Is there any debate on foreign policy these days?

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Brian M Downing

Democratic presidential contenders have conducted four debates so far. On game show-like sets they gave their positions on healthcare, education, and other domestic issues. Spirited remarks, carefully crafted and tested by consultants, flew at the incumbent and each other. Despite the several hours of airtime almost nothing was said about foreign policy.

That’s unfortunate and disconcerting. We are not living in days of isolationism and tranquility. We have regular ground troops in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan and special forces teams in dozens of other countries some we are not even informed of. All told, we have military bases in ninety countries. Though fighting is down from previous levels, there are still casualties all too routinely.

Perhaps the networks that put on these debate programs might surprise the candidates and their consultants by asking a few questions on foreign policy. Candidates are eager to differentiate themselves from the president and each other on domestic issues, why not ask where they all stand on foreign issues? It might be embarrassing to learn how many of them are in lockstep with the administration and decades of interventionism.

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Since its inauguration the administration has raised tensions with Iran, though in recent weeks it seems uncertain how to proceed. Why has Congress remained silent on the issue and how should the next president handle the situation?

Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad bin Salman is expanding his power in the Middle East by giving generous subsidies to various rulers and their armies. Is this in America’s interest or should we act now to check his power, at home and in the region? If the latter, how do we stop him?

The present administration has damaged relations with long-standing allies in Europe and Asia. One of the main points of contention is the allies’ relatively low defense budgets. What would the candidates do to mend those ties? Or are they no longer relevant?

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The Trump administration has embarked on a trade war with China. Does this make sense in economic terms? Does China’s increasing control over raw-material production, especially in Africa and Asia, constitute a threat to western countries and to democracy in those regions?

Over the last twenty years the Neoconservatives have had a great deal of influence in foreign policy. What is Neoconservatism and where do candidates stand on it? Would Neocons have any positions in their high councils? Why or why not?

Most candidates call for greater spending on healthcare and education and believe this can be done without increasing the $22 billion debt. If this proves inaccurate in coming years, as it almost surely will, would there be sizable cuts in the military budget? If so, where?

The last three years have brought considerable rancor to public life and that has placed domestic issues at the top of the agenda perhaps understandably so, perhaps unfortunately so. The US is deeply engaged in ongoing wars and simmering conflicts. They should be addressed extensively in next month’s round of debates. The country as a whole would benefit from greater dialog on our position in the world. Veterans and active-duty personnel around the world might benefit most of all.

© 2019 Brian M Downing

Brian M Downing is a national security analyst who’s written for outlets across the political spectrum. He studied at Georgetown University and the University of Chicago, and did post-graduate work at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs. Thanks as ever to Susan Ganosellis.

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