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6 Global Issues the Foreign Policy Debate Between Obama and Romney Won't Touch

World issues routinely get short thrift in presidential debates, especially in yet another election year characterized by economic malaise and divisive social issues.

There is no other policy arena in which the president of the United States has greater latitude than foreign affairs. With U.S. foreign policy less constrained by Congress and relatively free from the media scrutiny that attends the president’s more domestic endeavors, foreign affairs largely remains the domain of the commander in chief. Indeed, broadcast regularly into living rooms all across the globe, the U.S. president is often the singular face of the United States of America in the world—especially in lands where few Americans tread.

Yet global issues routinely get short thrift in presidential debates, especially in yet another election year characterized by economic malaise and divisive social issues. And with media coverage focused primarily on the performance of the candidates and the debates’ impact on the national horserace, crucial questions about how the United States behaves on the world stage routinely fall between the cracks. This neglect is exacerbated by the fact that, when it comes to foreign policy, there is a tremendous amount of overlap between the major candidates.

In the interest of keeping vital global issues in the discussion, Foreign Policy in Focus reached out to scholars at the Institute for Policy Studies—our institutional home—to sketch out progressive perspectives on the world issues we don’t expect to get fair treatment in the debates. Without an informed citizenry, these crucial topics will always fall by the wayside. So read up, and share widely!

1. Making Global Finance Work
—Sarah Anderson, Director, IPS Global Economy Project

I would love to think that President Obama, in the middle of a debate, will don a green Robin Hood hat and announce his support for a financial transaction tax. Popularly known as a Robin Hood Tax, this is the idea of putting a small, fraction-of-a-percent tax on trades of stock, derivatives, and other financial instruments. There’s been a surge of support for the idea here and around the world as a way to generate massive revenue for domestic and international needs and as a way to curb short-term speculation.

And I can offer at least three reasons why it’s not completely crazy to think Obama might do this. For one thing, White House insiders say  Obama was for the taxbefore Larry Summers threw cold water on it. Larry’s long gone from the administration, and his sidekick, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, is on his way out.

Second, in the first debate, Obama’s most popular lines were those blasting Wall Street. And the high flyers of the financial industry would be hardest-hit by this tax, particularly those profiting from high-speed trading strategies that have no social value and make markets less stable. For ordinary investors, the cost would be negligible. And isn’t it already too late for Obama to worry about losing Wall Street campaign donations?

Finally, Obama’s announcement would build on the momentum generated recently when  11 European governments officially committed to implementing such taxes.

But do I really think he’ll do it? Well, when’s the last time an American politician proposed a bold, innovative idea without first focus grouping and trial-ballooning it to death? Even if Obama is a closet Robin Hood, he’s too cautious to gamble on a big idea like this during the high-stakes debate. If he wins a second term, we can keep hoping to see that green hat.


2. Making Peace in the Middle East and Afghanistan
—Phyllis Bennis, Director, IPS New Internationalism Project

One of the only significant policy differences between the candidates, narrow though it may be, is on Iran. Obama sets his “red line”—the point at which the United States would consider taking military action—at preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, which everyone agrees is very far down the road. But Romney will rely on the Israeli red line, which is at the moment when Israel suspects that Iran has “nuclear capabilities.” Any country with a nuclear power program can produce enriched uranium, and if they have the scientific know-how, then they technically have “nuclear capabilities.”

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