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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.

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Either way, it is extremely dangerous to set red lines in diplomacy; it usually means your diplomacy is bound to fail. Especially in an election year, this just ratchets up political pressure. And when a candidate boxes himself in with a red line, he may feel obligated to follow through with that commitment once he is elected to the presidency.

By making the claim that Israel faces an existential threat from Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has succeeded in drawing attention away from the Palestinian issue. No one in Washington is pressing Israel on the critical questions of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the continuing siege on Gaza, or assassinations of Palestinians. These issues have been taken off the table for more than a year while Israel presents itself as victimized by Iran. So Israel has really gained from this whole debate.

Even though Netanyahu is clearly supporting Romney, most Americans recognize that President Obama has been more supportive of Israel in all the ways that matter—money, diplomatic protection at the UN, and especially the $4.1 billion of our tax money going to Israel this year. So Romney claiming that Obama is “throwing Israel under the bus” just doesn’t fly. But the last thing we will hear is any serious discussion of whether this support actually benefits either the United States or the region.

We are also not going to hear a real debate about Afghanistan; we are not going to hear about the more than 2,000 U.S. soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan, and we are certainly not going to hear about the thousands of Afghan civilians who have been killed in this war.

What we will hear from Obama is, “I’m winding down,” and he will be sure to bring up killing Osama bin Laden. We know that bin Laden is dead, and we also know the CIA has confirmed that there are no more than 50-100 al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan now. So we still have 70,000 U.S. troops, 90,000 U.S.-paid contractors, and 40,000 NATO troops to go after 100 guys? Really? This is a war that a majority of Americans on all sides rightfully agree never should have been waged.

Both parties plan to “wind down” by the end of 2014, which is why there will not be very much debate about it, but there will still be troops, trainers, special forces and bases left after that date. That means a continuation of this horrifying war, an expansion of the drone war in Pakistan, further into Yemen and Somalia and elsewhere. This is what’s looking more and more like a permanent war and both parties support it. That’s why we will not hear about this war as a debate, but as a war that both candidates are proud to be a part of.

You can hear more from Phyllis on these issues from her  appearance on the Tavis Smiley show, from which this section was adapted. Special thanks to IPS intern Emily Johanson for transcribing.

3. Accounting for the Drone War

—Peter Certo, Acting Editor, Foreign Policy in Focus

Mitt Romney has made no secret of his intent to restore some of the most notorious relics of the Bush administration’s “war on terror” policies. During his 2008 race, the former Massachusetts governor famously promised to “ double Guantanamo,” more recently vowing to resurrect the Bush-era practice of detainee torture—despite a former Bush lawyer’s assessment that such a policy would be “ indisputably illegal.”

And yet already the Obama administration has expanded the use of extrajudicial violence beyond even the wildest dreams of the Bush administration. Under Obama’s  personal stewardship, the United States has dramatically escalated attacks by unmanned drones in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and perhaps beyond—even purposefully targeting U.S. citizens who have not been charged with any crime, including most famously the New Mexico-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and, more grimly still, his 16-year-old son in Yemen. Through so-called “signature strikes,” the administration also targets individuals it cannot even identify, cynically classifying all “combat-age males” killed as “militants.”

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