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Campaign 2008: Perspectives on The Presidential Foreign Policy Debate

Moderator: Kay King, Vice President, CFR Washington
Discussants: Stephen D. Biddle, Defense Policy, Michael J. Gerson, Senior Fellow, James M. Goldgeier, Transatlantic Relations, Michael A. Levi, Director, Program on Energy Security and Climate Change, Sebastian Mallaby, Director, Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies, and Sheila A. Smith, Japan Studies
September 22, 2008
Council on Foreign Relations

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KAY KING: My name is Kay King, and I want to welcome all of you to this evening's debate prep session that we're holding here for our Council members to get you all ready -- primed and ready for this Friday's presidential candidates' debate on foreign policy, which is down in Oxford, Mississippi.

This meeting is another in our Campaign 2008 series which started during the primary season last spring when we had events that featured the advisers to the candidates -- one with the foreign policy advisers, another with the national security advisers, and a third with the international economic advisers.

This fall we are continuing this series, but instead of bringing in the advisers for the candidates, we are really honing in on the issues and bringing in experts to focus on the issues that we think are likely to be either debated in the campaign or the priorities for the next president.

Tonight I am very pleased to be moderating what is really a town hall-style event that features our own Council talent. Several of our fellows have agreed to start off the conversation with all of you by giving you their sense of what the foreign policy issues are that really -- are being discussed or ought to be discussed during the campaign.

And when they are finished, we are going to give all of you a chance to weigh in on those issues that you think the candidates ought to be addressing in the foreign policy realm.

Now, obviously in one session we can't cover all of the issues, so I want to assure our members that we will be holding other meetings that really allow us to drill down on some of the issues that either weren't covered tonight or weren't covered in enough depth tonight.

And those issues include things like U.S. policy toward China, our changing relationship with Russia, energy security, the situation -- the changing situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

However, focusing on tonight, our goal here is to shed more light than heat on the wide range of foreign policy issues that are confronting our nation. So rather than critiquing or contrasting the positions of the two candidates, we are really asking our experts to provide their insights and advice on how the country should move forward on the challenges facing us in the foreign policy realm.

I will also say, in the interest of full disclosure, that many of our Council fellows are advisers to presidential candidates, including a few who are on the panel tonight. But I want to be really clear and I want to stress that in fact when they are speaking, they are speaking for themselves and not for the candidates.

So I think that's an important point, and I will, as I introduce all of the fellows, let you know who is working for which campaign.

Before I get to the introductions, I would just like to tend to a few housekeeping chores. One, I know you all know this, but if you will bear with me, please turn off cell phones and BlackBerrys completely. Even if you keep them on vibrate, they interfere with the sound system.

The second is to just remind you all that this meeting is on the record. And then finally, because we have such a large panel, our panelists have been kind enough to agree to stay a little longer, and so we have extended the duration of this meeting by 15 minutes and will end at 7:45.

However, those of you who would like to leave at 7:30 should feel free to do so. I would just kind of urge you to kind of position yourself closer to the door so you can make a quick escape.

(Laughter.)

Okay. Now, to the introductions.

You have complete bios of all of our panelists, so I will just hit the highlights. And I'm going to start all the way down to my far right, your left, with Stephen Biddle, who is our senior fellow for defense policy. He also teaches at the U.S. Army War College, where he's been a member of the faculty for several years.

He is the author of an award-winning book on modern military power, and just recently he's co-authored an article that's appearing in Foreign Affairs Magazine that assesses the post-surge security situation in Iraq.

Sitting next to Steve is Michael Gerson. He is the Council's Roger Hertog Senior Fellow, and he focuses on development and global health, religion, and foreign policy and the democracy agenda.

He is a former speechwriter and policy adviser to President George W. Bush and he is also currently a columnist for The Washington Post. And most recently he has authored a book on American conservatism.

To Mike's left is another Mike, Michael Levi, the Council's senior fellow who focuses on energy and the environment. He runs the Council's program on energy security and climate change. He is also the person who directed the Council's task force on climate change, and he has also recently written a book on nuclear terrorism.

Next in line is Jim Goldgeier. Jim is our senior fellow on trans-Atlantic relations. He's a professor of political science and international relations at GW University. He's also served on the National Security Council staff and has recently co-authored a book on U.S. foreign policy in the period between the fall of the Berlin Wall on 11/9 and the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Jim is also an adviser to Senator Obama's Russia policy group.

Sitting to Jim's left is Sheila Smith, the Council's senior fellow for Japan studies. She's an expert on Asia's international relations and she also directs a new program here at the Council on the regional security architecture for Asia. She's the author of a recent report on the domestic politics of the U.S. military presence in Asia and she also is an adviser, but to Senator Obama's Asia policy group.

And finally, last but not least, is Sebastian Mallaby. And Sebastian Mallaby wears several hats here at the Council. One of those is as senior fellow for international economics. Another is as our deputy director of studies, and a third is as director of the Maurice Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies.

He's also a columnist and a former editorial board member of The Washington Post, and he is currently working on a book on hedge funds.

(Laughter.)

KING: (Chuckles.) Very hard.

SEBASTIAN MALLABY: I'm trying to finish it quickly.

(Cross talk.)

KING: Just to make sure that we've got the whole landscape covered, a couple of our colleagues have agreed to be here and they're sitting in the audience. They're not on tonight's panel, mostly because we are going to be focusing on their issues in greater depth in the future.

But we have here Dan Markey, who covers South Asia for us, particularly India and Pakistan, and we also have Steven Cook, who is our Middle Eastern studies fellow. So they can also answer some of your questions, and they've been nice enough to join us, even though they're not on the panel.

So with that, I'm going to ask my colleagues to get us all started by identifying the kind of two -- one or two most pressing challenges in their areas of expertise that they see confronting the nation in the foreign -- in their area of expertise, and then give some very brief points on what steps they would recommend the country or the president take to move us forward in addressing those challenges.

And given what's been happening in the financial markets, it seems only right that we start that off with Sebastian Mallaby. So --

MALLABY: (Inaudible.) I think you said three minutes, and given that there's nothing much going on in international finance and economics -- (scattered laughter) -- three minutes should be fine.

I guess -- (inaudible) -- driving that. Given this crisis, it's a bit of a mystery as to why anybody should want to win this election and become president.

(Laughter.)

I would say that the thing -- that we have to think about it in three dimensions.

The first is -- the immediate crisis management around what's going on in the international markets, and I'm afraid that crisis management will not be over by January when the next president takes office. We can come back to that if you want.

