Why Can’t Foreign Policy Matter?

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The common rhetoric surrounding the third Presidential debate last week was that it was, of the three total, the most unimportant to voters – they are much more interested in the economy’s recovery than what is going on in terms of foreign policy. Obviously, in the setting that I’m writing this blog and watching the debate itself (including Mitt Romney’s debacle in debate number two), I wish it weren’t this way.

Yes, the economy is broken and recovering too slowly and yes, there are a multitude of things both candidates have done wrong in trying to fix them or speaking about them. In the midst of our struggling economy, though, the world socially and economically is entering a transitional period as well (much more so than our own issues). From the Arab Spring to a potential European economic collapse, we as Americans need to understand these parts of the world.

After all, the healthier the world is, the healthier we are domestically.

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney discuss foreign policy

Some of the main topics included Iran, Libya and China. The president was clearly on the offensive throughout the entire night, portraying himself as a solid leader and one now with massive amounts of foreign policy experience. He, along with Joe Biden during the vice presidential debate, also provided reassurance that our biggest threats were being closely monitored while those who killed the American ambassador in Benghazi would be brought to justice. His words had a ‘no if, ands or buts’ approach all night.

On the other side, it really seemed like an attempt from the Republican candidate to scare the public about everything related to foreign policy. As expressed from both Paul Ryan in the vice presidential debate and Mitt Romney last week, “Iran is four years closer to a nuclear weapon.” Additionally, the United States is on the “Road to Greece” economically with another impending Al Qaeda takeover, this time in Mali. There was no reassurance, nor any concrete problem solving techniques – only fear.

Unfortunately, though, these foreign policy issues soon became issues of domestic and economic concern during the debate. Talks of China and how to deal with their growing economy turned into how to create jobs domestically. Violence in the Middle East seemed to turn into violence and education at home. While I agree with both points, the transition was unfortunate; this was a foreign policy debate, not one on domestic issues (we already had a couple of those).

There were also some things that the two agreed on (more than many expected). First, the assassination of Osama bin Laden was a foregone conclusion of agreement and praise. Additionally, under various guidelines (mostly to create political division), both Obama and Romney believe in the removal of troops in Afghanistan in the next 18-24 months. Romney also agreed with Obama’s use of drone strikes, as well as “crippling sanctions” to nations that pose a threat (specifically Iran). Even Jon Stewart got his two cents in on this development.

The biggest takeaway from this debate was the approach of each. For Obama, it was national strength and the right direction for our country. For Romney, it was to scare everyone on the future ahead. But more important than that, it was about how little this debate matters in the long run. Hopefully, it will be taken into consideration when voters turn in their ballots over the coming weeks.