President Barack Obama finished the third and final presidential debate without facing questions about his use of unmanned aerial drones as part of America’s national security strategy.
CBS News’ Bob Schieffer, who moderated the final standoff in Boca Raton, Fla., asked Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney what he thought of the use of drones.
Romney praised Obama’s use of drone strikes.
“Well, I believe that we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who are threats to us and our friends around the world,” he said.
“And it’s widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes,” Romney continued, “and I support that entirely and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology and believe that we should continue to use it to continue to go after the people who represent a threat to this nation and to our friends.”
When Obama’s turn came to answer the question, he deflected it.
“Well, keep in mind our strategy wasn’t just going after [Osama] bin Laden,” Obama said.
“We’ve created partnerships throughout the region to deal with extremism — in Somalia, in Yemen, in Pakistan,” said Obama.
The U.S. government has conducted ongoing drone operations in all three of those countries as part of the broader War on Terror — a program that began during the George W. Bush administration.
Schieffer did not reinforce the question or ask the president to answer it more directly.
His administration’s use of drones for surveillance and targeted assassinations of foreign leaders has drawn criticism from a wide variety of sources, both foreign and domestic, most notably for the death of Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki’s 16 year old son in a drone strike more than a year ago.
Both al-Awlaki’s son and the terror leader himself — also killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen, were American citizens.
Criticism has focused on how the use of drones will affect the future of warfare, and on the negative impact drone use could have on U.S. diplomatic relationships around the world.
A study from the liberal-leaning New America Foundation concluded that the number of drone strikes in Pakistan peaked in 2010.
The CIA recently urged the White House to add as many as 10 new drones to its current fleet, according to an October 18 Washington Post report.
Schieffer also did not ask the candidates about the increased use of warrantless domestic electronic surveillance, about indefinite detention, or about the president’s secret terrorist “kill list.”