As you hear from intelligence sources even today, 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.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Could we get a quick response, Mr. President, because I want to ask —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I’ll — I’ll — I’ll be — 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.
MR. 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.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Some in your administration thought perhaps we should have waited a while on that. Do you have any regrets about that?
PRESIDENT 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 a — 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 — 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 are 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 here.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Governor Romney, I want to hear your response to that, but I would just ask you, would you have stuck with Mubarak?
MR. 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 — 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 it did. But once it exploded, I felt the same as the president did, which is these — these freedom voices in the — the streets of Egypt where the people who were speaking of our principles and the — the — President Mubarak had done things which were unimaginable, and the idea of him crushing his people was not something that we could possibly support.
Let me — let me step back and talk about what I think our mission has to be in the Middle East, and even more broadly, because our purpose is to make sure the world is more — is peaceful. We want a peaceful planet. We want people to be able to enjoy their lives and know they’re going to have a bright and prosperous future and not be at war. That’s our purpose. And the mantle of — of leadership for promoting the principles of peace has fallen to America. We didn’t ask for it, but it’s an honor that we have it.
But for us to be able to promote those principles of peace requires us to be strong, and that begins with a strong economy here at home, and unfortunately, the economy is not stronger. When the — when the — the president of Iraq — excuse me — of Iran, Ahmadinejad, says that our debt makes us not a great country, that’s a frightening thing. The former chief of — chief of the Joints Chief of Staff said that — Admiral Mullen — said that our debt is the biggest national security threat we face. This — we have weakened our economy.
We need a strong economy. We need to have as well a strong military. Our military is second to none in the world. We’re blessed with terrific soldiers and extraordinary technology and intelligence. But the idea of a trillion dollars in cuts through sequestration and budget cuts to the military would change that.
We need to have strong allies. Our association and — and connection with our allies is essential to America’s strength. We’re the — the great nation that has allies, 42 allies and friends around the world.
And finally, we have to stand by our principles. And if we’re strong in each of those things, American influence will grow. But unfortunately, in nowhere in the world is America’s influence greater today than it was four years ago.
MR. SCHIEFFER: All right.
MR. ROMNEY: And that’s because we’ve become weaker on each of those four dimensions.
MR. SCHIEFFER: All right — perfect. You’re going to get a chance to respond to that because that’s a perfect segue into our next segment, and that is what is America’s role in the world. And that is the question. What do each of you see as our role in the world?
And I believe, Governor Romney, it’s your turn to go first.
MR. ROMNEY: Well, I — I absolutely believe that America has a — a responsibility and the privilege of helping defend freedom and promote the principles that — that make the world more peaceful. And those principles include human rights, human dignity, free enterprise, freedom of expression, elections, because when there are elections, people tend to vote for peace. They don’t vote for war. So we want to — to promote those principles around the world. We recognize that there are places of conflict in the world. We want to end those conflicts to the extent humanly possible. But in order to be able to fulfill our role in the world, America must be strong. America must lead.
And for that to happen, we have to strengthen our economy here at home. You can’t have 23 million people struggling to get a job. You — you can’t have an economy that over the last three years keeps slowing down its growth rate. You can’t have kids coming out of college, half of whom can’t find a job today, or a job that’s commensurate with their college degree. We have to get our economy going.
And our military — we’ve got to strengthen our military long- term. We don’t know what the world is going to throw at us down the road. We — we make decisions today in a military that — that will confront challenges we can’t imagine.
In the 2000 debates there was no mention of terrorism, for instance. And a year later, 9/11 happened. So we have to make decisions based upon uncertainty. And that means a strong military. I will not cut our military budget.
We have to also stand by our allies. I think the tension that existed between Israel and the United States was very unfortunate. I think also that pulling our missile defense program out of Poland in the way we was also unfortunate in terms of, if you will, disrupting the relationship in some ways that existed between us.
And then of course, with regards to standing for our principles, when — when the students took to the streets in Tehran and the people there protested, the Green Revolution occurred. For the president to be silent I thought was an enormous mistake. We have to stand for our principles, stand for our allies, stand for a strong military and stand for a stronger economy.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Mr. President.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: America remains the one indispensable nation. And the world needs a strong America. And it is stronger now then when I came into office. Because we ended the war in Iraq, we were able to refocus our attention on not only the terrorist threat but also beginning a transition process in Afghanistan. It also allowed us to refocus on alliances and relationships that had been neglected for a decade.
