BOCA RATON, Fla. -- President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney spent their final debate Monday circling the globe's hot spots as they clashed over the merits of diplomacy and brinkmanship in Libya, Israel, Iran, the Middle East and other volatile areas.
But they managed to get in digs at their opponents' economic plans.
The topic of the 90-minute clash at Lynn University, their third and final debate, was billed as foreign policy, which polls show is not a major concern of most U.S. residents as they prepare to vote Nov. 6.
About one-third of the way through the debate, Obama and Romney turned the talk to the economy, the issue that is overwhelmingly most on voters' minds.
A strong America, Romney said, must have a strong economy.
"For us to be able to promote those principles of peace requires us to be strong," he said. "And that begins with a strong economy here at home. Unfortunately, the economy is not stronger."
Obama, too, wanted to talk about the economy and said his administration has ended the war in Iraq and put the United States in a position to rebuild.
And he charged that Romney would pursue "wrong and reckless policies."
The president was the aggressor from the start, charging that Romney has "praised George Bush as a 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 is not the way that we are going to maintain leadership in the 21st century."
Both men tried to portray themselves as resolute and reasonable.
The two men spent much of their time in broad agreement on a host of issues, including the nation's deep commitment to Israel, the plan to remove U.S. military troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014, the policy of sending drones to kill enemies abroad and sanctions against Iran.But there was friction. Obama said that Romney was tied to policies of the past. "Every time you've offered an opinion, you've been wrong," the president said.
What's needed is "strong, steady leadership," Obama said.
He offered an impassioned defense of why it was important to track down and kill Osama bin Laden.
Some of the other topics at Monday's debate:
Military spending: One way to show strength, Romney has argued, is to beef up military capability. Before leaving for a pre-election recess, Congress agreed to set defense spending for fiscal 2013, the 12-month period that began Oct. 1, at about $519.9 billion, about the same as last year.
Automatic cuts planned to begin in January would shave about 9 percent to 10 percent from most Pentagon programs this year and $500 billion over 10 years. Romney says he'll stop those cuts. Obama noted that the automatic cuts are "not something I proposed" and vowed they would not happen.
Romney reiterated his complaint that under Obama, the Navy is at its lowest number of ships since 1916. Obama ridiculed the remark.
"Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed," Obama said. "We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."
Iran: Obama vowed that as long as he's president, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. "A nuclear Iran is a threat to our national security and it's a threat to Israel's national security," he said.
Romney has said much the same thing. "I would tighten those sanctions," he said.
Aside from putting greater stress on threatening military action, Romney hasn't articulated a plan for dealing with Iran's nuclear program that's much different from Obama's approach.
Israel: "I will stand with Israel if it is attacked," Obama pledged.
"If Israel's attacked, we have their back," Romney said.
Obama rejected Romney's characterization that in his first years in the White House he took an "apology tour" of the Middle East
Obama said on his trip to Israel as a candidate in 2008 he went to the Holocaust museum "to remind myself of the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable."