The week got off to a disappointing start for foreign policy junkies.
Thomas Merton wrote that no man is an island, and in this era of globalization few men can live on one, either. Globalization has connected the corners of the world so that there is no ignorance of a genocide or a famine or revolution on any continent — though there are still blind eyes. Perhaps politics for many stops at the street corner, perhaps the exposure brought by this glut of global information is overwhelming or a turn-off, but foreign policy is ranked nearly at the rock bottom of voters’ priority issues.
Thumbing their noses in the face of these voter rankings, the presidential campaigns agreed that the final match-up between the two candidates would focus on foreign policy. That’s how the Monday night face-off in Florida was billed, and where moderator Bob Schieffer desperately tried to steer the conversation.
But the economy got the better of the 90 minutes as Mitt Romney steered back to his comfort zone and President Obama followed for tussles over the auto bailout, teachers, unemployment, and more.
The Arab Spring predictably made the cut. Benghazi opened the night with a surprisingly finger-pointing-less exchange. And Osama bin Laden’s been tugged around the campaign trail on nearly every Democratic stop.
Mali got a few shout-outs. The massacre in Syria got some well-deserved time for Romney and Obama to agree that they agree. The Middle East is always a staple. Nuclear Pakistan and nearly nuclear Iran wedged their way in. Japan was mentioned — by the moderator.
What foreign policy issues that voters should know about were missed in the debate? A few spring to mind.
The Euro crisis: Very surprising that this wasn’t a topic considering how Obama frequently blames Europe for our sluggish economic recovery. With Europeans increasingly resistant to the austerity measures needed to get houses back in order, where does that leave the crisis’ influence on U.S. markets? New reports this week indicated the disaster in the 17-member bloc is getting even worse, with debt hitting 90 percent of GDP. Plus, the Angela Merkel-Nicolas Sarkozy team that was helming the belt-tightening efforts has been broken up by Sarkozy’s French election defeat this year — and replacement with socialist Francois Hollande. Panique!
Russia: This is about much more than the jabs over Obama’s hot-mic intentions to bend backward/forward for world leaders should he get re-elected. What’s so bad about the reign of Czar Putin? For one, any democracy, free speech, or rule of law left is rapidly evaporating — ask anyone from Garry Kasparov to Mikhail Khodorkovsky to Pussy Riot. For another, if you probe into the nefarious affairs of the Kremlin you have a tendency to end up dead — see journalist Anna Politkovskaya and whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky (whose death sparked sanctions efforts in Congress). There is plenty of internal discontent that could come to a head in the next four years, as evidenced by the protests calling for fair elections (and then Putin got the presidency again, go figure). And the Kremlin, on a nationalist tear, has gone out of its way to indicate that any “embarrassment” suffered in the fall of the Soviet Union will not be repeated. They’ve been happy to cut deals with every nefarious regime, yet dangerously wield veto power at the UN Security Council. Syrians are killed with Russian arms, they’ve tried to supply Iran, and today Nigerian officials intercepted a boat full of Russian arms headed for the country wracked by an Islamist insurgency. This resurrected autocracy will sell its soul to the highest bidder, and put global security at risk in the process.