Is Romney running for President Peaceful?

Mark Mardell
North America editor
@BBCMarkMardellon Twitter

image copyrightAFP
image captionEurope did not get a mention in the third presidential debate on foreign policy

US President Barack Obama had the best lines, but perhaps Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney had the best night.

Not in the sense that he won the debate - it was a draw if you have to judge these things that way.

But Mr Romney pivoted to President Peaceful and stomped on any suggestion he would take America into new foreign wars.

He didn't make any of the errors he had made in the past or say anything demonstrably silly. He said he would keep to Mr Obama's policy of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by 2014 and agreed that sanctions against Iran were working. As one tweeter put it, his policy seemed to be "speak louder, and carry the same stick".

But Mr Obama was firm - and funny. He undermined Mr Romney's alarm that America had fewer ships than in 1916 by saying that it had fewer bayonets and horses as well. He said the 1980s were calling because they wanted their foreign policy back.

He didn't play the indignant and offended president, which I had expected him to do, but he did set out his achievements calmly and clearly.

Both men repeatedly tried to talk about the economy, which they know is of more concern to most Americans than what happens abroad.

The debate was depressing in that foreign policy seemed pretty much to equal the Middle East. Israel must have been mentioned dozens of times.

China got a brief look-in, in the last quarter of an hour, but mainly as a trade rival. I didn't hear Europe mentioned at all.

This final debate probably won't shift the opinion polls, but it saw a marked change in emphasis in Mr Romney's foreign policy.

That is a danger for him, in that it resurrects the old flip-flopping charge. But it also suggests a new confidence, that he has to convince people he is safe enough to entrust with the presidency.