A second dimension is beyond managing the crisis is that of fixing the structure of international finance, and there are many proposals out there. I would limit myself to just mentioning two which, if you hear a candidate mention them in the debate I would give them the thumb's up.

The first thing is that it would help a lot if governments helped to drive trading of over-the-counter contracts and swaps, another derivative, onto exchanges so that when a bank is in trouble, like Bear Stearns was, they are not resting on the theory that they are too entangled to fail.

The notion that because everyone's doing deals with each other over the counter, not on a -- (inaudible) -- central exchange, one person goes down, all their counter parties go down with them. That is kind of systemic risk manifested, and we want to get away from that by pushing at least some of this business on to exchanges.

Another thing I think that can be done usefully is for banks to be regulated in a way that goes against the economic cycle, so that when a asset bubble is building up you require them to hold more capital. Then afterwards, as things are deflating, you require them to hold less capital.

So instead of fixed assets requirements, I think regulators, both in this country and elsewhere, need to think -- and this is an idea which has already been advanced and experimented in Spain, I think -- need to think about variable capital ratios for banks.

The third dimension of the crisis is perhaps the one that resonates most -- (inaudible) -- and that is to think about how this crisis is going to affect U.S. power. I think there are kind of two points here.

One is that U.S. power is bound up with economic power, and economic power in the 21st century is about having clusters of competitive advantage in super-innovative industries. And finance is one of them.

So when we're -- in a world where U.S. financial institutions are losing out to foreign competitors who've had a different business -- model, when Lehman Brothers was being bought in pieces by foreign banks, when Mitsubishi appeared to be ready to take a stake in Morgan Stanley, and -- (inaudible) -- a kind of U.S. model of highly -- (inaudible) -- finances under question, there is an issue about New York's resilience as a financial center and, by extension, about U.S. economic competitors, going forward.

And finally, I think it's also the case that we're in for a period of extremely expensive federal bailouts of the system which are going to vastly increase the budget deficit, and that has ramifications for the value of the dollar.

The dollar went down almost 2 percent today against the trade-rated basket of currencies, which tells you that when you're asking to borrow a lot of money at a time when foreigners don't want to hold U.S. assets because our financial regulation is being called into question, the system that we've been living comfortably with for many, many years of big budget deficits, big -- (inaudible) -- deficits, is going to be difficult to maintain.

And there are three options. First, foreigners don't want to buy our debt, in which case the dollar will go down, and the dollar's status in reserve currency will be in question.

A second option, and slightly more comforting, is that foreigners do buy all this debt and we owe even more to foreign governments, which I think has foreign policy liabilities embedded in it.

And the third option -- and this is what I hope that the presidential candidates would come to -- is to really get serious about doing something about national (burn?), which means fixing entitlements.

Entitlements have been on the agenda in a back-burner kind of way for a long time. I think now they really have become a foreign policy program because of this crisis.

KING: Okay. thank you.

We're going to turn to you next, Sheila, to focus in on Asia for us.

SHEILA A. SMITH: Thank you. And in a similar way, I'm going to try to encapsulate the major problems that we have, the long-term and the short-term, in Asia, in a very short time. And I came out with two basic things that I would like to hear the presidential candidates talk about.

The first, in Northeast Asia, of course, is North Korea. We have since the mid-1990s been grappling with this problem of nuclear proliferation, or North Korea's nuclear ambitions on the Korean Peninsula, for some time. And we have played this scenario out through various ways of cooperation with Seoul and Tokyo and more recently in the six-party process with China and Russia.

I think today we are looking at a situation where the negotiated comprehensive framework that Ambassador Hill set forward is stalled. I don't think I'm terribly optimistic that it's going to move forward anytime soon in a way that is positive for U.S. security interests or for the alliance relationships in the region.

This is compounded, of course -- this is not just a proliferation problem. It's compounded by the fact that we know for certain that Kim Jong Il has been incapacitated -- if not fully, at least partially -- and so we may be looking at Korean Peninsula in which some kind of regime change, out of our control and out of our policy influence, may be on the horizon.

Again, this is something that I'm not predicting is going to happen today or tomorrow, but I think it gives us a certain sense of urgency about how both candidates would want to pursue the six-party process and pursue their conversations with both Tokyo and Seoul, as well as Beijing, as we move forward in the coming months.

We have a scenario on the Korean Peninsula -- let's just put it in worst-case terms -- that if Kim Jong Il is no longer in control of the country, where you have nuclear weapons or at least nuclear devices and materials that could possibly be at risk. That's a worst-case scenario.

The more positive scenario, of course, is that we have a slowed down process by which both candidates can conduct a policy review on nuclear -- denuclearization.

But in either case, both of the candidates in the debate on Friday night I hope will address this question of how they would respond in a crisis scenario in North Korea.

The second Asian issue, and I'll be very broad and brief here, is really, I think, in my mind, is where either of the candidates -- or both of the candidates, I guess I should say -- place Asia in this broader set of priorities in their foreign policy agendas.

I think in many ways we take our relationships with Asia for granted. We have very positive economic relations with most of the region. But our economic vitality depends in many ways on our engagement in this region.

And so I am looking forward to listening to how both candidates really want to place Asia in their overall foreign policy agenda. And I'm looking here specifically at the Sino-American relationship, how they see that strategic challenge over the next two decades.

They should see it as a large priority, but they will need the resources, intellectual and otherwise, to bring to bear on thinking our way through the next decade of our relationship with that very important country.

But there are other activities here in Asia that I think bear watching closely, and that is the Asia -- East Asian community is in this process of building institutional mechanisms for regional governance.

We've seen it in the economic realm, but we're also going to begin to see it in the security realm. And I believe the United States needs to be not only leading some of those efforts, but a major participant in the institution-building process.

So I'll be looking forward to seeing how Senators McCain and Obama define Asia, their strategy for Asia, but also their long-term agenda for making American engagement more pragmatic, a more pragmatic part of their foreign policy in the future.

KING: Great. Thank you.

Jim? A little bit on Europe and Russia?

JAMES M. GOLDGEIER: Sure. And I'll just pick up where Sheila left off with her conceptual points, because I think that what we're really facing right now is a real conceptual problem when we think about Europe and Russia,

And I don't know that we're going to solve that during the campaign. I doubt we'll solve it Friday night, but I think it's something that we really need to be thinking about.

Because if you look back, it's been almost 20 years ago -- it was almost 20 years ago that George H. W. Bush first enunciated this notion of America trying to foster a Europe whole and free.

