As Americans head to the polls on Tuesday, Security Clearance takes one last look at some of the most pressing foreign policy issues facing both of the presidential candidates.
The list of foreign policy challenges facing the U.S. is long and complex – including an awakening in the Arab world with a direction still unknown, a looming nuclear crisis with Iran and an uncertain future in Afghanistan (and neighboring Pakistan) once U.S. troops withdraw in 2014.
It is not clear how or if the U.S. may proceed with the ongoing war inside Syria - where the fate of thousands of biological and chemical weapons also hang in the balance, and there is the existing financial dramas, from debt crises plaguing Europe to economic and geo-political challenges posed by a rising China.
Here are some of the views and a sampling of the hot topics facing either man who sits in the White House starting the day after Inauguration Day in January.
As the tension over Iran's disputed nuclear program ratchets up, both Obama and Romney agree that Iran must not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon.
"We are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," Obama has said.
His administration and European Union have launched parallel sanctions designed to squeeze Iran's petroleum sector and bring the economy to its knees as an incentive to get Iran to give up any military dimensions to its nuclear program.
Romney has said he would draw the same line as Obama when it comes to Tehran's nuclear capacity, "My red line is Iran may not have a nuclear weapon," he said. "It is inappropriate for them to have the capacity to terrorize the world."
What ultimately constitutes that red line, though, is seemingly different for both men. For Obama, the Iranian government would have to take direct steps to actually acquire a weapon (which U.S. intelligence does not believe has happened yet), while Romney has said merely having a "nuclear capability" without actually moving ahead to produce a weapon would be a tipping point.
As the war in Afghanistan entered its twelfth year in October, U.S. forces are on schedule to end their combat role by the end of 2014, a plan set by President Obama. The current plan calls for only a small number of American troops to remain to train Afghan forces.
Mitt Romney said he agrees with a 2014 withdrawal date.
"The timetable by the end of 2014 is the right timetable for us to be completely withdrawn from Afghanistan, other than a small footprint of support forces," the Republican candidate has said.
But Romney adds a caveat, saying he would talk to commanders on the ground to evaluate the conditions in Afghanistan before the withdrawal.
This stipulation of seeking advice from commanders ahead of the withdrawal is where Obama and Romney differ. The Obama administration has repeatedly stated that a 2014 withdrawal is absolute.
During the Vice Presidential Debate, Vice President Biden stated many times that "We are leaving in 2014". The Obama administration does however plan to leave 10,000 to 15,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, should the Afghan government agree to it.
FUTURE OF THE MILITARY
As commander in chief of the U.S. military, President Obama differs from Romney on what they see as the types of weapons and numbers of troops needed to defend the country.
In his remarks and position papers released by his campaign, Romney champions a large conventional force supplemented by 100,000 extra troops, which would bolster the entire military force to over 1.5 million.
"We must have a commitment," he said last week at an event in Virginia, "not just to more ships and more aircraft, but also, in my view, to more members of our armed forces."
In addition to extra troops, Romney has pledged to increase the Navy's shipbuilding rate from 9 to 15 new vessels a year, modernize existing weapons systems and establish a multilayered ballistic missile defense system. Romney has not said how he would pay for any of these measures.
President Obama has said he wants to cut $500 billion in defense spending over the next decade. He does not support a second round of $500 billion in cuts that may take effect in January if Congress cannot reach an agreement on the federal budget.
The cuts in Obama's budget would get rid of older ships while delaying the construction of newer ones. His military would place more emphasis on small special forces teams that can deploy to hotspots worldwide, as well as the continued use of unmanned drones.
While drones and special forces would also play a role in Romney's defense strategy, the former governor says a strong and robust military is necessary to preserve America's leadership position in the world.
From the early days of his campaign up to the present, Romney has maintained that China – through its monetary policy and trade practices – is cheating Americans out of good jobs and opportunities, as well as stealing its intellectual property and know-how.
"If I'm president of the United States, I will finally take China to the carpet and say, 'Look you guys, I'm gonna label you a currency manipulator and apply tariffs unless you stop those practices," he said at a campaign event earlier this year.
Like previous administrations, Obama has not taken the step of designating China a "currency manipulator" out of concern such a move could start a trade war with a nation that enjoys a $200 billion trade surplus with the United States and holds even larger sums of U.S. debt. But Obama has brought lawsuits against Beijing at the World Trade Organization.
"We're going to continue to be firm in insisting that they operate by the same rules that everybody else operates under," he said last year at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference.
The Obama administration has emphasized the use of unmanned drones to take out terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. They have been used more frequently than during the Bush administration, and are seen as an effective tool of counter-terrorism that does not put U.S. troops in harms way.
But while the use of drones has expanded, Obama has said deciding to deploy them presents significant moral and legal challenges.
And while he moved to close the military prison at GuantanamoBay at the beginning of his administration, those efforts were blocked by Congress.
He supports military tribunals for accused terrorists, but says he would like to see justice in federal courts.
For Romney, terrorists should be treated as enemy combatants, jailed at Guantanamo and tried by the military. He has said he would also allow more aggressive interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects.
Obama eliminated the enhanced interrogation techniques used during the Bush administration such as waterboarding, labeling such practices as torture. Romney has not specified what type of techniques his administration would employ.