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Professor panel prefaces foreign policy debate

Joanna Lagedrost | Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hours before the presidential candidates debated foreign policy in their final meeting before the election, three Notre Dame political experts crafted their own foreign policy questions and weighed in with their concerns.

The scholars met in a panel discussion titled “Foreign Policy Questions We Hope the U.S. Presidential Candidates Will Be Asked” on Monday evening at the Hesburgh Center for International Studies.

Andrew Bacevich, foreign policy analyst and visiting scholar at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, opened the discussion with his predictions about the impact of Monday’s debate on future U.S. foreign policy decisions.

“The presidential debates tend to be tied very much to the present moment, and, to some degree, to the near future, with minimal attention given to the past or to the larger context in which policy unfolds,” he said. “What’s said [Monday] is unlikely to foretell U.S. policy – circumstances will have changed by the time a decision must be made.”

Political science professor Alexandra Guisinger, a specialist in international relations, crisis diplomacy and political economy, also said the debates do not necessarily give concrete proof of the candidates’ foreign policies.  

“I’m not sure what meaningful information we’ll garner directly from the debates themselves,” she said.

Bacevich said candidates should be questioned about possible explanations for and responses to the “high levels of anti-Americanism” that exist throughout much of the Islamic world.

“Some observers attribute anti-Americanism to corrupt and destructive governments that use the United States as a whipping board – blaming everything on Uncle Sam – in order to distract attention from their own failures and ineptitude,” he said. “Others have suggested that there may be something inherent in Islam that manifests itself as hostility toward any great power from outside the Islamic world. And others still have pointed to past U.S. policies that may … have created a negative image for America in the eyes of Iranians, Afghans, Pakistanis, etc.”

The country’s post-9/11 military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan also present points of concern for the future of foreign policy that both President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney must address, Bacevich said.

“The United States has now been in war for over a decade, a period longer than the Civil War and World War II combined,” he said. “The Iraq war … has ended, with results that fell well short of victory. Both [Obama and Romney] agreed that the Afghanistan war ought to conclude by the end of 2014. What lessons should the United States draw from the wars of the post-9/11 era?  How will those lessons inform your approach in formulating basic national security policy?”

Finally, Bacevich said the candidates must provide concrete solutions to America’s economic woes and those of the global economy aside from their common support of free trade practices.

“The United States have now had a negative trade balance for approximately 40 consecutive years,” he said. “During that 40-year period, we’ve gone from being the world’s No. 1 creditor to becoming the world’s leading debtor nation. An economy once driven by production is today increasingly driven by consumption.

“What concrete evidence is there to suggest that free trade actually works as an engine of U.S. economic growth in the present? What will you do to close the gap between how much the U.S. imports and how much it exports?”

Guisinger said Obama’s four years of experience as President give him an edge over Romney in terms of foreign policy knowledge.

“We’re not comparing apples to apples – Obama is actually in charge of foreign policy and his words represent the United States whereas Mitt Romney is just a candidate for that position,” she said.

The format of the debates creates constraints for both candidates in conveying their foreign policy views, Guisinger said.

“In particular, President Obama will be constrained because debates are not a great form for measuring response, which is what he needs to do as head of state,” she said. “Romney will also be constrained because this is his time to present his foreign policy platform.”

Guisinger said Romney’s background in the financial sector could give him a unique perspective on the current state of the economy.

“I’d like to hear Romney talk more like the businessman that he is about the financial crisis,” she said.

Peace studies professor George Lopez, a Kroc international policy expert, said he would question Romney on his views about the Obama administration’s handling of situations in Libya and Iran.

“What would you do that distinguishes your foreign policy from the president’s up until now?” he said. “What, in the last two to four years, would you have done differently in Libya or Iran?”

Contact Joanna Lagedrost at jlagedro@nd.edu