If you look back 10 years ago, we still had some -- I think most people in the U.S. government still thought there was some ability to put the different pieces of that together; that you could use NATO and the European Union, or our encouragement of the European Union, to help integrate Central and Eastern Europe; that you could do something about ending the repression in the Balkans and get those countries on a path toward integration, and that you could at the same time also reach out to Russia, and that you could encourage reform in Russia and that you could try to find ways to work with Russia.

And I think it'd be hard to argue today that that vision is holding up, that you can do all those things. We've seen it certainly in the Russian assault on Georgia and the reaction to that.

And I think the notion that we can sort of have it all is not realistic, so where does that leave us? A Europe whole and free minus Russia isn't a very attractive option. The notion that, well, we got most of Central and Eastern Europe in and we just missed a few, that's not a particularly attractive option either.

There are those who want to move full speed ahead on membership action plans for Georgia and Ukraine, but in the NATO that we have, that's not going to happen. We're not going to be able to get our allies on board with that any time soon.

And there are those on the other side who will argue, well, forget about Georgia. Let Russia have its sphere of influence. We'll just deal with them on the big strategic issues. I've seen no compelling argument that telling Russia they could have their sphere of influence would solve the other problems in the U.S.-Russian relationship, so I don't think that's a particularly realistic policy either.

We have major work to do within the alliance to forge both a sense of unity in the United States and Europe and reforge the sense of purpose that NATO has and really think through what Article 5 means, now that we've had a lot of discussion -- more than certainly we've had since the end of the Cold War -- about what Article 5 means.

And we have a tremendous amount of work, just building from the bottom up, a relationship with Russia. It's all well and good to say that it's Russia's choice and Russia's isolating itself. That's not a policy; I'm sorry. It's a lecture.

And what we need is to build up substantively a -- serious channels of communication between the two sides. Otherwise, all we're left with is what we've had in the last few years, which is presidential summits and occasional conversations between the secretary of State and foreign minister.

But no real continual, constant work on engagement, and that's really what's going to be needed after January 20th, no matter who wins.

KING: Great.

Michael? Energy, climate change. You have a big portfolio. Nuclear nonproliferation.

MICHAEL A. LEVI: A few words about energy and climate change, nuclear terrorism, proliferation. Let me throw a few things that I think I'd like to see from the candidates.

On the energy front and the climate front, I'd like to see first a recognition that you need to deal with energy security and climate change together, as opposed to as separate issues and, at the same time, that these are genuinely foreign policy issues. They don't admit purely domestic solutions.

Let me state quickly what I mean by both of these.

I sense a bit of a trend where people are splitting into a couple of different camps -- at least amongst the people who do actually care about both issues. One says well, if we deal with climate change, we'll get energy security as a bonus. Another says if we deal with energy security, we'll also incidentally deal with climate change.

I don't think either of those work. There are conflicts between the two agendas. There are certainly opportunities to move forward on both at the same time, but there are also real opportunities for conflict.

You can convert coal into liquid fuels, which is great for energy security, but not so good for the climate. You could constrain emissions in a way that wasn't careful and succeed in doing that while heavily boosting reliance on natural gas in a way that was not good for energy security.

So I'd like to see a recognition that it's not all about win-wins, even though there are a lot of those out there, and that there's a need to navigate these tensions.

I'd also like to see them look at these as foreign policy issues. And as to climate change, that's a bit more straightforward. We talk about what we need to do at home and that's extremely important, to get our own house in order. And both candidates talk about that.

And they also talk about the need to get other major emitters on board. If there's any substance to proposals for how to do that, that would be interesting to see.

But I'd also like to see that extend to the energy security sphere. When it comes to energy security, we frame it as a foreign policy problem; we talk about -- well, we talk about high gas prices. We also talk about money flowing to bad regimes whose freedom of action is a problem for us.

But when we talk about solutions, we really are looking domestically. Whether it's drilling or whether it's conservation, we're talking domestically. And this is a foreign policy challenge, too.

So I'd like to see some recognition of that, perhaps looking at how we work with other consuming nations like China and India, to deal with demand that's driving up the price of energy, that's driving up the price of oil, that's sending money to place we don't want it to be going, and that is having a significant effect on the economy. So I'd like to see them see both of these as foreign policy issues.

On the nuclear front, a couple quick words. If you remember last time, this first debate, big foreign policy debate, the moderator asked both candidates what is the biggest foreign policy or national security challenge facing the United States? They both said nuclear weapons in the hands of extremists, or some variation on that. It was either nuclear terrorism or nuclear weapons in the hands of rogue regimes.

I don't expect the same kind of statement this time, but I do hope there'll be some conversation, both about nuclear terrorism and about proliferation.

On the terrorism front, I'd like to see a real emphasis on cooperation. There are a lot of problem regimes out there, but our best bet still for preventing nuclear terrorism is cooperation on locking up nuclear weapons and materials and on intelligence, law enforcement, and a whole range of activities that we can do to really blunt the threat.

I'm not going to say anything about North Korea, because it's already been covered, but a quick word about Iran because I would be surprised if the candidates were not asked something along these lines.

Things with Iran are pretty tough. Negotiations aren't really going anywhere. Sanctions aren't really going anywhere. If Iran is going to get a nuclear weapon, would you attack Iran? I'd be very surprised if that question did not come up.

And I would hope that both candidates would say I'm going to look at the situation in the context of the world as I see it at the time, rather than one answer or the other right now.

It is a complicated situation. We don't know now what sort of intelligence we'll have; we don't know right now what the situation in the region will have. We know there are enormous implications from any military attack. We also know there are enormous implications from a nuclear Iran.

So I hope that each candidate will be cautious enough to push that decision down the road.

KING: All right. Thank you, Mike.

Mike Gerson, do you want to tell us a little of your recommendations on the soft power front before we turn to our hard power specialist in Steve Biddle?

MICHAEL J. GERSON: Sure. Let me step back just one moment.

I think one of the most extraordinary things about our political moment right now is how national security policy is not at the center of the debate.

A year and a half ago, at the beginning of this process, anyone would have expected that Iraq would be the single overriding issue in this election, and it was in many ways, in the primary, determining, in some ways, both candidates that were eventually nominated.

The success of the recent and rapid success and strategy in Iraq has in many ways taken this issue -- not converted Americans to support what's going on, but made it a lower-level issue in our political discourse. That is a pretty extraordinary change.

But then you have to remember then what we went to, because everyone said that domestic issues were going to be the issue. It was going to be health care, and this was going to be the debate.

And then we went to $4-a-gallon gasoline, and it was going to be -- energy was going to be the issue that everyone was going to be talking about. And then we went to Georgia, which raised very serious prospects, but faded in our politics fairly quickly.

And then we went to the silly season with lipstick on a pig and a variety of other things. And now we're in a kind of financial crisis.

