Four Debate Questions for Obama and Romney
There will always be a wide gap between what candidates promise and what they deliver once elected, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. After all, this is an area where U.S. presidents have less control than either candidate will ever admit near a microphone. But this year, there are contradictions that cut straight to the heart of debates over American power and how it should be used. With that in mind, here are the questions I would like to see each candidate answer.
THE CHINA CONUNDRUM
- President Obama, given how much money the United States borrows from China each day, how can your administration expect to persuade the Chinese government to do anything it wouldn’t otherwise do?
- Governor Romney, you have pledged that, if elected, you will formally label China a “currency manipulator” on day one of your presidency. This decision would surely provoke a sharp response from China. Are you risking a trade war, and how could the United States win a trade war with China?
China-bashing has figured into many a U.S. presidential campaign. As China’s economy and geopolitical importance has grown — and as U.S. manufacturing jobs have moved from U.S. swing states to China and other foreign countries — both sides have tried to score points by promising to “get tough” with Beijing. Given the economic interdependence of the two countries and continued Chinese willingness to loan money to the United States, voters are right to wonder how seriously they should take all this anti-Chinese rhetoric.
SYRIA AND THE MIDDLE EAST
- President Obama, does the United States have a moral responsibility to protect Syrians from their government?
- Governor Romney, if we were to see large-scale pro-democracy demonstrations in Saudi Arabia, similar to those we saw last year in Cairo, would your administration side with the Saudi citizens demanding democracy? Or would you side with their government, a key U.S. ally?
President Obama cited moral concerns for the U.S.-led NATO intervention in Libya. Syria is a much more politically and logistically complicated problem for outsiders contemplating involvement, but the moral imperative — protecting citizens who are being killed by their government — appears the same. Where is the line in U.S. foreign policy between pragmatism and moral concerns?
Governor Romney has two principle criticisms of the Obama Middle East policy: The White House has refused to stand with U.S. allies in the region and has refused to stand with those who demand freedom. There are many ways to highlight the contradiction in these critiques, but the most efficient is to ask about Romney’s attitude toward the potential for pro-democracy demonstrations inside an authoritarian state that is also a crucial U.S. ally and the world’s leading producer of crude oil.
THE GLOBALIZED ECONOMY
- President Obama, how can the U.S. government work with American corporations to ensure that they can effectively compete against state-owned corporations, like those in China, that benefit from the financial and political backing of their home governments?
- Governor Romney, is an economically-sound Europe good for America’s national security? If so, what, if anything, would your administration do to strengthen Europe in this moment of crisis?
Beyond the basic question of what role government should play in promoting U.S. business abroad, the next president will have to consider how U.S. companies can succeed on a global competitive playing field distorted by governments like China’s that use state-owned companies to achieve goals that are ultimately political.
Europe’s economic struggles continue to weigh on U.S. growth. But at a time when there is a focus on reducing U.S. government spending, what credible steps can and should the U.S. government take to bolster the eurozone?
WHAT’S WORTH FIGHTING FOR?
- President Obama, are democracy and free market capitalism values that America should actively export to other countries? If so, what will you do in a second term to accomplish this goal?
- Governor Romney, what lessons from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would you use as president to decide how, where and under what circumstances to send American men and women into harm’s way?
At times, Governor Romney has hinted at a willingness to use U.S. military assets in Syria and Iran. President Obama has taken a relatively pragmatic and risk-averse approach to foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. Election season in general — and foreign policy debates in particular — invite a lot of high-minded rhetoric about support for freedom around the world and American exceptionalism. But what is actually possible for U.S. foreign policy at a moment when more Americans than ever tell pollsters that they want the United States to “mind its own business” internationally?
PHOTO: Students playing the parts of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) and U.S. President Barack Obama rehearse on the set of the final U.S. presidential debate in Boca Raton, Florida October 21, 2012. REUTERS/Rick Wilking