President Obama seemed to use the authority of his office to put Republican challenger Mitt Romney on his heels in their final presidential debate Monday night, telling Romney he didn't understand foreign-policy problems as well as he does.
That idea underlay some of the night's harshest lines from Obama. He scoffed at Romney's assertion that Russia remained the country's chief geopolitical foe: "The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back."
And, when Romney asserted that the United States had fewer naval ships than decades ago, Obama retorted that his opponent didn't understand the modern navy. There were fewer ships, he said, but also fewer "horses and bayonets."
"We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on 'em," Obama said. "The question is not a game of Battleship, where we're counting ships."
Romney, for his part, returned to a criticism that Obama had been a weak and vacillating actor on the world stage. He said Obama had shown vulnerability to bad actors around the world, and done too little to support freedom movements in places like Iran.
"Nowhere in the world, the influence of America is greater than it was four years ago," Romney said.
But, at several points, Romney conceded that he would have done some of the same things that Obama did. He said he would also have instituted economic sanctions against Iran, but would have started them earlier. He supported Obama's urging that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak leave office, but would have urged Mubarak to adapt earlier.
Romney said he also would have supported the military mission that killed Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan. And he agreed with Obama's use of unmanned drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists overseas: "I support that entirely, and feel the president was right."
The debate veered, at times, away from its foreign-policy theme. A question about his plans to pay for a military expansion led Romney to talk about repealing President Obama's health care plan.
At another point, Romney repeated all five of the points in his plan to create jobs. Obama engaged, with a point about education that - also - had nothing obvious to do with foreign policy.
"Let me get back to foreign policy," Schieffer said.
Romney interrupted: He had another point to make about education in Massachusetts while he was governor. "I was proud that our fourth graders came out number one out of all 50 states in English," Romney said.
The debate began with an exchange about Libya, in which the Republican and Democrat seemed to trade places.
Romney seemed to attack Obama's policy as, in effect, too warlike - saying that Obama had focused too much on killing enemies, and too little on softer uses of American power.
"We can't kill our way out of this mess," in the Middle East, Romney said. "We're going to have to put in place a very comprehensive (strategy) . . . to help the world of Islam reject this violent extremism." He suggested working on economic development, gender equality, and other issues to reduce violence in the Muslim world.
Obama, by contrast, defended a military solution he used in Libya last summer, organizing an international air campaign that helped defeat dictator Moammar Gaddafi. He attacked Romney for exactly what Romney had attacked him for, before: vagueness and vacillating in matters of foreign policy.
"I have to tell you that your strategy, previously, is one that has been all over the map," Obama said. "And is one that is not designed to keep Americans safe."
As the debate went on, however, the two returned to more familiar roles - and familiar arguments. Romney criticized Obama for what he called an "apology tour," saying Obama had shown weakness toward bad actors in the world. He said Obama has misunderstood America's role in world history, by saying the U.S. had "dictated" to foreign countries.
"America has not dictated to other nations," Romney said. "We have freed other nations from dictators."
Obama, for his part, criticized Romney for being "all over the map" on foreign policy, shifting his policies on a variety of subjects. In particular, he said Romney had previously said he would have asked Pakistan's permission before entering that country in search of Osama bin Laden. Obama, of course, ordered a mission that did no ask permission before killing bin Laden in a Pakistani hideout.
"When we do things like that, when we bring those who have harmed us to justice. That sends a message to the world," Obama said.