Foreign Policy 101

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  • America is no longer the boss of the world.

    This much is true about anything Mitt Romney or President Obama said during Monday night’s foreign policy face-off, the final of three presidential debates, held tonight at Florida’s Lynn University.

    Also true is the fact few voters, 5 percent, will factor foreign policy into their candidate choice. That said, voters still believe the United States has a major role to play in world affairs, according to a September survey by The Foreign Policy Initiative. The survey found:

    ·      92.2 percent say the United States should continue taking “a leadership world in world affairs”
    ·      62 percent favor preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons even if it involves military force
    ·      70 percent strongly support Israel
    ·      63.1 percent believe U.S. spending on defense is “about right”
    ·      75.3 believe military spending has a direct impact on jobs and the economy
    ·      69.7 percent of respondents believe entitlement spending drives the federal debt and spending

    Voters need a clear vision of America’s role in world affairs, Dr. Brent Sasley, a Middle East expert at the University of Texas at Arlington. The president has been passive and reactive for much his tenure, though Romney is vague, pushing the aggressive military policies of the Bush years.

    To illustrate the complicated nature of modern foreign affairs, consider: the Middle East and North Africa security via Arab Spring that resulted in rulers forced from power in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, and uprisings and protests through the region. Terrorism in Libya. Iran’s nuclear defiance. The Afghanistan war. America’s frenemy relationship with an ever-critical Pakistan. The potentially destabilizing effect of a diminished Eurozone. Syria. China …

    That vision can only emerge if the presidential candidates avoid getting bogged down in narrow debates and think “broader and bigger,” Sasley says.

    Narrow, Sasley says, is when Romney and Obama can’t agree on when the president actually called the September Libya attack that resulted in the murder of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stephens as “terrorist” in nature. Instead of arguing over what to call an event, Sasley says both candidates need to focus on “how to keep such a tragedy from happening again.”

    “What is clear is that the United States is no longer the sole manager of the world economy,” Sasley says.

    Where Romney and Obama stand, pre-debate
    Romney: The candidate’s position statements suggest taking a more proactive approach that requires a significant investment in military capacity and reversing defense cuts made during the Obama years. The Republican candidate says he will maintain a strong military presence in the Pacific and force China to be “a responsible partner in the international system.” Romney has also positioned himself as an authentic, passionate ally of Israel. He points to tensions between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Obama administration.

    Obama: The president proudly takes credit for eliminating Osama Bin Laden, the author of the 9/11 attacks, and following through on making the Afghan people take over their own security so American troops can start coming home. Obama says he has mended frayed relationships with allies around the world, such as NATO, Asia and Latin America.

    “The biggest question is what ties all of these together?” Sasley says. “America has engaged in two wars over the past decade, driven out plenty of bad guys, but we have not stabilized these countries at all. We can’t keep paying for the same level of involvement, and there is growing dissatisfaction with the ability to get things done.”

    Sasley and Dr. Audra K. Grant, a Middle East/North Africa expert at the Rand Corp., point to the following geographic zones as areas ripe for discussion tonight:

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