach to foreign policy the president has been taking.
>> the one big difference, mike, between these two men, however, is the military budget .
>> and mr. romney has told us that he would like to spend exponentially on the military. so that is a major difference. how does the president address that tonight without undermining his own commitment to the military service and the forces of this nation?
>> i think the largest point we're making across the board about romney 's foreign policy is it is a shape shifting foreign policy . his positions have all shifted right during this last month. in terms of the military budget , the way president obama has to handle that question and will handle that question is say, look, i speak to the pentagon every day. they do not need $2 trillion more. they have a lot of money as it is. we're actually not cutting anything from them. these are all future cuts. there's not going to be significant job loss and we're going to reinvest that money into alternative and domestic programs. that's the answer he's going to give. we do not need to spend -- we spend $3 trillion in iraq and afghanistan . we spend $20 billion on air conditioning in afghanistan last year.
>> i want to get to dana .
>> don't forget that the president's budget actually says, hey, let's filt a 21st century war. shift from ground forces to intelligence, to other forms which is basically the recommendations of the 9/11 commission. so also romney 's ideas are outdated.
>> indeed. dana , final question to you. mitt romney does have something of an advantage tonight, doesn't he? because okay he's got to foreign policy experience, but he has got his overseas trip, for example, to the united kingdom where he insulted the management of the olympics or when he went to israel and insulted the palestinians. or indeed, when he came here to boca and was secretly captured suggesting the palestinians did not want peace and that he didn't think there was any possible resolution in the future anyway.
>> well, and his horse did very badly in the olympics so the whole thing has been a debacle. but he has had some success overseas in the cayman islands and in switzerland and in the --
>> in bermuda, i believe.
>> bermuda, absolutely. absolutely. michael hastings , karen finney, and dana milbank , what a start. thank you all. our special debate coverage continues throughout this evening. i'll join chris matthews for a special live post debate show so keep it here on msnbc.
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