Questions for Tonight’s Foreign Policy Debate

The last Presidential debate is tonight. The topic: Foreign policy.

Compared to domestic economic issues, foreign policy has played a relatively muted role in this campaign, with the notable exception of the September 11 attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi. However, American voters really do care about foreign policy. A poll two weeks ago commissioned by the Better World Campaign found that 74% of voters rate a candidate’s position on international issues and foreign policy as being important in determining how they will vote. For comparison’s sake, the same poll shows that 96% rate a candidate’s position on the economy and jobs as being important in determining how they will vote.

Those of us who have paid close attention to this race know the positions of the candidates on the major issues. What we have not heard much is from the candidates is what foundational beliefs animate their views of foreign policy.

What are their basic assumptions about foreign policy or about how the world works?  And what have they learned –good and bad — from recent history? I would love to know what the Iraq war and Afghanistan have taught Romney and Obama about the limits of American power? I would love to learn what they believe will be the greatest national security challenges of the next 30 years, and how can we position American foreign policy to meet those challenges head-on?  I would love to know how their religious beliefs inform their views of America’s role in the world?

Alas, here are the topics we can expect tonight.


Bob Schieffer, moderator of the third 2012 presidential debate, has selected the topics for that debate, which is on foreign policy. Mr. Schieffer stated:

Subject to possible changes because of news developments, here are the topics for the October 22 debate, not necessarily to be brought up in this order:

* America’s role in the world
* Our longest war – Afghanistan and Pakistan
* Red Lines – Israel and Iran
* The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism – I
* The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism – II
* The Rise of China and Tomorrow’s World

The debate will be held on Monday, October 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, FL.  The format calls for six 15-minute time segments, each of which will focus on one of the topics listed above. The moderator will open each segment with a question.  Each candidate will have two minutes to respond.  Following the candidates’ responses, the moderator will use the balance of the 15-minute segment to facilitate a discussion on the topic.  All debates start at 9:00 p.m. ET and run for 90 minutes.

The first topic comes closest to the kinds of questions I would like to hear, but we will see if the candidates actually take the bold step to talk about their beliefs, rather than reiterate their positions on specific issues.

Also, it’s worth noting that about climate, global health, fighting global poverty are not among the topics listed. Bleach.