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10 foreign policy questions for the third presidential debate

10 foreign policy questions for the third presidential debate

Source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Finally the topic of foreign policy will be confronted. So far it has been a drought for U.S. foreign policy experts and lovers. The question about the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya causing the killing of four American diplomats has been one of the very few foreign policy themes tackled so far. However, the discussion on Libya has been far from substantial and instructive. Only the vice presidential debate led by the excellent ABC News’ Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent, Martha Raddatz, touched on important foreign policy questions such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Libya. It came at no surprise to see Joe Biden winning the foreign policy segment of the debate.

10 foreign policy questions for the third presidential debate

Source: David Goldman / AP

When it comes to the foreign policy of President Obama, it has been quite disappointing towards Europe. Obama’s overall strategy for the coming decade and century is certainly to adjust the U.S. grand strategy towards Asia. This put aside, Obama may have fallen short from European expectations, which are for his defense impossible to fulfill. The lack of agreement directly after the early rounds of the financial crisis, which led the way to the disappointing G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh, proved the limited agreement between the two sides of pond on how to solve the crisis. However, the Libyan mission was an example of cooperation between several European partners and the US. The fact that the U.S. “led from behind” should not be seen as a decline of U.S. power, but rather as the right approach to European demands and the Libyan mission. French President, Mr. Sarkozy, and British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, were the ones pushing for a military intervention in Libya. The military capabilities of France and Britain being too small and limited needed to be complemented by U.S. superior military capabilities. Obama’s record to transatlantic relations has been weak.

Romney’s foreign policy remains a mystery. Outside the fact of blaming President Obama for hurting the exceptionalism of the U.S. and describing Mr. Obama as a weak and “too apologetic” president, Mr. Romney does not offer any alternatives to Obama’s current foreign policy. Mr. Romney only foreign trips as presidential candidate were in Britain, Israel and Poland. Despite British attraction to the U.S., Mitt Romney managed to upset America’s closest ally. Furthermore, his identification of Russia as the real threat to U.S. survival and security is as well quite erroneous. Even though Russia remains a powerful world actor, considering its seat at the U.N. Security Council, it does not reflect the reality of the current shift of the balance of power. Last but not least, the narrative used by Mitt Romney during the two first debates on picking on Europe in order to illustrate the worst case scenario for the weak economic recovery of the U.S. has been quite offensive to many Europeans. Romney has overused the reference of “deficit-ridden Spain as a poorly administered economy,” which clearly illustrates Romney’s lacks of diplomatic tact and knowledge of the Eurocrisis. Without any surprise, Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo reacted by claiming that “Romney is making analogies that aren’t based on reality.” The recurring references of Europe as a lost continent by Romney certainly do not help in strengthening Romney’s credibility and respectability in Europe.

10 foreign policy questions for the third presidential debate

Cartoon by Patrick Chappatte. Published in the New York Times on October 2, 2012

From a European perspective, Romney has not been favored on the other side of the pond as proved by recent polls, and is fairly unknown to many Europeans. Obama has remained the “chouchou” of Europeans and has undeniably changed European perceptions vis-à-vis the U.S. Part of the uneasiness of Europeans with Romney is the fact that many neoconservative advisers would certainly work for a Romney administration. Europeans remember the damage caused by the eight years of Bush and their heavy toll on the transatlantic relationship. However, a Romney administration would certainly offer a scapegoat for European leaders, which has been missing during the Obama’s presidency.

Here is a list of 10 questions relating to Europe that hopefully will be asked by the moderator, Bob Scheiffler of CBS, to the candidates tonight:

  1. How would you increase the degree of cooperation with European partners on the solving of the Eurocrisis?
  2. What should be the role of NATO in the 21st century? Should it remain focus on its original mission? Or should NATO become a military alliance responding to emerging world crisis?
  3. Should NATO become the main platform of discussion in order to solve the Iranian crisis? Or should the U.N. remain the central platform?
  4. Considering the visceral crisis in Europe, is it still necessary to call on European partners to increase their defense budgets and contributions to NATO budget?
  5. Could the strengthening of the transatlantic alliance offer more legitimacy to the U.S. in dealing with the “rise of the rest”?
  6. In the training of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, European and Americans have diverging strategies: the US is emphasizing on military training, while the Europeans are boosting up the civilian dimension. How could the U.S. and its European partners work closer in the making of the next Afghan police and army?
  7. Should the U.S. and Europeans increase their degree of cooperation in interacting with Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya?
  8. Does a military intervention in Syria make any more sense at this point for either the U.S. and the Europeans?
  9. How can the U.S. and Europeans solve their differences in solving rising problems linked to climate change?
  10. Mali has emerged as the latest bastion allowing for a resurgence of al-Qaeda. The French are keen on launching a military action. How should the U.S. respond to this crisis? And should the U.S. assist the Europeans in the same fashion than Libya?

In any case, expect to read my reactions following the debate.



Maxime H.A. Larivé

Maxime Larivé holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and European Politics from the University of Miami (USA). He is currently working at the EU Center of Excellence at the University of Miami as a Research Associate. His research focus on the questions of the European Union, foreign policy analysis, security studies, and European security and defense policy. Maxime has published several articles in the Journal of European Security, Perceptions, and European Union Miami Analysis as well as World Politics Review.