And, Governor Romney, our alliances have never been stronger. In Asia, in Europe, in Africa, with Israel where we have unprecedented military and intelligence cooperation, including dealing with the Iranian threat. But what we also have been able to do is position ourselves so we can start rebuilding America.
And that’s what my plan does: Making sure that we’re bringing manufacturing back to our shores so that we’re creating jobs here, as we’ve done with the auto industry, not rewarding companies that are shipping jobs overseas; making sure that we’ve got the best education system in the world, including retraining our workers for the jobs of tomorrow; doing everything we can to control our energy.
We’ve cut our oil imports to the lowest level in two decades because we’ve developed oil and natural gas, but we also have to develop clean energy technologies that will allow us to cut our exports in half by 2020. That’s the kind of leadership that we need to show.
And we’ve got to make sure that we reduce our deficit. Unfortunately, Governor Romney’s plan doesn’t do it. We’ve got to do it in a responsible way, by cutting out spending we don’t need but also asking the wealthiest to pay a little bit more. That way we can invest in the research and technology that’s always kept us at the cutting edge.
Now Governor Romney has taken a different approach throughout this campaign. You know, both at home and abroad, he has proposed wrong and reckless policies. He’s praised George Bush as good economic steward and Dick Cheney as somebody who shows great wisdom and judgment. And taking us back to those kinds of strategies that got us into this mess are not the way that we are going to maintain leadership in the 21st century.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Governor Romney, wrong and reckless policies?
MR. ROMNEY: (Chuckles.) I’ve got a policy for the future and agenda for the future. And when it comes to our economy here at home, I know what it takes to create 12 million new jobs and rising take- home pay. And what we’ve seen over the last four years is something I don’t want to see over the next four years. The — the president said by now we’d be at 5.4 percent unemployment. We’re 9 million jobs short of that. I will get America working again and see rising take- home pay again. And I’ll do it with five simple steps.
Number one, were going to have North American energy independence. We’re going to do it by taking full advantage of oil, coal, gas, nuclear and our renewables.
Number two, we’re going to increase our trade. Trade grows about 12 percent per year. It doubles about every — every five or — or so years. We can do better than that, particularly in Latin America. The opportunities for us in Latin America we have just not taken advantage of fully.
As a matter of fact, Latin America’s economy is almost as big as the economy of China. We’re all focused on China. Latin America is a huge opportunity for us: time zone, language opportunities.
Number three, we’re going to have to have training programs that work for our workers and schools that finally put the parents and the teachers and the kids first, and the teachers union’s going to have to go behind.
And then we’re going to have to get to a balanced budget. We can’t expect entrepreneurs and businesses large and small to take their life savings or their companies’ money and invest in America if they think we’re headed to the road to Greece. And that’s where we’re going right now unless we finally get off this spending and borrowing binge. And I’ll get us on track to a balanced budget.
And finally, number five, we’ve got to champion small business. Small business is where — where jobs come from. Two-thirds of our jobs come from small businesses. New business formation is down to the lowest level in 30 years under this administration. I want to bring it back and get back good jobs and rising take-home pay.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let’s talk about what we need to compete. First of all, Governor Romney talks about small businesses, but Governor, when you were in Massachusetts, small businesses’ development ranked about 48, I think, out of 50 states, in Massachusetts, because the policies that you’re promoting actually don’t help small businesses. And the way you define small businesses include folks at the very top. They include you and me. That’s not the kind of small business promotion we need.
But — but let’s take an example that we know is going to make a difference 21st century, and that’s our education policy. We didn’t have a lot of chance to talk about this in the last debate. You know, under my leadership, what we’ve done is reformed education, working with governors, 46 states. We’ve seen progress and gains in schools that were having a terrible time, and they’re starting to finally make progress. And what I now want to do is to hire more teachers, especially in math and science, because we know that we’ve fallen behind when it comes to math and science. And those teachers can make a difference.
Now, Governor Romney, when you were asked by teachers whether or not this would help the economy grow, you said, this isn’t going to help the economy grow. When you were asked about reduced class sizes, you said class sizes don’t make a difference. But I tell you, if you talk to teachers, they will tell you it does make a difference.
