Obama, Romney clash on Middle East policies

Updated: 2012-10-23 13:51


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BOCA RATON, the United States - US President Barack Obama and his Republican foe Mitt Romney on Monday night clashed on Middle East policies as they focused on foreign policy in their final showdown before the Nov 6 election.

Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, alleged that under the stewardship of Obama "a number of disturbing events" have taken place "in nation after nation" in the Middle East and North Africa region.

He cited the conflict in Syria, the attack on the US consulate in Libyan city of Benghazi, Iran's movement closer to a nuclear weapon in the past four years, and the falling of the northern territory of Mali in the hands of "al-Qaida type individuals".

"And so what we're seeing is a pretty dramatic reversal in the kind of hopes we had for that region," the Republican said.

He has described the Benghazi attack, in which four Americans were killed including the ambassador, as a symptom of an Obama foreign policy "unraveling before our very eyes".

The White House hopeful called for a "very comprehensive and robust strategy" for the region to cope with the growing extremism in the region that he said poses an "enormous" threat to the United States, its friends and the world.

"We can't kill our way out of this mess. We're going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the world of Islam and other parts of the world to reject this radical violent extremism," he declared.

"The key that we're going to have to pursue is a pathway to get the Muslim world to be able to reject extremism on its own," he said.

For his part, Obama repeated his achievements in the region, like the end of the war in Iraq, the decimation of al-Qaida's core leadership including Osama bin Laden, and the charting course of a gradual withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan.

"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," Obama said.

"What we need to do with respect to the Middle East is strong and steady leadership, not wrong and reckless leadership that is all over the map, and unfortunately that's the kind of opinions that you've offered throughout the campaign and it is not a recipe for American strength," he said.

"I know you haven't been in a position to actually execute foreign policy but every time you've offered an opinion, you've been wrong. You said we should have gone into Iraq, despite that fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction," Obama said.

On Syria, Romney called for a "very effective leadership effort" by Washington, asking once again to arm the "responsible parties" of the opposition to fight the government forces.

Like Obama, he did not call for US military involvement in Syria.

"I don't think there's a necessity to put the military there at this stage, I don't anticipate that in the future," he said, mindful of a war-weary American public.

The Obama administration is only providing non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition like communication equipment, and has resisted calls for the establishment of a no-fly zone in the country.