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Ready for the Foreign Policy Debate?


Ready for the Foreign Policy Debate?

Photo Credit: AP Photos

I’m looking forward to the upcoming presidential debate on foreign policy. This will be the final debate before election day and will be held in Florida on Monday night at 9pm ET and hosted by Bob Schieffer of CBS News. According to the  Commission on Presidential Debates we can expect the debate to cover several topics, including America’s role in the world, the Afghanistan war, Israel and Iran, the overall Middle East, terrorism, and China. Even as I’m looking forward to it, I have to admit that I don’t have high expectations, not after the last debate. If you will recall, in the last debate Obama and Romney did talk about Libya, but the way in which they did it discouraged me. To hear the candidates tell it, the issue with Libya was how the attack on the consulate and the murder of Ambassador Stevens and his staff was revealed to the American people by administration officials. It has evolved into a “gotcha” news story about who knew what and when. Does it matter precisely when the attack was labeled a terrorist act? Romney said it took two weeks for the Obama team to call it terrorism, Obama countered that he called it terrorism the day after the attack. To me, the real issue with Libya is that the U.S. was attacked on 9/11/12. We should focus on who attacked us and how quickly they can be brought to justice, not when a certain word was used to describe the attack.

So, yes, I do expect more political spin in the upcoming debate, even as I hope for a much more reasoned discussion about the war in Afghanistan, the “reset” with Russia (the Nunn-Lugar Treaty just fell apart, in case anyone is paying attention), and U.S. relations with China. If you, like me, are turned off by having complex issues reduced to soundbites and slogans, there are a few resources I recommend as we look forward to the debate. The Foreign Policy Association has prepared an election guide (a nice downloadable PDF) that breaks down the foreign policy positions of each candidate. As I mentioned in my last post, the Council on Foreign Relations also has a very detailed resource page covering foreign policy issues in the election. And here’s a nice contribution from my day job, the International Studies Association’s journal publisher Wiley-Blackwell has produced a free online issue devoted to foreign policy issues in U.S. presidential elections. This online issue was compiled by the editor of Foreign Policy Analysis, one of the top academic journals devoted to foreign policy, and brings together articles from five academic journals. You can check out how scholars are discussing foreign policy issues here, a source guaranteed to be free of soundbites and slogans.

Finally, after the debate, be sure to stop by FactCheck and PolitiFact to compare what the candidates said with the facts.


Joel Davis

Joel Davis is the Director of Online Services at the International Studies Association in Tucson, Arizona. He is a graduate of the University of Arizona, where he received his B.A. in Political Science and Master's degree in International Relations. He has lived in the UK, Italy and Eritrea, and his travels have taken him to Canada, Brazil, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and Greece.

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Areas of Focus:
State Department; Diplomacy; US Aid; and Alliances.

Contact Joel by e-mail at [email protected].