I think it illustrates an important kind of historical point. First of all, when you're in office -- and this a reflection of this -- that history makes a lot of choices for you. It's not so much your own plans and policies, as you go into this.

I remember on 9/11, the day of 9/11, working at home on the single most boring speech ever written, called "Communities of Character," that had nothing to do with what the administration was eventually about. And it can change very quickly.

It shows how important judgment, values, and character are in presidential decisions. So I hope the debate elicits some of those things, because you can't predict what the issues are going to be. There is no specific experience, no specific background that relates, or a specific set of policies, that often relate to these things.

But --

KING: (Inaudible) -- you put in a plug for our boss, Richard Haass, who just wrote a column in Newsweek that talks along those lines.

GERSON: Exactly. I think he's exactly right, in the new Newsweek, talking about how you can't predict your challenges, but you do have to make judgments about character, values, judgment, other things.

But I would say, just from my more narrow perspective, that a lot of these issues get messed up if we have a genuine -- something -- the Great Depression 2.0. It's going to fundamentally reorient America's focus towards much more domestic focus.

In my area, there'd be a lot less support for overseas development assistance, for AIDS funding, for malaria, for a variety of engagement in the world. But barring that, I do believe the president -- the next president is going to have a couple of opportunities to re-launch America's image in the world.

The first one is going to be on this issue of the environment and greenhouse gases. I think this is a growing consensus of the candidates of both parties, kind of ripening scientific consensus. I think there's going to have to be this common ground between those who are concerned about this massive -- maybe this is the largest income transfer in history to -- (for ?) dangerous states, and those who are concerned about global warming and a variety of other issues.

My concern, doing some travel this summer to the Arctic with environmentalists, many of whom I respect greatly, is I'm not sure that they have shown those coalition-building skills. And that it's going to be a real challenge to kind of pull this together.

I think the second area that both candidates will agree on and eventually do is the closing of Guantanamo and the movement towards a more regular system, including with the cooperation of Congress, on a system to deal with enemy combatants and other things.

And I think the third one, if you look at it, is that both candidates are very -- have a history of commitment on these soft power issues. Barack Obama has promised to double overseas development assistance by 2012, has talked about a new international education fund that would be a significant effort.

John McCain's talked about ending malaria on the African continent, which would be a great humanitarian strategic achievement.

And so I do think there are going to be a variety of ways, barring economic catastrophe, that the next president is going to be able to emphasize these -- a new beginning on these soft power issues.

KING: Great. Thank you, Michael.

And finally, Steve, our hard power specialist here. Give us your overview of the situation, of course, in Iraq and the other issues that you think are most prominent in your area.

STEPHEN BIDDLE: You know, just kind of looking across the basket of things that constitute defense policy, defense policy has played a surprisingly muted role in the campaign so far. And by and large, I think that's a good thing.

I think it's a rather unusual moment to be conducting a presidential campaign in the middle of an ongoing war. That hasn't happened in the United States for a long time, and in many ways a presidential campaign is the worst possible venue in which to be making detailed military strategic calculations and choices.

One would prefer, in an ideal world, that these sorts of decisions be made in a calmer, quieter setting, perhaps in the midst of a transition, perhaps deep in the basement of the Pentagon.

To the extent that that's not going to happen, the kinds of defense issues that tend to get talked about are in many ways second-or third order, and the least useful of the collection of things that we might be talking about, about defense issues in an election campaign.

How many months should it be before the last combat brigade comes out of Iraq? Should the Defense budget be larger or smaller? Can we save money on defense by reducing cost overruns on some particular acquisition program in the Defense Department? These are all technical minutiae at the level of national grand strategic decisionmaking.

To the extent that we're going to have a defense debate in the context of a presidential campaign in the middle of a war, the debate I would like to have -- not the debate I expect to have -- would be about some of the basic value decisions that underlie national strategic choice in time of war.

Because these are things that, at the end of the day, are issues for the public to decide on the basis of what they feel, what they believe, and what they value and what they don't value.

Are we at war, beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, with terrorism, or with some subset of terrorism, or not? What level of risk are we willing to accept to reduce the scale of the threat, from terrorism or some terrorist group, to the American homeland? What scale of effort are we willing to undertake in order to reduce the risk to the American homeland from some terror group or terrorism as a phenomenon?

What are our aims in the two ongoing wars that we're waging today in Iraq and Afghanistan, and what level of sacrifice are we willing to support in exchange for those aims? These are the kinds of issues that it seems to me ought to be elevated to the level of public choice though the referendum of an election.

I doubt that's going to happen, for a zillion and one reasons, some trivial and some profound. Among the relatively profound on that list is it's entirely too easy for the easy demagoguery of the public square to force that kind of conversation into threat mongering.

What I would like to see in the platonic presidential debate that we're not going to get is a reasoned defense of both the position that there is a severe threat to the American homeland from terrorism at large or from al Qaeda in particular, and it's worth serious exertion in order to respond to it.

And the converse -- that the scale of the threat that we have worried about from international terrorists to the American homeland has been exaggerated, that the degree to which we can offer security and protection from that kind of threat to the American public is easily exaggerated and, hence, that Herculean exertions, financial and other, aren't warranted in responding to that kind of threat.

Those are some of the issues that, at the end of the day, I think are appropriately decided in the public square, but probably won't be.

KING: Thank you, Steve. I think -- (inaudible) -- have gotten this conversation off to a great start.

And now it's your opportunity to weigh in. As is always the case at the Council, we have microphones and we will pass -- have them waiting for you to ask your questions. We just ask that you stand, give your name and your affiliation, and also please, since we have so many people here tonight and so many panelists, I would ask that you try and keep your questions very short.

So with that, let's open the floor up to all of you. Any questions?

Yes, sir. Right down here.

QUESTIONER: Good evening. Thanks for those very interesting presentations. My name is Tom (Lippman ?) and I'm with the Middle East Institute. I'm not going to ask about the Middle East.

I can think -- that's a very daunting list of topics and challenges that you've laid out, but I'd like to add a few to it and see if any of you have any thoughts about this. I would say that all three of them relate in one way or another to Latin America.

The next president is going to face the challenge of managing or trying to take advantage of an orderly transition in Cuba. We have to deal with the immigration issue. And in my view this administration has presided over a serious retrogression of democracy in South America.

And I'd like to know if any of you think that those should be included on this agenda of front-burner items.

KING: Anyone like to take that one up? Mike, do you want to give a stab at --

GERSON: It's not normal for South America to come up in American presidential debates. (Laughter.) It's in many ways a forgotten region.

