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.
China: Russia’s partner-in-veto holds a lot more over America’s head than the Kremlin simply by holding our debt. So administrations have played nice with Beijing even as the communist experiment continues and gathers steam. Presidents timidly call out China for human-rights abuses, knowing the characteristic shunning will follow as the Foreign Ministry keeps a scorecard of American slights. Never mind the cyber attacks and threats posed by infiltration into the technology sector, as recently flagged by Congress. Consider the Chinese military buildup that keeps its short-range missiles trained on Taiwan and medium-range missiles fixed on its neighbors, all while exporting missile technology to nefarious world actors (including North Korea — think the son’s not going to try something to assert his “legacy” in the shadow of famous pop and granddad?) and keeping a long-range fix on the U.S. in case Washington tries to interfere in its claims. This relationship stinks all around while the only real focus in the debate was over who exports jobs to the People’s Republic. “China is both an adversary, but also a potential partner in the international community if it’s following the rules,” Obama said Monday night. It should be 100 percent apparent they have little interest in following Washington’s rules.
Latin America: It’s not just Fast and Furious — though the botched gun walking operation helped highlight north of the border the continuing cartel wars just to the south. Romney advocated taking advantage of the “huge opportunity for us — time zone, language opportunities” in expanding trade in the region, but there are hurdles. A new leader is sworn in down in Mexico come Dec. 1 along with a return to the leftist party that ruled the country for decades: the PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto. As many Mexicans fear a return to corruption and repression of the past, the drug wars have taken 55,000 lives in the past six years and haven’t exactly created an environment for economic growth. Meanwhile, farther south, more concerns are brewing. Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez won’t be around forever, but his coterie of socialist allies have a strong grip on the region, from Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to Raul Castro, Evo Morales, and Daniel Ortega. Regimes from Russia to China and even Iran have noticed the friendly territory and have been building relationships, inking arms sales, and more. Groups like Hezbollah are also finding this doorstep to the U.S. just as inviting — and welcoming.
Sudan: This was admittedly a longshot to make it into the debate. Last year, a new country was born when the predominantly Christian South Sudan ended years of bloody conflict with the predominantly Muslim north by voting for independence. Conflict continues over unsettled border territories, and the State Department has warned this could spark an “outright conflict.” Despite years of interethnic squabbles and Sudan’s bitterness that the south got the good oil fields, a conflict here could be a much greater ideological showdown in North Africa. Catholic President Salva Kiir (whose cowboy hat is more awesome than Ken Salazar’s) may face not just internationally wanted man Omar al-Bashir, but Islamist terror groups happy to fight for the cause (and shelter, as bin Laden did in the 1990s — and why Mali made it into the debate). Sudan today accused Israel of launching an air strike on a munitions factory in Khartoum that was believed to be a source for weapons smuggled into Gaza. A future conflict between South Sudan and Sudan would be more than a fight over disputed pockets of land, but a critical showdown against Islamic extremism.