Last night’s presidential debate on domestic policy offered a brief preview of the upcoming foreign policy debates.
When it comes to popular perception, China arguably embodies the threat to U.S. competitiveness more than any other country. Last night, only Mr. Romney brought up China, and his remarks include the following (transcript available here):
My plan has five basic parts…Number two, open up more trade, particularly in Latin America; crack down on China if and when they cheat.
What things would I cut from spending? Well, first of all, I will eliminate all programs by this test — if they don’t pass it: Is the program so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?
This election centers around the economy, and invariably, the candidates will frame foreign policy issues accordingly. If he is elected president, Mr. Romney’s characterization of China as “cheating” (not to mention his previous comments about currency manipulation) could make his first meetings with China needlessly difficult. Indeed, Henry Kissinger, a Romney supporter, has expressed concern about both candidates’ aggressive China rhetoric. Nonetheless, these comments touch powerfully on American voters’ frustration with the state of the economy, and the polling numbers hint that Mr. Romney’s China stance is paying off.
The candidates also discussed military spending, though fairly briefly. Attacking Mr. Romney’s tax plan, President Obama stated, “…Governor Romney’s central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut, on top of the extension of the Bush tax cuts, so that’s another $2 trillion, and $2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn’t asked for.” Later on, Mr. Romney responded to the issue of military cuts, arguing, “We have a responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of our people, and that means the military, second to none. I do not believe in cutting our military. I believe in maintaining the strength of America’s military.” We should expect to see this discussion continue in the other debates, and as I’ve previously mentioned, the possibility of sequestration-related military cuts could make this discussion particularly confusing.
I found it disappointing that the plight of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq—a domestic issue with an economic angle if there ever was one—was not mentioned once by either candidate. Soldiers returning from these war zones face notorious challenges with healthcare and employment, issue areas that were otherwise addressed in granular detail during the debate.* Personally, I think the candidates owe it to the men and women who are currently going through these difficult transitions to address veterans’ issues in future debates.
The next debate between the candidates is on October 16, and it will focus on foreign policy and domestic policy, as will the vice presidential debate on October 11. The third debate, on October 22, will focus exclusively on foreign policy. For more information on the foreign policy issues in this election, I suggest checking out the Foreign Policy Association’s Election Guide and candidate selector quiz. Writing the introduction to the Election Guide, I was lucky enough to have an early look at contributors’ chapters on topics ranging from the economy to Iran, and I found it very thought-provoking as I geared up for debate season.
*Indeed, Big Bird, in the context of public funding for Sesame Street, is the leitmotif of today’s discussions on the debate. I suggest reading astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s tweet about the situation.