It's interesting that you mention the administration. The president, on Wednesday, is going to be meeting with many of the leaders who -- that America's engaged in free trade agreements with, in New York, which now covers about two-thirds of Latin America , going from two to -- I think it's 13, including the United States, that are now engaged in bilateral free trade agreements.

I think that in a certain way that's been an underestimated element of the administration approach on these issues. People always talk about the economic element of democracy promotion and other things, and it's worth talking about.

But if you read -- which I haven't really done, but I've seen parts of one of these agreements -- you know, 1,000-page agreements, many of the elements of those agreements have to do with governance. That's acceptance of international norms and adapting to those things.

So I think it's interesting that going into this U.N. summit this week up in New York that the thing that the administration wants to draw attention to is actually Latin America, in a way that I think is kind of innovative.

Now, the flip side of that is I also believe that we've seen plenty of examples that when the benefits of globalization are unequally shared for long periods of time, that you get tremendous pressures on democracy from populist demagogues and others who take advantage of economic inequality to undermine democratic institutions.

So that to me is another kind of major argument for being proactive on both -- on the trade side, but also on the -- kind of effective development systems.

KING: Thank you. Okay.

Yes, sir? In the middle there. Juan.

QUESTIONER: Hi. I'm Juan Tiriquian (ph) with AAAS.

I would actually ask a question, given the timing of the U.N. General Assembly opening up, is what you think the role is of the next administration vis-a-vis the U.N. and how they're going to view, use, or not use the U.N. in the future.

KING: All right. Okay, any one of our panelists like to take a stab at that one? How about you, Jim?

GOLDGEIER: Well -- the one sort of big innovation on the foreign policy side from Senator McCain has been the articulation of a need for a league of democracies. And that -- has a number of interesting ramifications.

One, it's a recognition of the importance of multilateralism, right? Because whatever you think of it, and there are lots of other democracies out there that aren't that interested in it, but it's a recognition that he takes multilateralism seriously and that he takes the issue of a need for legitimacy seriously.

But presumably the impulse there is out of frustration with the United Nations and the membership of the United Nations. We also know that there are leading members of the Obama campaign who have also argued in the past for the need for such a league of democracies.

So I think that's an -- it's one of the new ideas that's been out during the campaign. Hasn't gotten a lot of attention, but I think the relationship between that idea and what people think about -- what the candidates think about the role of the United Nations and how it can work, given that it is a disparate membership of democracies and non-democracies is, I think, something worth exploring with both of them.

KING: Great. Thank you.

Yes, Paula, right here in front.

QUESTIONER: Thank you very much. Paula Stern.

I have listened and wondered whether a lot of the issues that might come up on Friday night are predicated on the notion that the United States has still got the economic clout and wherewithal to sustain a defense budget and to have overseas activities in the form of soft power and to be a leader multilaterally in a variety of problem-solving problems, whether it's North Korea proliferation or energy and climate change issues.

And I particularly would like to hear Sebastian talk about that, not just because he's brilliant, but because he's from Great Britain and there was a certain level of presumption about Great Britain at a certain time that I think was rooted very much in economic and commercial clout. And I would like to hear really whether I should be as worried as I really am.

MALLABY: Well, it's true that I'm British. I plead guilty to that. (Scattered laughter.) And it's true also that British power was -- did have its comeuppance in the Suez crisis, where the British forgot that their economic power had waned and therefore they couldn't sustain the kind of power projection that they thought they could.

And the real crunch came when Britain was in Suez and felt that the U.S. and others would not support sterling in a currency crisis. And this drove -- the fear of this, which was sort of hinted. It wasn't an explicit threat from the U.S. -- drove British withdrawal from Suez. Reversed a major, major foreign policy initiative on the part of the British government.

And one of my colleagues who's in New York, Brad Setser, has just written a report, a Council Special Report, asking the question does the highly indebted United States face a similar foreign policy challenge going forward? What does it mean when we have a current account deficit of 6 (percent) or 7 percent of GDP, which is financed by foreigners who buy U.S. assets. What if they change their mind and they don't want to buy U.S. assets any more? And would that affect our foreign policy freedom of action?

And Brad's answer, which I think is highly convincing, is yes. Yes, we should be worried about this. And the reason is that five years ago when this question came up, people said don't worry.

The foreigners who buy U.S. assets, they do it for their own purposes. They do it because it's in their own interests. It shows the resilience, vitality, and fantastic regulation of U.S. capital markets. (Laughter.) And they buy these U.S. assets because they want them, and so it's a sign of our own economic strength.

Well, about two or three years ago, this actually had shifted and it wasn't private investors aboard buying U.S. assets anymore. It was foreign governments -- the Chinese government and the other -- (inaudible) -- governments -- (inaudible) -- often because of energy surpluses, they were buying -- were kind of the key net buyers on the margin of U.S. financial assets.

So that China's stock of U.S. dollar holdings went from, I think, half a trillion (dollars) at the beginning of 2007 to fully 1 trillion (dollars) by the end of 2007 and is now sort of hitting 1.5 trillion (dollars). So you have a tripling in the space of 18 months, or thereabouts.

And when the Chinese government accumulates that much in the way of dollar assets and it's made a political decision to do so, it can make a new political decision to do so next week to reverse that and start selling these dollar assets -- at which point the dollar would crash, U.S. interest rates would go up, and we would be faced with the --similar experience that we've had over the last 14, 15 months, inflicted by a subprime crisis, but inflicted this time by another government.

Now, I think that is a wake-up call to U.S. policymakers, and so I think Paula's question is spot on.

KING: Great --

GERSON: Could I add one thing really briefly?

QUESTIONER: (Off mike) -- very reassuring.

(Laughter.)

GERSON: Right. I would only add that in this current crisis with Fannie Mae, in particular, that the Russians and others actually hold a significant amount of that debt, okay? And so their views were taken into account in our domestic things because the pressure is not just whether they would withdraw, but, you know, you have our money.

And so even in that circumstance, I think it was factored into the decision, to domestic policy decisionmaking when these rescues were done, because of the international ownership.

KING: Okay, thank you, Michael.

Avis (Bowen ?).

QUESTIONER: I guess it's sort of lame after this explosive -- (off mike) -- but none of you mentioned the Middle East and the Middle East peace process as urgent questions. Is that because it's not urgent, or because it's insoluble and therefore -- (inaudible) -- remain on the back burner, or -- what is your take on --

KING: No, none of the above. Of course it's urgent and it's very much an issue, and it's one that we literally don't have enough room on the stage to fit everybody. But we do actually have one of our fellows here on the Middle East, and if you have a question you'd like to direct toward Steven, please --

QUESTIONER: It was just what happened to it in this -- (inaudible) -- but I'm reassured.

