The Barack Obama we saw in his second debate with Mitt Romney was the self-assured and experienced leader we have wanted to see glaring sternly at Benjamin Netanyahu.
Thus far, in his first term in office, that second debate Barack Obama has rarely been in evidence in matters pertaining to Israel. Will that President show up for the third presidential debate Monday, October 22?
Or will we see a more cautious Obama on stage for the third and final debate?
That debate will be held in at Lynn University, Boca Raton, Florida. It will focus exclusively on foreign policy.
Foreign policy should be Obama's strongest suit. He has much to point to in this field, most notably the ending of one war and the anticipated ending of a second. He is expected to acquit himself well Monday night, especially if he enters the debate with the enthusiasm and energy he displayed in the second debate at Hofstra University last week.
Romney, on the other hand, is a one-term governor from Massachusetts, who has spent most of his professional career as a business executive. He is a foreign policy neophyte, entirely dependent on largely Republican neoconservative advisers. Romney is woefully unprepared either to debate foreign policy or to lead the nation in foreign policy endeavors.
His long personal relationship to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been highlighted by his campaign. It does not, however, bode well for future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
After hearing Romney's speech to Virginia Military Academy cadets, Juan Cole had an epiphany about Romney's career prior to this election campaign:
"Apparently it is possible to sit in cushy big offices in companies like Bain, and to remain completely ignorant of foreign affairs. Romney's speeches are all just a replaying for us of the prejudices of CEOs when they play golf together and complain vaguely about the Chinese, Russians, Arabs, and so forth. Or, maybe Romney has gotten so many campaign contributions from arms manufacturers that he can't help see foreign affairs through the lens of new wars he wants to fight."
Obama, on the other hand, is determined to keep this country away from any further wars. Obama knows, however, that we have enemies who want to do us harm. Which is why he was able to display leadership, not arrogance, in the debate "Libya moment" following Romney's allegations about the Benghazi, Libya, attack.
The President was very much the commander in chief as he displayed an appropriate balance of indignation and quiet fury, glaring at Romney for what Obama felt was a political manipulation of the loss of four American lives in Benghazi. This is what the President said:
"The suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics and mislead, when we lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That's not what we do, that's not what I do as president, that's not what I do as commander in chief."
What prompted this response was a verbal attack from Romney which the Republican candidate had expected would be his "gotcha" moment. Unfortunately for him, he told 65 million television viewers that Obama had not used the term "terror" to the day after the attack. Instead, almost gleefully, Romney added that the President had waited two weeks to call the Benghazi attack an "act of terror."
That statement was blatantly wrong, as the debate moderator, CNN's Candy Crowley, quickly pointed out. She told Romney that the President had, in fact used the term "terror" in the Rose Garden the day after the attack.
Below is clip of Romney's "gotcha moment," a moment that did not go the way Romney had hoped:
This debate moment could make a major difference in the thinking of that shrinking number of undecided voters in crucial swing states. Will they see that moment as an indication that Romney is a wealthy corporate executive who is not ready for prime time presidential leadership? Or will they forgive him as someone who had stumbled because of bad pre-debate briefings?
In Monday night's final debate, President Obama should be in a position to affect those undecided voters by further exposing Governor Romney's inexperience in foreign policy. To do this, Obama will have to ignore those advisers at his side who will have reminded him of the ever-present Israel Lobby, the "elephant in the room." That Lobby controls the U.S. Congress and and also extends its tentacles deep into the executive branch.
Romney has no worries about the "elephant in the room." He will enter the debate stage Monday night riding the elephant. Romney's loyalty to Israel, which he made quite evident in his recent fund-raising visit to Israel, and in his campaign rhetoric, has brought him considerable cash and may well make the difference in the voting margin in the key swing state of Florida.