President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will face off for their final debate on Monday night in Boca Raton, Florida. The contenders will spar over foreign policy, a subject that a war-weary electorate has largely brushed aside in favor of the economy.
While Romney has performed well in the previous two debates -- he won the first, and many labeled the second a narrow win for Obama -- the former governor of Massachusetts has little foreign policy experience. His task tonight will be to prove he has the foreign policy chops to serve as commander in chief.
Obama, on the other hand, will be able to point to some concrete foreign policy successes. He often reminds voters that his administration killed Osama bin Laden and began the draw down of the war in Iraq. Also, his allies have pointed out that Romney has made several gaffes, from insinuating that London was unprepared to host the recent Olympic games to erroneously suggesting that Obama did not call the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Libya an act of terror.
But Romney has saught to put Obama on the defensive for not being tough enough on China, not adequately supporting Israel, and for the administration's handling of the attack in Benghazi. Libya. The Republican candidate has also criticized the president for not being aggressive enough in stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and for removing surge troops in Afghanistan during the fighting season instead of waiting several months.
A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll has the two men in a tie among likely voters, and this final debate just two weeks before the election is the last major opportunity to sway undecided voters. Expect Obama to paint Romney as inexperienced and overly eager to send the country into war, and Romney to label Obama as soft on national security.
One topic that is sure to come up during the debate, which will be moderated by CBS News' Bob Schieffer in a roundtable format, is Libya.
Below is a timeline of the recent events in Benghazi that shaped the national conversation.
Oct. 20, 2011 - Dictator Moammar Gaddafi was captured and killed. Elections followed but the current elected leader, Mohammed Magarief, struggles to maintain control of the conflict-plagued country.
Sep. 11, 2012 - Militants killed the United States ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three others. The attack was the first time an American ambassador had died in a violent attack since 1979.
Sep. 11, 2012 - Mitt Romney released the following statement: "I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks." However, the statement he was referring to was one issued by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo condemning discrimination against Muslims, a statement that was released before the attack in Benghazi. Obama addressed the attacks the following day.
Sep. 12, 2012 - President Obama spoke about the incident at the White House, saying, "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation." The next day, during a campaign stop in Las Vegas, he said, "No act of terror will dim the light of the values that we proudly shine on the rest of the world." However, in the days that followed, American officials, including the ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, and White House spokesman Jay Carney, described the attack as part of broader riots that broke out in Libya after right-wing Christians in the United States promoted a trailer for an anti-Muslim video. Those comments from aides suggested that the White House initially did not believe the attack was part of a coordinated effort by terrorist groups.
Sep. 28, 2012 - The director of public affairs for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a statement saying, in part, " In the immediate aftermath, there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo…As we learned more about the attack, we revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists." The State Department eventually focused on an extremist militia and al Qaeda's North African presence as the forces behind the attack.
Oct. 10, 2012 - The former chief security officer for the American Embassy in Libya told a House committee examining the attack that the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security denied his request to extend the deployment of an American security team. State Department officials countered that keeping the team would not have stopped the attack because the team was based in Tripoli.
Oct. 11, 2012 - Vice President Joe Biden said during the vice presidential debate that the White House did not know about requests to increase security in Benghazi.
Oct. 15, 2012 - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told CNN, "I take responsibility" for failing to defend against the attack in Libya. "I'm in charge of the State Department's 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts. The president and the vice president wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals. They're the ones who weigh all of the threats and the risks and the needs and make a considered decision."
Oct. 16, 2012 - During the second presidential debate, Romney suggested that there had been security lapses at the compound. Obama countered, and asserted that he, as commander in chief, is ultimately responsible, a contrast from Clinton's attempt to diffuse the situation the previous day. "I'm the president and I'm always responsible," he said. Moderator Candy Crowley pointed out that Obama had used the term "terror" immediately following the attack but that the administration took longer to explain what occurred.
Oct. 17, 2012 - Media outlets reported that Libyan authorities had labeled Ahmed Abu Khattala, a leader of the extremist militia Ansar al-Shariah, as the commander in the attack. He denied any involvement in the attack several days later.