KING: (Chuckles.) Absolutely. And as I said, we can't do every issue tonight, but we will be doing subsequent campaign -- under the rubric of the Campaign 2008 series.

QUESTIONER: (Off mike) -- said something that he was --

KING: Focusing on the Middle East, focusing on China, for example, Russia --

QUESTIONER: (Off mike) -- mention it.

KING: Absolutely.

COOK (?): Do you want me to answer it, or no?

KING: Sure.

COOK (?): I don't want to take away from -- (inaudible). I think that --

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)

COOK (?): Sure. Sorry.

Very briefly, the Middle East peace process has clearly fallen off the radar after the Annapolis summit of 2007 and President Bush's subsequent trips. And I think that that's just an indication of the fact that this is a problem that presently defies a solution.

And given all the other foreign policy challenges that my colleagues have laid out, in addition to Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, global warming, financial meltdown, there's really no upside for presidential candidates to really engage with this issue, as important and as central it is to people to in the region, namely Israelis and Palestinians and the surrounding Arab countries.

There is no political benefit to really engaging in these issues, other than kind of platitudes like we need to resolve this problem. For 60 years we've been -- we all know what the resolution is to the problem. The problem is getting from where we are now --

What I'm concerned about is that the present trends make it more difficult to get ultimately to what we know is the solution, because of demographic issues, changes in the world view in which Palestinians are looking at the conflict and so on and so forth.

So I think that -- I would expect that there's not going to be a question about Middle East peace, or maybe at the end when everybody's exhausted, there may be a question. But I think the candidates are likely to just offer platitudes about this because there really is no upside to engaging this issue in a very serious way at this time.

KING: Thanks, Steven.

Okay, let's try the back of the room where we haven't -- way back over there in the corner. Yes, you, sir.

QUESTIONER: Thanks. Charles -- (inaudible) -- the Department of Homeland Security.

I was wondering, one of the panelists mentioned I guess a window of opportunity that either candidate would have in restoring relationships with the rest of the world, and he mentioned closing Guantanamo. But beyond closing Guantanamo, what are the other strategic windows of opportunity that the panelists would like to see in the next 60 days or 90 days after the election -- the first six months -- in reaching out to key parts of the world where anti-Americanism is rampant?

KING: Okay. I think I'll throw that back to you, Mike Gerson.

GERSON: Well, to some extent, that was my best shot. (Laughter.) I do think if you talk with friends at the State Department and --who are engaged in public diplomacy, the issue of Guantanamo comes up again and again in a variety of contexts as a symbol of American disregard for a variety of standards.

I don't believe that solving it is easy. It's a -- there are a variety of technical challenges, but I do think the next president is going to -- that it will be an important signal.

I think climate, particularly for Europeans is the signal. They -- it's the measure of whether we're responsible world citizens or not. And I don't know if that's entirely fair, but it's -- I think it's essential.

The challenge of the next president on the development assistance side, that I see from a narrower perspective, is that there's a debate in the development community right now on whether we should undertake a major development assistance reorganization -- have a Cabinet-level official, do a variety of adjustments in the way money is spent, or whether the next president should undertake a series of initiatives, like this one has done, on water, girls' education, women's justice and empowerment -- a variety of these issues.

So in the advocacy community there's a serious debate on what's -- on kind of next steps, as that moves forward.

So I think those are probably some of the main symbols, as we -- the next president engages. But there may be others --

KING: Sebastian, do you --

MALLABY: Yeah. I think there's also -- I would add one thing to that, which is a question of (caring ?). It seems to me that -- and this relates to questions that came up earlier. We are at a moment where the international system is peculiarly ill defined.

The United Nations has its own institutional problems in terms of who's on the Security Council, how much things get vetoed and so forth. A league of democracies is presented as an alternative, but that leaves out countries like China which are clearly very, very important players in the international system.

Any of these formulations leaves out non-governmental actors, which were extremely important. Just the financial crisis itself shows these -- a market where $60 trillion in swaps -- and in fact, just (credit ?) to (full ?) swaps can (go?) up on the basis of some contracts which lawyers wrote, posted on the Internet. This became the standard for creating international deals, and voila! That is international governance in the 21st century.

This is an incredibly disparate, decentralized, and amorphous system. And I think a kind of tonal question amongst the candidates about sort of -- show me that you appreciate that, that the leader of the United States is sort of trying to forge a consensus in a very disparate and non-polar world. I think that's actually also a test of who's got the right view for the future.

MR. : Let me pick up quickly on something that Mike said.

You put out two particular ways the United States could send a signal. I think it's going to be a lot easier to do that on Guantanamo than it is going to be to do that on climate, especially when it comes to Europe.

Guantanamo, there is a clear thing to do -- close it. Climate, I think the United States could go a long way and still be nowhere near where Europe would like us to be, partly in what it does domestically and partly in how it is willing to accommodate countries like China and India.

And I need to take us back to another important thing, which is managing expectations. I was living in London during the last president campaign, and that time around, it was Iran.

There was a sense amongst people that there would be a fundamental change in the U.S. approach to Iran if John Kerry, in that case, was elected. And it was fairly clear to a lot of us coming from the United States that that would not be the case. There would be changes, but nothing like what the Europeans were expecting.

I suspect there's a similar kind of expectation bubble in Europe when it comes to climate. There could be a lot of things done, but they will still fall far short of what a lot of Europeans are expecting, and managing that in advance could be quite useful.

LEVI (?): I agree with that. But I guess the entry-level commitment, though, is a cap-and-trade system, right? I mean, is agreeing to controls on carbon production -- pricing carbon.

And under those circumstances you can have a lot of debates on how you do it, but it does seem like -- I don't think that's politically easy either. I think it's unbelievably complicated, as we saw with the bill that was moving in this session.

But there is a binary aspect to that. do you put a price on carbon or not? And that is -- I think the breakthrough of this round is that both candidates, for the first time in American history, in a short debate on these issues, is committed to pricing carbon.

And so I do think that that, in a certain way, is progress. If you look at conservative parties in every English-speaking country other than the United States, they have taken an extraordinary leadership on green issues -- Canada and Great Britain and Australia and a lot of other places.

I think that we're likely to move in that direction. I think that McCain is a transitional figure in that way, and it could be quite important. So --

KING: Okay, great. Thank you. Well answered.

Yes, sir, right over here.

QUESTIONER: Charles -- (off mike). My question is about Guantanamo for Mr. Biddle.

To my mind, from an international point of view, Guantanamo was only a stand-in for Abu Ghraib. It was Abu Ghraib that undermined the American moral position, and undermined our war aims in Iraq.

