Foreign Policy Blogs

Taking Note of the Election's Absent Issues

Two reporters from abroad have separately noticed and reported that certain issues and regions have been neglected in the US presidential campaign.

First, Jonathan Marcus, a BBC News diplomatic correspondent, reported last week that “US campaign bypasses foreign policy:”

“At the outset of this presidential race it looked as though foreign policy would be one of the dominant issues in the campaign…

Adapting the United States to a fast-changing world, extricating its armed forces from Iraq, and restoring the country's standing in the wake of “the global war on terror” would be sufficient foreign policy challenges for any new president.

Add to this the linked crises in Afghanistan and Pakistan; Iran's nuclear programme, and the quest for Middle East peace and you have more than enough to keep any administration occupied.

Foreign policy was also expected to play a significant tactical role in this campaign. It is after all one of the big selling points for Republican contender Senator John McCain…

But out on the campaign trail, foreign policy appears to have all but disappeared as an issue in this race. Even Iraq – still one of the thorniest of problems – has fallen from the headlines…”

In the Daily Nation of Kenya last week, the headline read: “Africa mentioned only in passing in all the debates:”

“Africa has been mentioned only fleetingly in the concluded US presidential debates, a reflection of how low the continent rates.

In three debates between Democratic Party candidate Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, as well as one debate between their respective vice presidential running-mates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, Africa has been mentioned only in passing as a foreign policy or security issue of concern to the US.

In the final debate between Mr Obama and Mr McCain last Wednesday at the Hofstra University in New York, there was not a single reference or mention of Africa.

In the second debate on October 7 at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, there were some passing references to Africa by both Mr Obama and Mr McCain, the focus mostly being on the situation in Darfur, Sudan, and the issue of US support for any intervention. There were also references to Somalia, the Rwanda genocide.

The first debate on September 26 at the University of Mississippi saw two fleeting mentions, both by Mr Obama, on his Kenyan origins and on Chinese presence in Africa.

According to Prof Walter Mead, a Senior Fellow for US foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, the dearth of African issues at the debates cannot be interpreted to mean that the continent does not matter.

“In debates the things presidential candidates spend time on what they disagree on,” he says, “that's not a sign that there is no interest in Africa…”



Melinda Brouwer

Melinda Brower holds a Masters degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received a graduate diploma in International Relations from the University of Chile during her tenure as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has worked on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, for Foreign Policy magazine and the American Academy of Diplomacy. She presently works for an internationally focused non-profit research organization in Washington, DC.