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Obama, Romney do battle in foreign policy debate

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney President Barack Obamanswer questiduring third presidential debate Lynn University Monday Oct. 22 2012 BocRatFla. (AP

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama answer a question during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Pool-Win McNamee)

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Updated: November 24, 2012 6:25AM

With the race still neck and neck and millions of Americans watching, President Barack Obama went after Mitt Romney on foreign policy issues in their final match-up Monday night, charging that Romney flip-flopped on his stance in Iraq and was “trying to airbrush history.”

Romney in turn charged that Obama’s policies in the Middle East didn’t go far enough, that the president went on “an apology tour,” abroad and that his lack of military funding would cripple America’s international stance.

Though the third and final debate between the two was to focus on foreign policy, Romney worked to move the discussion to what he believes is Obama’s biggest weakness — the economy and jobs. Romney referenced a former joint chiefs of staff in saying: “our debt is the biggest national security threat.”

For his part, the president used the final debate to portray his Republican rival as inexperienced and indecisive on foreign policy.

“On a whole range of issues ... you’ve been all over the map,” Obama told Romney.

It was another animated, in-your-face debate, with the two unleashing salvos and talking over one another. At point when Obama talked over Romney, the former Massachusetts governor snapped “I’m still speaking!”

With just over two weeks before the Nov. 6 election, the two sparred in the 90-minute debate — as Obama fought to stem Romney’s surge in the polls — in the states that matter the most.

One of Obama’s strongest moments came after Romney attacked him on military spending. Romney has vowed to increase spending when Obama said he would hold the line on it. Romney talked about the U.S. Navy and how the United States had fewer ships today than in 1916.

Obama turned that upside down.

“We also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military has changed,” Obama said, ratcheting up the sarcasm. “We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go under water, nuclear submarines.”

As he did in the last debate, the president continued to show his more aggressive side, obviously prompted by criticism over his lackluster performance in their first meeting.

At one point Romney protested: “Attacking me is not an agenda.”

The most divisive moment came as the two talked about the auto industry. Obama has repeatedly hailed his actions to save the industry and blasted Romney, saying that the onetime Massachusetts governor said the United States should have allowed the industry to go bankrupt.

“The idea that’s been suggested that I would liquidate the industry … that’s the height of silliness,” Romney said, seeming to grow red-faced.

“Let’s check the record,” Obama interjected, the two talking over one another.

“Gov. Romney, you keep trying to airbrush history,” Obama said. “You said they could get it in the private market place.”

Obama charged that Romney flip-flopped on what he wanted in Iraq, then poked Romney for saying four years ago that Obama was wrong to suggest “we shouldn’t move heaven and earth,” to go after Osama bin Laden.

“If we had asked Pakistan for permission, we wouldn’t have gotten him,” Obama said.

“It was worth moving heaven and earth to get him.”

Obama then told a story about meeting the daughter of a victim from the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York, who told the president: “She said to me, ‘by finally getting bin Laden, that finally brought some closure to me.’”

Still, Romney said Obama’s policies didn’t go far enough. While he supported drone strikes, he said that the United States has failed to go further and look at a comprehensive way “to get the Muslim world to be able to reject extremism on its own.”

In one of Romney’s stronger moments, he tweaked Obama’s handling of the Middle East.

“We can’t kill our way out of this mess,” Romney said.

Obama hit Romney on past comments that Russia was the biggest threat to the United States.

“The 1980s are now calling and asking for their foreign policy back,” Obama said.

Romney said he called Russia the No. 1 “geopolitical foe,” and later said a nuclear Iran was our nation’s biggest threat.

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