Defense & National Security

The last presidential debate: A wish list

The last presidential debate: A wish list

Spoiler alert. Bob Schieffer of CBS’s Face the Nation will moderate Monday’s third and final presidential debate, and unlike the first two, the candidates–and the public–have a chance to gander at the topics to be addressed, all in the realm of foreign policy and national security.

They are: “The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism,” “Our longest war – Afghanistan and Pakistan,” “Red Lines – Israel and Iran,” “The Rise of China and Tomorrow’s World,” and “America’s role in the world.”

This announcement gives political publications a window of opportunity to help Schieffer by proposing their own dynamic questions on the assigned topics.

Only, if there’s one thing we can learn from the first two presidential face-offs, the questions don’t really matter. Both candidates will address the topics writ large and ignore the questions they prefer not to answer. And with two-minute time limits, they’ll get away with it too.

But hope springs eternal. With announced topics in hand, let’s lay out what the candidates will say about each one, and the more crucial questions we hope they’ll address.

America’s role in the world

What Mitt Romney might say (again):

“The 21st century can and must be an American century. It began with terror and war and economic calamity. It’s our duty to steer it onto the path of freedom and peace and prosperity.”

What we want to hear Romney discuss: What are appropriate criteria for U.S. military intervention in global affairs, and his philosophy of a just war.

What Barack Obama might say (again):

“ … Contrary to the claims of some, American leadership is not simply a matter of going it alone and bearing all of the burden ourselves. Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well; to work with allies and partners so that they bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs; and to see that the principles of justice and human dignity are upheld by all.”

What we want to hear Obama discuss:

Why he is more concerned about getting the approval of the United Nations and NATO than the approval of Congress to take decisive military action in, say, Iran or Syria.

Our longest war–Afghanistan and Pakistan

What Romney might say (again):

“ President Obama in December 2009 announced he would support a “surge” that would entail introducing an additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan. But in the very same speech announcing the surge, he put forward a timetable for withdrawal. The mixed message left our Afghan allies in doubt about our resolve and encouraged the Taliban to believe that they could wait us out…Withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan under a Romney administration will be based on conditions on the ground as assessed by our military commanders with the goal of completing the transition of combat operations to the Afghan Army by the end of 2014.”

What we want to hear Romney discuss:

His plans for after the drawdown ends. Will training and development of Afghan troops receive adequate U.S. support and funding? How many resources will go toward the continued pursuit of al Qaeda leaders and operatives?
What Obama might say (again):

“I put forward a specific plan to bring our troops home from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.  We are in the process of doing that right now. And when I say I’m going to bring them home, you know they’re going to come home.”

“Over the last three years, the tide has turned. The goal that I set — to defeat al-Qaeda, and deny it a chance to rebuild — is within reach.”

What we want to hear Obama discuss:

What the more than 2,000 U.S. troops will have died for when the war ends on Obama’s schedule, in 2014 like clockwork. Why he chose to announce a timeline for withdrawal, giving the Taliban the confidence to say, “you have the watches, we have the time.”  Why al-Qaeda is still growing in strength in Pakistan and elsewhere, despite Obama’s claims, and how Benghazi changes the equation for the U.S.

Red lines–Israel and Iran

What Romney might say (again):

“President Obama is fond of lecturing Israel’s leaders. He was even caught by a microphone deriding them. He has undermined their position, which was tough enough as it was. And even at the United Nations, to the enthusiastic applause of Israel’s enemies, he spoke as if our closest ally in the Middle East was the problem. The people of Israel deserve better than what they have received from the leader of the free world. And the chorus of accusations, threats, and insults at the United Nations should never again include the voice of the President of the United States.”

What we want to hear Romney discuss:

Whether the U.S. would allow Israel to make the first move in a military action against Iran. How policy with Israel will substantively change in a Romney administration.

What Obama might say (as a senior administration official has said):

“We need some ability for the president to have decision-making room. We have a red line, which is a nuclear weapon. We’re committed to that red line.”

What we want to hear Obama discuss:

Why, if he is a close friend of Israel, has the running list of public and private slights grown so long? And at what point, if any, would the Obama administration give up on negotiation and sanctions in dealing with Iran and actually call for military action? What is the U.S. red line?

The rise of China and tomorrow’s world

What Romney might say (again):

On day one, I will label China a currency manipulator, which will allow me as president to be able to put in place, if necessary, tariffs where I believe that they are taking unfair advantage of our manufacturers.”

“I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it. That’s number one.”

What we want to hear Romney discuss:

How he’s prepared to weather the economic consequences of cracking down on China, and what he perceives those consequences to be.

What Obama might say (again):

“So when you hear this new found outrage, when you see these ads (Romney’s) running promising to get tough on China, it feels a lot like that fox saying, ‘You know, we need more secure chicken coops.’ I mean, it’s just not credible.”

What we want to hear Obama discuss:

Why the administration broke its own stimulus program rules to buy solar panels from China. Why Obama has failed to confront China’s cheating and manipulation while the U.S. lost a reported 450,000 jobs in the first two years of his presidency.

The changing Middle East and the new face of terrorism, I and II (this topic may transition into another discussion of the attacks on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on this year’s anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks)

What Romney might say (again):

“It was a terrorist attack, and it took a long time for that to be told to the American people. Whether there was some misleading or instead whether we just didn’t know what happened, I think you have to ask yourself why didn’t we know five days later when the ambassador to the United Nations went on TV to say that this was a demonstration. How could have we not known?”

What we want to hear Romney discuss:

What Benghazi means for U.S. policy in the Middle East. How Romney would work to keep such a devastating attack from happening again.

What Obama might say (again):

“Number one, beef up our security and — and — and procedures not just in Libya but every embassy and consulate in the region. Number two, investigate exactly what happened, regardless of where the facts lead us, to make sure that folks are held accountable and it doesn’t happen again. And number three, we are going to find out who did this, and we are going to hunt them down, because one of the things that I’ve said throughout my presidency is when folks mess with Americans, we go after them.”

What we want to hear Obama discuss:

Why he went before the United Nations 13 days after the attacks and mentioned a video six times in connection with the violence, though his intelligence people knew well before then that the assault was a coordinated terror attack, not a riot.

If he and other administration officials planned to deliberately mislead the American people on the nature of the violence, and why he still has yet to discuss what this new terrorist attack means for U.S. policy and security. Why the State Department did not pay more attention to the Libyan embassies’ requests for more security.

That’s our wish list for Debate No. 3. At least, that would be a good start.

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