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At the same time, he will want to avoid giving Obama another opportunity to go on the offensive.
“I doubt the governor will end up parsing words. That’s not the most productive thing to do,” said Eliot Cohen, a Romney adviser and neoconservative foreign policy expert at the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies in Washington.
Romney must also show voters he has what it takes to be a capable commander-in-chief, and he will seek to counter any attempt by Obama to “paint him as an insane warmonger,” Cohen said.
Obama - who has touted the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq as a signature foreign policy accomplishment - has signaled he could use the debate to caution war-weary voters of the risk of a more hawkish Romney presidency.
At a campaign rally in New Hampshire last week, Obama suggested Romney was promoting the kind of foreign policy that “takes us into wars without a plan to get us out.”
A Pew Research Center survey, conducted after the first debate but before the second, showed Obama ahead 47 percent to 43 percent on the question of who would make wiser foreign policy decisions. That was much narrower than Obama’s 15 percentage-point advantage in a poll early last month.
LOOKING FOR CONTRASTS
Romney will be under pressure to sharpen contrasts with Obama when the two men sit side-by-side across the table from moderator Bob Schieffer, known for a cantankerous demeanor with guests on the Sunday morning CBS news show “Face the Nation.”
The 90-minute debate will be divided into six segments: America’s role in the world; the war in Afghanistan; Israel and Iran; the changing Middle East; terrorism; and China’s rise.
Critics have accused Romney of relying on generalities and platitudes - he has hearkened back to Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength” doctrine - and he could be put on the spot if he resists providing specifics.
Romney has promised to tighten the screws over Iran’s nuclear program. He has accused Obama of “leading from behind” as Syria’s civil war expands, and of a politically timed exit from the unpopular Afghanistan war.
But in each case, critics say, he has not detailed alternatives policies.