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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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Despite the administration’s brash insistence that such “precision” strikes have spared civilian casualties, independent reports indicate that hundreds or perhaps even thousands of civilians have been killed. And unlike NATO strikes that go awry in Afghanistan—which are usually accompanied at least by official acknowledgments, statements of regret, and compensation for the families of victims—drone strikes leave families of the bereaved no recourse for justice. A horrifying  new report suggests that the program has destroyed the social fabric in northwest Pakistan, with thousands of residents showing stark signs of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Thus it is no surprise that the drone war has been a boon for terrorist recruiters in both  Yemen and Pakistan.

The Obama administration has  defended the legality of the program in public and happily claimed political credit for killing alleged members of al-Qaeda. And yet, when challenged in court by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, it suddenly  claims that it can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the campaign. If Obama wins reelection, the program is certain to continue. If the election falls to Romney—who has endorsed the program and bafflingly suggested that Pakistanis are “ comfortable” with it—the former Massachusetts governor will receive a “ loaded gun” from his predecessor with which to continue firing away. The two candidates might debate which of them will prosecute the war more vigorously, but don’t expect any follow-up questions from the moderators about its propriety.


4. Scaling Back Military Spending
—Miriam Pemberton, Research Fellow, Foreign Policy in Focus

What will Romney say about the military budget? Since he seems remarkably unconstrained by anything he’s said previously on any issue, it’s almost anybody’s guess.

But here’s what he’s said many times previously: We need to bring our military spending levels up to 4 percent of Gross Domestic Product. Why? Things get very vague at that point. But non-partisan analyses have calculated that if we do that, we’ll add  $2 trillion to our deficit over 10 years. Maybe that’s why Romney’s running mate walked this proposal back simply to not cutting defense spending. Really? When the current amount is as much as the next 17 countries spend, put together?

The president will, one hopes, use his frequent talking point that we need to take some of the savings from winding down two wars to do some nation building at home. But both candidates will, if asked, decry the dreaded sequestration—the provision in the debt deal that will begin cutting $1 trillion, half from the military and half from the rest of the annual budget, at the beginning of 2013.

It is true: sequestration is a bad way to run a government, and those cuts, by themselves, would be very bad for our economy.

But here’s the point: since 9/11, our military budget has ballooned out of all proportion to what is needed to keep us safe. Sequestration, combined with the rest of the cuts in the budget deal, would bring the military budget back to where it was in 2006. That is more than enough.

In other words: while sequestration is bad policy, the amount it prescribes for cuts to the military budget is eminently doable with no sacrifice to security. Don’t look for that statement, or anything like it, in the debates.


5. Ending the Drug War
—Sanho Tree, Director, IPS Drug Policy Project

Like so many Romney/Obama foreign policy parallels, it is unlikely the drug war will be debated with any vigor, since Romney's drug policy position—like so many of his foreign policy stances—appears to be "Me too, but I'll be even more belligerent because Obama is a wimp." While Obama's Drug Czar's has made progress promoting domestic treatment issues and adopting some harm reduction principles, the administration has continued to harass medical marijuana providers, which directly contradicts Obama's 2008 campaign pledge that his administration would respect the right of states to determine their own policies. Internationally, however, the Obama administration has failed to shift much of the federal drug war budget, and the drug warriors have continued to do more of the same as if on autopilot.

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