Final debate ignored key foreign policy issues

Iran is a danger. China is destroying our economy. Oh, and the Middle East is a complete mess.

For those who tuned in to Monday’s presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, that was the takeaway on the state of the world and foreign policy. Only that. Whether it was the fault of the debate commission or the candidates themselves, the debate painted an extremely narrow and naive view of the world and the United States’ interests in it.

Ignoring the absence of conversation on climate change — the first time since 1984 that the topic has not been mentioned in any debate — and many human rights issues, Monday’s debate was an exercise in narrow-mindedness and selective ignorance. Many important issues, as well as more subtle aspects of the main topics of discussion, were absent in the final presidential debate.

After avoiding the issue for much of the election, the candidates finally discussed the war in Afghanistan — a war that has been going on for more than 11 years. They rightfully addressed the state of Afghan security forces, but completely ignored the serious problems of corruption inside the very government the United States supports there.

Moderator Bob Schieffer did propel the debate in a better direction when he asked the candidates about drone strikes. While drone strikes are effective in taking out militants in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere, they also kill a large number of civilians. The candidates’ responses, however, were anything but proportionally adequate to the severity of the topic. Romney enthusiastically said he supports the use of flying machines that rain down death while Obama, the man with a kill list for drone strikes, dodged the question. There was no great debate on one of the United States’ new favorite military tactics — one that also stirs up a lot of anti-American sentiment in key places, such as Pakistan.

Throughout the debate, Israel got a lot of love — the candidates mentioned it 31 times while bringing up the spectre of a nuclear Iran. Yet, the way Iran was talked about, at least by Romney, made it seem like the country is an imminent threat to Israel and the United States and is just itching to start a nuclear war.

Despite this focus on Israel, the candidates ignored the topic of Israeli-Palestinian peace. It continues to be one of the main sources of conflict and strife in the region, and Obama has accomplished next to nothing in the peace process. Romney failed to offer much more Monday night than saying that with the right leadership we will see the “peace and prosperity the world demands.” But ignoring the conflict between Israel and Palestine only allows the continued expansion of illegal settlements while pushing refugees toward extremism.

If national security is as big a deal as the candidates made it out to be, then why not mention the national security threat that’s right outside the United States: the Mexican drug war.

According to estimates, more than 50,000 people are dead, while border violence persists and grows. How either candidate could ignore this makes little sense.

Then there was the economic boogeyman: China. The way Romney and Obama talked about it, it seemed like the People’s Republic is the cause of many of the United States’ economic woes. But they ignored the biggest global economic threat, Europe. As a result of the euro crisis, hundreds of thousands of people, if not more, remain unemployed, and the threat of an economic contagion spreading is high.

Not only that, but the idea of government involvement in the economy is something both candidates love to talk about, so why not bring up the Germany-imposed austerity policies in the Eurozone — policies that are completely failing — as a test case for Obama and Romney’s views?

Some of these topics might not seem interesting to the majority of voters, but it’s not about what interests us. It’s about the country’s role in the world and very real problems that affect all American citizens.

Ignoring these issues not only keeps the public uninformed, but it also paints a false narrative of what the United States needs to focus on and what future dangers it faces. If this is truly what both candidates think matters, then the United States needs to find better leaders.


Nicholas Slayton is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism and is the Daily Trojan’s Multimedia Editor.

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