And my question is what do the people in the Pentagon think about that? How did we get there, and what is the Army doing -- not just their political leadership, but within the ranks of the soldiers and the judge advocates who really care about this? How did we get in a position where our soldiers were doing these things, and what's being done to repair the conscience and discipline in the service?

BIDDLE: Well, my sense is that within the Army, the attitude is that this was a command climate issue. And I think there's something to that, if one defines command climate in senior enough terms.

I think the problem at Abu Ghraib, which was much broader than just Abu Ghraib, was that there was a general sense within the officer corps that there was very, very senior interest in getting more intelligence production out of interrogations and very, very little senior concern with what was done in order to produce that.

And that, in the absence of clear guidelines -- some bright lines; don't do this, this is permissible -- led to people who are culturally predisposed to go way out of their way to exceed the expectations of their superiors to gradually push the limits further and further out.

So -- and much of that, I think, has been reversed. Insurgency and counterinsurgency as forms of warfare tend to be prone to war crimes because of the inherent ambiguity of these forms of conflict per se.

So they require more than the usual levels of oversight and more than the usual levels of attention in order to prevent the war crimes that this kind of conflict tends to produce from undermining our objectives.

But I think there has been much greater attention that paid since Abu Ghraib and since the removal of the secretary of Defense, whose preferences, I submit, had a great deal to do with what ultimately happened at Abu Ghraib.

And I hope that at the ground level in the conduct of our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the -- as much has been done as can be done to reduce the incidence of these kinds of problems, because they so profoundly undermine success, both in particular theaters of war like Iraq and Afghanistan, but globally with respect to whatever struggle against whatever global group you think we might or might not be at war against.

KING: Okay. Do we have anybody who has a question about Asia or Europe who -- okay. Russ, right there.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Russ -- (inaudible) -- now teaching at SAIS. We're now 45 minutes or so into a conversation and Japan has not been mentioned once, which still remains the second biggest economy in the world.

I understand why Japan's low profile -- (inaudible) -- politics is not getting much attention. But I would posit that for any new administration that the major challenges of financial -- (inaudible) -- international financial system, energy, climate change, nonproliferation and nuclear energy, Japan will be a key partner.

And if either one of the candidates offered this as an opportunity for collaboration, there would tremendous resonance in Japan. He would leverage a lot of Japanese support.

So my question is, isn't it an opportunity for both the candidates not only to talk about problems, to talk about opportunities in trying to leverage future cooperation, not just talking about the countries that are giving us problems?

Thanks.

SMITH: The very quick answer to that, Russ, is yes. (Laughter.) And I think -- to be fair, I think both campaigns have done a lot to articulate their Asia policy and to point out to Tokyo that they take the U.S.-Japan partnership very seriously.

So I think you've got on both sides a fairly clear demonstration that that's the convictions that the two candidates have.

I think the larger question, though, is is Japan ready to step into that partnership? And this is not something for the debate on Friday for our candidates to address, to we are in a moment of political transition in Tokyo, and therefore I think it -- we have to remember that there's a certain degree to which we have to be attentive to the dynamics of that transition over there.

Absolutely, in the practical management of all the problems that you -- or the issue and opportunities that you laid out -- proliferation, financial management, larger system management in the global community -- the Japanese are and will continue to be a major partner in that endeavor, and we can't afford to move forward without them.

KING: Okay. All right, let's try this gentleman way in the back on the aisle. Yes, right there.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. John Doyle with Aviation Week and Space Technology Magazine.

Many of the people I've talked to about the presidential campaign have complained to me -- academics, people in industry, people in government -- that there have been blessed few specifics from the campaigns on a lot of the issues that we're talking about tonight and that they care about.

And given the relatively short life of the campaign now at this point, does the current economic crisis suck the air out of every other issue? Are we going to be able to address any of these things before Election Day?

KING: Great question. I think I'm going to actually ask pretty much all of you to try and answer that from the perspective of the different issue areas that you cover. But -- and then we can let Sebastian kind of do the cleanup on that answer, if you don't mind.

So if we could kind of quickly go down -- how about for you, Sheila?

SMITH: I think, again, opinion leaders, financial and political in Tokyo, are kind of breathless at the moment, and will continue to be. They have their own political problems to think about, but I think yes, I think --

We talked a little bit about how this may affect our -- the U.S. long-term power position. I think it goes without saying that the perception of American power in Asia is suffering, and our ability to manage crises like the kind of drastic crises I threw out for us to think about on North Korea, that will clearly -- will run through the minds of most of our partners in Asia.

Will China have more influence now, as it works with the United States, or less? And I think we have to deal with that perception quite straightforwardly.

KING: Jim?

GOLDGEIER: Well, I'd just -- I'd actually look, in the case of Europe and Russia, look at the flip side of that.

You know, we think about the Russia invasion of Georgia and there was a lot of talk, of course, about how -- when the Russians looked at it, what were they giving up? Because there wasn't anything going on in the U.S.-Russian relationship and the United States had very limited leverage.

The one thing people are looking at now is the effect of the financial crisis on Russia itself, the effect on the Russian stock market. Energy's up in the last couple of days, but depending on where that goes in the long term --

That's the one thing that's focused their attention on what the costs of their actions might be more than any of the other potential sort of normal national security issues that had been talked about at WTO or any of the other issues that had been discussed as possibly giving them pause.

MR. : There are two dimensions to your question. The one on whether this sucks out the opportunity to flesh out detail, actually, both campaigns have put out remarkably detailed plans on energy, and on climate in particular. I mean, mind-numbingly detailed plans. So I'm not so worried that they're going to lose the opportunity to add a 19th page to each of those proposals.

Of course, at a substantive level it has a significant effect because you're going to be in a very difficult spot if you want to talk about anything that can be painted as raising fuel prices. And that's the bottom line that makes it very difficult to have a serious conversation right now about energy and climate issues.

LEVI (?) : I think many of the questions, and all of the news that come out of the debate will concern the financial crisis. I think that's the way the news operates. There's one topic here; it's likely to be what the emphasis is.

And I do think a lot of these foreign policy issues that might be raised in the debate, because there will be questions about it, will be pretty generally ignored in the coverage.

BIDDLE: On defense issues, again, I think the air had largely been sucked out of the room before the financial crisis came up. And to a significant degree, I welcome that.

In other words, I think when it comes to the conduct of ongoing wars, there's a substantial opportunity for partisan bickering to pin candidates to positions that were advantageous in the course of the campaign but are very problematic from strategic terms.