And if we’ve got math teachers who are able to provide the kind of support that they need for our kids, that’s what’s going to determine whether or not the new businesses are created here. Companies are going to locate here depending on whether we’ve got the most highly skilled workforce. And the kinds of budget proposals that you’ve put forward — when we don’t ask either you or me to pay a dime more in terms of reducing the deficit, but instead we slash support for education, that’s undermining our long-term competitiveness. That is not good for America’s position in the world. And the world notices.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me get back to foreign policy.
MR. ROMNEY: Well —
MR. SCHIEFFER: Can I just get back —
MR. ROMNEY: Well, I need to speak a moment if you’ll let me, Bob —
MR. SCHIEFFER: OK.
MR. ROMNEY: — just about education, because I’m — I’m so proud of the state that I had the chance to be governor of. We have, every two years, tests that look at how well our kids are doing. Fourth graders and eighth graders are tested in English and math. While I was governor, I was proud that our fourth graders came out number one of all 50 states in English and then also in math, and our eighth graders number one in English and also in math — first time one state had been number one in all four measures. How did we do that?
Well, Republicans and Democrats came together on a bipartisan basis to put in place education that focused on having great teachers in the classroom. And that was —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Ten years earlier —
MR. ROMNEY: That was — that was what allowed us to become the number one state in the nation. And this is — and we were —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: But that was 10 years before you took office.
MR. ROMNEY: And we — absolutely.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Gentlemen —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And then you cut education spending when you came into office.
MR. ROMNEY: The first — the first — and we kept our schools number one in the nation. They’re still number one today. And the principles that we’ve put in place — we also gave kids not just a graduation exam that — that determined whether they were up to the skills needed to — to be able to compete, but also, if they graduated in the top quarter of their class, they got a four-year tuition-free ride at any Massachusetts public institution of higher learning.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: That happened — that happened before you came into office.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Governor —
MR. ROMNEY: That was actually mine, actually, Mr. President. You got that fact wrong.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me — I want to try to shift it, because we have heard some of this in the other debates. Governor, you say you want a bigger military. You want a bigger Navy. You don’t want to cut defense spending. What I want to ask you, we’re talking about financial problems in this country. Where are you going to get the money?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, let’s — let’s come back and talk about the military, but all the way — all the way through. First of all, I’m going through, from the very beginning, we’re going to cut about 5 percent of the discretionary budget excluding military. That’s number one. All right?
MR. SCHIEFFER: But can you do this without driving us deeper into debt?
MR. ROMNEY: The good news is, I’ll be happy to have you take a look. Come on our website, you’ll look at how we get to a balanced budget within eight to 10 years. We do it by getting — by reducing spending in a whole series of programs. By the way, number one I get rid of is “Obamacare.” There are a number of things that sound good but, frankly, we just can’t afford them. And that one doesn’t sound good, and it’s not affordable, so I get rid of that one from day one; to the extent humanly possible, we get that out. We take program after program that we don’t absolutely have to have and we get rid of them.
Number two, we take some programs that we are going to keep, like Medicaid, which is a program for the poor. We’re — take that health care program for the poor, and we give it to the states to run because states run these programs more efficiently. As a governor, I thought, please, give me this program.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Can he do that?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (Inaudible.)
MR. ROMNEY: I can run this more efficiently than the federal government. And states, by the way, are proving it. States like Arizona, Rhode Island have taken these Medicaid dollars, have shown they can run these programs more cost effectively.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Bob —
MR. ROMNEY: So I want to do those two things that gets us — it gets us to a balanced budget with eight in — eight to 10 years. PRESIDENT OBAMA: Bob —
MR. ROMNEY: But the military —
MR. SCHIEFFER: Let —
MR. ROMNEY: Let’s go back to the military, though.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, that’s what I’m trying to find out about.
MR. ROMNEY: Let’s talk about the military.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You should have answered the first question.
Look, Governor Romney’s called for $5 trillion of tax cuts that he says he’s going to pay for by closing deductions.
Now, the math doesn’t work but he continues to claim that he’s going to do it. He then wants to spend another $2 trillion on military spending that our military’s not asking for.
Now, keep in mind that our military spending has gone up every single year that I’ve been in office. We spend more on our military than the next 10 countries combined — China, Russia, France, the United — United Kingdom, you name it, next 10. And what I did was work with our Joint Chiefs of Staff to think about what are we going to need in the future to make sure that we are safe? And that’s the budget that we’ve put forward.