from Politics, Power, and Preventive Action and Center for Preventive Action

How to Watch the U.S. Presidential Debate

A worker helps to erect an ornamental eagle on the stage for the U.S. presidential debate in Denver, Colorado (Rick Wilking/Courtesy Reuters).

October 3, 2012

A worker helps to erect an ornamental eagle on the stage for the U.S. presidential debate in Denver, Colorado (Rick Wilking/Courtesy Reuters).
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Tonight’s presidential debate in Denver is supposed to focus on domestic issues, so prepare yourself for lots of talk about the power of job creators, Romneycare versus Obamacare, and fiscal cliffs. Nevertheless, given that foreign policy issues have been at the heart of Mitt Romney’s recent attacks on President Obama, it is likely that international affairs will creep into the discussion.

A Romney campaign spokesperson warned that the Republican candidate would "crystallize the choice for voters on the issue of foreign policy and national security," and "lay out a stronger vision for American foreign policy based on the strong leadership that we need to shape world events and protect American interests and ideals." If Romney’s op-ed, “A New Course for the Middle East,” is any indication, that vision will be adjective-dense and recommendation-free.

Meanwhile, President Obama consistently outpolls Romney on the question of who would be a better commander in chief (45 to 38 percent), or better at handling foreign policy (52 to 45 percent)—although those slim leads could be quickly erased in the event of the infamous “October surprise.” At the same time, the White House is goading Romney to provide specifics on his foreign policy agenda. As the White House spokesperson Jay Carney said on Monday: “What we know about, in this case Governor Romney’s foreign policy, is that on the very—the areas that you mentioned, his actual proposals—if he has any—are no different from what the President is actually doing.”

As you watch the presidential debates, here are ten foreign policy issues to keep in mind:

  1. Does Romney use the word "capability" when stating that he will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon?
  2. How does Romney’s strategy for preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon differ from that of President Obama, other than use of the term “crippling sanctions”?
  3. Does Romney defend his characterization of Russia as the “number one geopolitical foe” of the United States?
  4. Does either candidate endorse providing lethal aid to Syria’s rebels? If so, what do they claim it would accomplish?
  5. Does either candidate endorse intervening directly in Syria’s civil war with airstrikes, a no-fly zone, or the establishment of humanitarian corridors?
  6. Does either candidate endorse an accelerated timetable for removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, or for extending the U.S. military presence beyond 2014?
  7. Does either candidate say “Latin America,” “India,” or “Africa”? (Excluding reference to the Benghazi consulate attack.)
  8. How does Obama defend or explain the successes of his Afghanistan strategy, now that an important element of that strategy—a peace agreement with the Taliban—has collapsed?
  9. Does Obama acknowledge drone strikes in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen?
  10. Does Obama explain the legal rationale for authorizing the deaths of four U.S. citizens (three of whom were unintentional victims)?

If you are playing a drinking game while watching the debate, take a drink every time Romney uses the words "leadership" and "strength," and every time Obama says “folks” or “bin Laden.”

More on:

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Diplomacy and International Institutions

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