SPEAKERS: FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS.,
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
BOB SCHIEFFER, MODERATOR
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This one's on foreign policy. I'm Bob Schieffer of CBS News. The questions are mine, and I have not shared them with the candidates or their aides.
SCHIEFFER: The audience has taken a vow of silence -- no applause, no reaction of any kind, except right now when we welcome President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney.
Gentlemen, your campaigns have agreed to certain rules and they are simple. They've asked me to divide the evening into segments. I'll pose a question at the beginning of each segment. You will each have two minutes to respond and then we will have a general discussion until we move to the next segment.
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Call It Spring
This -- this is a critical opportunity for America. And what I'm afraid of is we've watched over the past year or so, first the president saying, well we'll let the U.N. deal with it. And Assad -- excuse me, Kofi Annan came in and said we're going to try to have a ceasefire. That didn't work. Then it went to the Russians and said, let's see if you can do something. We should be playing the leadership role there, not on the ground with military.
SCHIEFFER: All right.
ROMNEY: ...by the leadership role.
OBAMA: We are playing the leadership role. We organized the Friends of Syria. We are mobilizing humanitarian support, and support for the opposition. And we are making sure that those we help are those who will be friends of ours in the long term and friends of our allies in the region over the long term. But going back to Libya -- because this is an example of how we make choices. When we went in to Libya, and we were able to immediately stop the massacre there, because of the unique circumstances and the coalition that we had helped to organize. We also had to make sure that Moammar Gadhafi didn't stay there.
And to the governor's credit, you supported us going into Libya and the coalition that we organized. But when it came time to making sure that Gadhafi did not stay in power, that he was captured, Governor, your suggestion was that this was mission creep, that this was mission muddle.
Imagine if we had pulled out at that point. You know, Moammar Gadhafi had more American blood on his hands than any individual other than Osama bin Laden. And so we were going to make sure that we finished the job. That's part of the reason why the Libyans stand with us.
But we did so in a careful, thoughtful way, making certain that we knew who we were dealing with, that those forces of moderation on the ground were ones that we could work with, and we have to take the same kind of steady, thoughtful leadership when it comes to Syria. That's exactly what we're doing.
SCHIEFFER: Governor, can I just ask you, would you go beyond what the administration would do, like for example, would you put in no-fly zones over Syria?
ROMNEY: I don't want to have our military involved in Syria. I don't think there is a necessity to put our military in Syria at this stage. I don't anticipate that in the future.
As I indicated, our objectives are to replace Assad and to have in place a new government which is friendly to us, a responsible government, if possible. And I want to make sure they get armed and they have the arms necessary to defend themselves, but also to remove -- to remove Assad.
But I do not want to see a military involvement on the part of our -- of our troops.
SCHIEFFER: Well --
ROMNEY: And this isn't -- this isn't going to be necessary.
We -- we have, with our partners in the region, we have sufficient resources to support those groups. But look, this has been going on for a year. This is a time -- this should have been a time for American leadership. We should have taken a leading role, not militarily, but a leading role organizationally, governmentally to bring together the parties; to find responsible parties.
As you hear from intelligence sources even today, the -- the insurgents are highly disparate. They haven't come together. They haven't formed a unity group, a council of some kind. That needs to happen. America can help that happen. And we need to make sure they have the arms they need to carry out the very important role which is getting rid of Assad.
SCHIEFFER: Can we get a quick response, Mr. President, because I want to...
OBAMA: Well, I'll -- I'll be very quick. What you just heard Governor Romney said is he doesn't have different ideas. And that's because we're doing exactly what we should be doing to try to promote a moderate Syrian leadership and a -- an effective transition so that we get Assad out. That's the kind of leadership we've shown. That's the kind of leadership we'll continue to show.
SCHIEFFER: May I ask you, you know, during the Egyptian turmoil, there came a point when you said it was time for President Mubarak to go.
SCHIEFFER: Some in your administration thought perhaps we should have waited a while on that. Do you have any regrets about that?
OBAMA: No, I don't, because I think that America has to stand with democracy. The notion that we would have tanks run over those young people who were in Tahrir Square, that is not the kind of American leadership that John F. Kennedy talked about 50 years ago.
But what I've also said is that now that you have a democratically elected government in Egypt, that they have to make sure that they take responsibility for protecting religious minorities. And we have put significant pressure on them to make sure they're doing that; to recognize the rights of women, which is critical throughout the region. These countries can't develop if young women are not given the kind of education that they need.
They have to abide by their treaty with Israel. That is a red line for us, because not only is Israel's security at stake, but our security is at stake if that unravels.
They have to make sure that they're cooperating with us when it comes to counterterrorism.
And we will help them with respect to developing their own economy, because ultimately what's going to make the Egyptian revolution successful for the people of Egypt, but also for the world, is if those young people who gathered there are seeing opportunities.
Their aspirations are similar to young people's here. They want jobs, they want to be able to make sure their kids are going to a good school. They want to make sure that they have a roof over their heads and that they have the prospects of a better life in the future.
And so one of the things that we've been doing is, is, for example, organizing entrepreneurship conferences with these Egyptians to give them a sense of how they can start rebuilding their economy in a way that's noncorrupt, that's transparent. But what is also important for us to understand is, is that for America to be successful in this region there's some things that we're going to have to do here at home as well.
You know, one of the challenges over the last decade is we've done experiments in nation building in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and we've neglected, for example, developing our own economy, our own energy sectors, our own education system. And it's very hard for us to project leadership around the world when we're not doing what we need to do...
SCHIEFFER: Governor Romney, I want to hear your response to that, but I would just ask you, would you have stuck with Mubarak?
ROMNEY: No. I believe, as the president indicated, and said at the time that I supported his -- his action there. I felt that -- I wish we'd have had a better vision of the future.
I wish that, looking back at the beginning of the president's term and even further back than that, that we'd have recognized that there was a growing energy and passion for freedom in that part of the world, and that we would have worked more aggressively with our friend and with other friends in the region to have them make the transition towards a more representative form of government, such that it didn't explode in the way that it did.
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