Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- The third and final presidential debate Monday raised deeply troubling questions about President Obama's handling of foreign policy in the last four years -- especially on the question of keeping Americans safe in the midst of growing terrorism throughout the world, and resurgent jihadist attacks across the Middle East.

Former governor Mitt Romney entered the last debate with a preplanned strategy of calmly addressing the big, overriding issues that threaten our safety and those of our allies. He deliberately toned down both his delivery and his demeanor, as if to demonstrate his confidence that he had already beaten Obama decisively in the first debate, held his own in the second and would do well in the third.

And he clearly did that.

Romney's political advisers concluded after the second debate that, despite Obama's more aggressive attacks, he did not improve his poll numbers.

To the contrary, Romney saw his numbers climb to the point where the race was dead even going into Monday's final bout. He had erased the president's lead nationally and was leading or in a dead heat in the pivotal battleground states.

Heading into the last debate in Boca Raton, Fla., a Washington Post/ABC News tracking poll hours before showed Obama "no longer holds a clear advantage on who likely voters believe would better manage international affairs." Obama's eight-point advantage in September had plunged to three points.

If timing is everything in politics, this was arguably the worst time for Obama to debate his foreign policy -- in the midst of the growing controversy over the deadly terrorist attack on our consulate in Libya, where our ambassador and three others were killed. The president was being beaten up on the network and cable news programs for his administration's inept attempt to falsely describe the attack as part of a "spontaneous" protest over an anti-Islamic video on YouTube.

Soon after the fiery attack, news organizations were accurately describing what really happened. There was no protest. But at least 10 cars pulled up to the consulate and blasted their way into the compound, according to eyewitness accounts.

Yet five days after the attack, when it was clear what really happened, the White House sent Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to five network Sunday morning talk shows, peddling the fictitious "spontaneous protest" story line.

House Republicans held hearings with officials who said the Obama administration turned a deaf ear to pleas from Ambassador Christopher Stevens for increased security at the consulate. Senate hearings will also be held soon on an issue that shows no signs of going away.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.