Two Men Incapable of Having a Foreign Policy Debate
One hour and a half was the time the two campaigns agreed upon for the foreign policy debate. They had a moderator, Bob Schieffer, who would ask all questions from the point of view that America is justified in whatever it does so long as it does it. When and how to do it would be the discussion, not why or whether it was legal, moral or humane.
Specifically, interventions, wars, imposing sanctions on countries or support for countries like Israel subjecting a population to policies of apartheid would not be questioned. The candidates would not be asked to explain why these were acceptable acts. They would both agree the acts were reasonable in some scenarios but would disagree on the extent to which such acts should be taken.
GOP candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama sat without any candidates on stage that should have been present, like Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson or Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. The two would have challenged policies of interventionism in Libya. They would have called for a more swift end to war in Afghanistan. Both would have been more cautious on what America should do in Syria. They would have called for significant reduction to America’s military and security presence in the world. But, being on a majority of state ballots is not enough to get one in debates controlled by a commission run by two individuals with ties to the party machines of the Republican and Democratic Party. Candidates are also subject to a criteria that requires them to poll 15% in a poll, where pollsters may not even ask “likely voters” if they would vote Johnson or Stein because they are not included.
It was the final debate of three debates. The Commission on Presidential Debates and the two campaigns negotiated a limit on debates because the country cannot have elections with too much political discussion.
A secret contract (which leaked) specifically outlined neither campaign would participate in any other event or appear on any program on television, radio or the Internet where they might be participating in something that could be considered a debate. After the night’s debate, they would not face national scrutiny from citizens focused on their positions—their similarities, their reversals or flip-flops, their differences or rather their lack of differences.
Nonetheless, it was too difficult for the two men to talk about the topics Schieffer planned to have the candidates address (topics which were made public moments before the two were to go on stage). They could not stay on the topics of Afghanistan, America’s longest war, Israel and Iran, China or what Schieffer called “the changing Middle East and the new face of terrorism.” They would not have to discuss Latin America, Africa, Europe or Russia. They would be able to get away with a discussion that did not touch upon the War on Drugs or America’s (lack of) respect for human rights and the rule of law in the world. In any case, they veered away from foreign policy back to talking points on domestic policy raised in the second debate.
“Let me get back to foreign policy,” Schieffer uttered after Obama and Romney talked about small businesses and what US businesses need to do to compete. Romney would not abide. He had a point about education in the United States to make.
Class size became a focus of this single scheduled debate on foreign policy. Again, Schieffer tried to pull the candidates back to US foreign policy:
Let me — I want to try to shift it, because we have heard some of this in the other debates. Governor, you say you want a bigger military. You want a bigger Navy. You don’t want to cut defense spending. What I want to ask you, we’re talking about financial problems in this country. Where are you going to get the money?
It was a good faith attempt to steer the discussion back to where it should have been. The two discussed national defense spending, which does have an obvious connection to US foreign policy.
The final section on China was somewhat of an escape for the candidates. They could talk about jobs and the economy in terms of what they thought the US needed to do to beat China.
With all the issues and topics in foreign policy that Americans should have heard discussed, the political show was a total sham. One can downplay the horridness of it all by saying voters do not make decisions based on what they hear in a foreign policy debate. That should not matter. The candidates had one hour and a half to not only discuss where they stood but, if they had any decency, to also inform the public on what is happening in the world so they can know why America is involved in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya or other countries. This did not happen. Perhaps, that was intentional—to preserve the culture of elitism in this country which reinforces the notion that those in power decide foreign policy matters without attention to the views of citizens.
It was not asked in the way that human rights advocates may have wanted it to be asked, but in the third and final presidential debate, Schieffer asked Mitt Romney directly, “What is your position on the use of drones?”
MR. ROMNEY: Well, I believe that we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world. And it’s widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that entirely and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology and believe that we should continue to use it to continue to go after the people who represent a threat to this nation and to our friends.
He celebrated the use of drone warfare. He said nothing about Obama’s decision to assert presidents should have the power to engage in state-sanctioned murder by having kill lists. And, he essentially confirmed he would use drones like Obama has used drones if he was elected president.
Though Obama was not asked the question directly (because Schieffer accepted his position was already known), Obama was given a chance to respond to Romney’s answer. He avoided any mention of drones:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, keep in mind our strategy wasn’t just going after bin Laden. We’ve created partnerships throughout the region to deal with extremism — in Somalia, in Yemen, in Pakistan. And what we’ve also done is engage these governments in the kind of reforms that are actually going to make a difference in people’s lives day to day, to make sure that their government aren’t corrupt, to make sure that they are treating women with the kind of respect and dignity that every nation that succeeds has shown, and to make sure that they’ve got a free market system that works.
Obama referenced three countries where the United States is using drones yet avoided saying anything about his use of drones as president. He, instead, used the word “partnerships.”
These “partnerships” have involved the alienation of populations. For example, when President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi ran unopposed and won 99% of the vote, the US supported him because he would continue to support US drone operations like his predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh. He would ignore anger among the Yemeni population and how drones were breeding sympathy for al Qaeda. He would, after a September strike that killed twelve civilians, say he “personally approved every attack.”
In Pakistan, the Obama administration has shown unremitting indifference to political leaders and the public’s opposition to drones. They have basically driven a wedge between security agencies in government and individuals, who are supposed to represent the Pakistani people. The continued use of drones has had a great impact on the civilian population, breeding fear, anxiety and distrust.
As part of the coverage by “Democracy Now!” aimed at expanding the debate (or broadcasting an actual debate), Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson appeared. They responded to the drones question in the debate:
ANDERSON: Once again, we see the Republicans and Democrats joining together, colluding and advocating for killings by unmanned drones in four sovereign nations – Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia and Pakistan. How could that not drive up the hatred and hostility toward the United States and undermine our long term security?
And for those Democrats who have lined up blindly behind the president simply because he’s wearing a “D” on his jersey and he’s on their team — Imagine if this were President Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld sitting in the Oval Office going through baseball card-like biographies and deciding who is going to live and who is going to die knowing thati n the process there are going to be hundreds if not thousands of innocent men, women and children killed along the way. It is absolutely immoral. It’s got to come to an end. And it’s for we the American people to demand it because these two and their political parties are not going to do the job.
STEIN: No matter who is in the Oval Office, if it is not one of us, we need to be out on the streets, even if there is someone with a “D” on his shirt who is continuing these wars, who is continuing the drone wars, which we’ve just been told are about to expand into north Africa now as well under the auspices of the CIA that has requested a major expansion in drone capacity. No matter who is sitting in the Oval Office, we need to be standing up and demanding the kind of foreign policy we deserve; that is, a foreign policy based on international law and human rights.
The drone wars are dreadful. It’s said that they are actually hitting about 2% of their victims, in fact, are thought to be key operates in al Qaeda or associated groups. So, the vast majority are not significant operatives. When Obama talks about creating coalitions with Yemen and Somalia, whatever his coalitions are doing, unfortunately, they are vastly overwhelmed by what his drones are doing because we are seeing people, in fact, being driven into the camp of the avowed enemy of the United States because of the impact of these drone wars…
Were the Commission on Presidential Debates a democratic organization that truly promoted openness, fairness and freedom in elections, at least Stein would have been on stage (along with Gary Johnson) to discuss the issue of drones more comprehensively. The two candidates would not have been able to get away with simply saying they supported drones without addressing legal or moral problems the technology has created, how drones are likely to inspire blowback against the United States and what the policy is doing to complicate political tension in countries already rife with conflict or violence.