The Candidates and The World

Transition 2012

A guide to foreign policy and the 2012 U.S. presidential transition.

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Midday Update: Candidates to Debate Foreign Policy Tonight

by Newsteam Staff
October 22, 2012

Photo of the Day: Supporters of GOP nominee Mitt Romney cheer at a campaign rally in Daytona Beach, Florida October 19, 2012. (Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters) Photo of the Day: Supporters of GOP nominee Mitt Romney cheer at a campaign rally in Daytona Beach, Florida October 19, 2012. (Jim Young/Courtesy Reuters)


President Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney meet for their third and final debate tonight, which will focus on foreign policy topics (NYT).

As the incumbent, Obama has a perceived edge on foreign policy topics (Reuters), but Romney is now running nearly even with him in polls on who would make better foreign policy decisions.

CFR President Richard Haass says the candidates should be asked both how they will deal with foreign policy challenges and what they would do ensure the United States can be positioned to meet them:

What makes far less sense is the entire premise of Monday evening. Categorizing some issues as “foreign” and others as “domestic” bears little relationship to a world in which what happens out there affects conditions here and vice versa. This is the inescapable reality of globalization, the defining characteristic of the 21st century world.

In fact, some issues are by their very nature both foreign and domestic. Immigration is one, as is energy policy, climate change, drugs, trade and finance. They risk falling between the agendas of debates limited to dealing with matters either internal or external. Do the candidates agree we should allow for more highly educated persons to come and live in this country? What should be done to increase production of oil, decrease consumption of fossil fuels and slow climate change? What are their suggestions for reducing the demand for drugs? What would they do to expand American exports or increase foreign investment in the United States?

Four CFR experts have weighed in on the questions and issues they believe warrant discussion during the exchange in this expert roundup. CFR’s Robert Danin on his blog looks at the debate and the Middle East. Meanwhile CFR’s Michael Levi looks at five reasons to talk energy and climate at tonight’s debate. And CFR’s James Lindsay looks at five memorable foreign policy moments from previous presidential debates.

Read what Obama and Romney are proposing for a number of major foreign policy topics in these CFR Issue Trackers.

Chris Cillizza writes in the Washington Post that, “If, at the start of the general election campaign, you told a seasoned political strategist in either party that the fate of the presidential race could well hinge on the foreign-policy-focused third debate, the reaction would have ranged from an eye roll to laughter.”

But a new poll by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs shows that “the majority of likely voters in the critical swing states of Florida and Ohio not only know more about the world outside, but care more, and want to know more than most candidates imagine,” writes the Belfer Center’s Graham Allison and Mike Murphy in the Politico. They also note:

When asked what international issues they want to hear Romney and Obama speak to, the first responses are Iran’s nuclear weapons program and terrorism, far ahead of the global economy. Both in Ohio and Florida, by a margin of almost 2-1,voters believe the Arab Spring has affected American interests negatively, not positively. Voters have mixed views on U.S. global engagement and are split almost down the middle on isolationism. Given that Florida Republicans and independents overwhelmingly take the view the U.S. should pay less attention to problems overseas, two decidedly internationalist candidates will tread carefully.

But even those who oppose America taking a more active role in foreign affairs believe that understanding foreign affairs is essential because events abroad can increase the threat of terrorism or draw America into foreign wars.

Citing unnamed Obama administration officials, the New York Times reported Saturday that Iran and the United States had agreed “in principle” to bilateral negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program after the election. Both countries denied that any deal has been reached (AFP), but advisers for the Obama and Romney campaigns clashed over the issue (LAT) on Sunday talk shows and it is also likely to arise in tonight’s debate.

Mitt Romney declined to answer a question Sunday about whether or not he would support one-on-one talks with Iran (AP).

This CFR Issue Tracker looks at both candidates’ stances on U.S.-Iran policy.

–Contributing Editor Kirsti Itameri


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