So in a sense, I'm not terribly dissatisfied that the whole Iraq debate has been relatively muted in the course of the campaign. It's been muted because events have undermined both candidates' views -- in different ways, but to very substantial degrees. And hence, neither one of them has seen a lot of opportunity to undermine the other on this particular ground.

I don't think that's going to change. I agree that I think the issues are -- the ground on which the election will be conducted will be largely different. If I could conduct an ideal debate, it would involve defense issues at the level of abstraction I was talking about earlier.

I'm just as happy that we're not seeing constant TV ads about how many troops should be or shouldn't be withdrawn from Iraq by what date.

KING: Yeah. Good point.

Sebastian?

MALLABY: I think the financial crisis distracts and detracts from other issues in three ways. And the first two may be somewhat ephemeral, but sort of hope that people will focus on the third one, which I don't think is.

And the first way is just the media cycle will be focused on the crisis, as Michael says. That's fine; the media cycle will change at some point.

Another way is that sort of the U.S. soft power, the image of the U.S. as the successful financial model is clearly being tarnished. There's a lot of schadenfreude around the world with other leaders saying, ha, your deregulated financial system -- you preached to us for so long about how we should follow the U.S. economic model. Where is that Washington consensus now, eh? I mean, that kind of talk.

We had that, again, between 1987 when the Wall Street crash happened. There was a period for two years or so when the U.S. model was also regarded as being blemished. A kind of bank-led version of capitalism as practiced in Japan and Germany was on the ups in terms of soft power. But then we had Japan's financial crisis and Germany's economic downturn after unification, and that flipped around, as well.

What concerns me, and I wish that in a way the first two distractions did -- (inaudible) -- of distracting the third distraction. (Scattered laughter.)

The third distraction is really that we're facing a very significant cleanup bill from this at a time when we were already in deficit -- not only in budget deficit, but importantly, in external deficit, in debt to foreigners.

And it's this willingness of foreigners to continue to finance U.S. power that -- the sustainability of that really, really worries me. The fact that on the one hand, you know, Russia voted against the U.S. positions on Iraq in the United Nations, but financed those positions by buying U.S. bonds.

The question is will that continue?

KING: On that happy note, okay.

The gentleman way in the back there.

QUESTIONER: I'm Stephen -- (inaudible). After being Mitt Romney's foreign policy director for the last two years, it's very interesting to see this from this perspective and it's been a lot of fun. So thanks for all your insights.

A lot of your comments, I think particularly Sebastian's, touched on how many of these transnational issues are going to have to be quickly multilateralized in terms of approaches to solutions, whether it's the financial --

KING: Could you hold your mike a little -- thanks.

QUESTIONER: Yeah. Whether it's the financial crisis, terrorism, climate change, kind of beyond the democracy promotion aspects of the league of democracies.

How much, in your different areas, have you seen the candidates laying the groundwork for that kind of action early on, and what do you think the needs are in kind of our Cold War, international institution systems to address some of the breakdowns we've seen in the different areas you've laid out?

KING: Okay. Are you directing that to Sebastian?

(No audible response.)

MALLABY: Well, I don't have a very good specific take on -- I'm worried about characterizing the two candidates' positions, because I might have missed something.

But my general sense, as I said before, is that the tone is important, the tone of recognizing that the U.S. president is going to be more the chairman of the board in sort of rallying a disparate group of actors behind a position, and not some kind of -- (inaudible) -- combined into one who can just say here's what we're going to do.

And tonally, I think that sounds a bit more like Barack Obama than John McCain. But perhaps that's a -- (inaudible). I don't know what others think.

GOLDGEIER (?): I just -- I think it's -- one institution we haven't talked about is the G-8, and I don't bring it up from the standpoint of who would be left in and who would be kicked out. But from the --

When the G-7 was transformed to the G-8, you had a problem because Russia didn't really fit in at the time with the other major economies. So you had to have it do something else, right? And it was to chat about these kinds of issues that you're raising.

So you have a nuclear safety summit. You put climate change on that agenda. You put terrorism on that agenda. I mean, you put the -- when that was made a G-8, all of a sudden you put those transnational agendas into that body.

And the real question is are we going to try to use that entity for those kinds of issues, and if we are, then it's got to be expanded to include the other major actors out there who might be able to play a role.

Of course, there's also a question about whether or not you would actually institutionalize it as well so it was more than just the summer gatherings of the leaders with the meetings of the relevant finance ministers during the year, and having a different transnational issue put on the agenda every year by whoever the host is.

But that is one institution in which you had moved towards discussing transnational issues and there's probably a big opening to do a lot more with that.

KING: Okay. We have time -- we have just three more minutes, so we have time for maybe two questions.

This gentleman back here.

QUESTIONER: Len Rubenstein with Physicians for Human Rights.

One issue that candidates occasionally talk about but has otherwise completely fallen off the screen, even before the financial crisis, was Darfur and the general issue of U.S. leadership on stopping atrocities around the world.

What do you think are the opportunities for the next president?

KING: Yeah. Michael?

GERSON (?): I think it relates to the last question, to some extent, because I agree that Senator Obama is more likely to be engaged on international level and -- put faith in these institutions.

But the reality on Darfur is that this administration, for the last few years, has been meticulously multilateral. And it -- working with the most complicated groups that you can -- groupings that you can imagine, from the Security Council to the Arab League to African regional organizations, to others.

And the basic result of our current international system as it relates to genocide is complete inertia. So it's hard to talk about these things --

You also have to talk about not only who's more likely to engage in these kind of efforts effectively, but also who might be more likely, when they fail to act anyway. That's actually an important foreign policy value, when human lives are at stake.

And so -- I'm not sure how that pans out necessarily. I think that you can make arguments either way. But that is an area where if you're talking about international infrastructure, you don't have a particularly good one right now.

And it's -- you're left with, I think, in the long term, trying to develop the capacity and ambition of regional organizations, which are absolutely essential. You're left with trying to make do at the United Nations.

But for a variety of reasons, with China and Africa and other things, it's just very, very hard. And then you're left with the possibility, even though it's deeply discredited but sometimes necessary, of coalitions of the willing to do things that no one else will do. And in those, if the United States doesn't lead, no one else does anything in the world.

And so sometimes you need the more directive model, it seems to me.

KING: Well, with that, I want to thank everyone. I'm sorry; we are out of time. I thank all of our panelists for leading a very rich conversation, if not a somewhat depressing conversation at times. (Laughter.) But I hope that you were all armed for the debate on Friday and hope that you will all be sure to tune in and watch and judge for yourself.

So thank you all very much for coming and thank you all for -- (inaudible).

(Applause.)

STX

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