President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney will once again face each other on Monday in their third and final presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. The American people and the world will be watching in anticipation as the debate will focus on the crucial area of foreign policy and how each candidate hopes to shape global affairs in the next presidential term. The debate which could help determine the outcome of the nearing presidential election will begin at 9pm EST.
There has been a continuous rhetoric on many foreign policy issues as events have unfolded and as the presidential campaigns have gained momentum. Tonight's debate will hopefully provide new insights, or solidify existing ones, into the viability of the candidates as foreign policy creators and instigators, as well as the policies themselves.
In recent months, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has dominated global headlines which place a heavy burden on the candidates in tonight's debate. The range of issues that can be expected to be mentioned include the tragic death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Bengahzi last month; the implications of the Arab Spring; the continued operation in Afghanistan; the ongoing debate regarding Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons; the relationship between the U.S. and Israel; this issue of drones and the killing of Osama Bin Laden in 2011 are also likely to feature.
That is not to say other essential continents will be neglected: the war on drugs and immigration reforms in South America are likely to be brought up due to their pervasive impact on U.S. foreign policy. Relations will Russia and the Eastern European missile defense system may be a talking point given the prominence the right have afforded it. U.S. relations with China are also likely to feature strongly, as the economic and political relationship the two countries currently share is still not solidly defined.
Amongst these issues and country-specific topics, we can expect the candidates to pepper their answers with references to how they envision the role of the UN and NATO in America’s foreign conduct; the candidates’ stances on foreign aid; the defence implications of foreign policy including the status of Guantanamo Bay, the NDAA and defense spending amongst other key areas.
While Obama came out of last week’s presidential debate with a margin of approval over Romney for his foreign policies, the debate could provide Romney with the necessary platform to claw back some voters on the issue, or could simply solidify Obama’s approval rating. Tonight will be a tough test for both candidates.
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UPDATE: What to look out for tonight:
1. Will tonight be the tie-breaker? Romney is generally viewed as the winner of the first debate; and that Obama’s edged forward after the second debate, so who will come out on top?!
Whether the voter agrees or not with Obama’s foreign policies and actions over the past four years, he is a known quantity unlike Romney who has little tangible foreign policy-making experience from which to draw. This debate is the opportunity for Romney to prove he has the knowledge and judgement to shape global affairs and strengthen America’s interests abroad. Obama on the other hand will be on the defensive as Romney can be expected to heavily criticize him for 4 years of foreign policy decisions.
2. A re-match on Libya? The issue sparked one of the most heated exchanges during the second debate, and no less can be expected to happen again tonight. Romney will likely call Obama to answer questions on intelligence lapses, failed security and the shifting of accountability over the embassy attack in Benghazi; whereas Obama will probably focus on the tragedy of the ‘attack’ and accuse the Republican candidate of politicizing the issue.
3. Relating to the ordinary voter: Foreign policy is an abstract issue for many ordinary Americans as the economy continues to suffer and have an impact at home. The winner of this debate must be the candidate to relate America’s global role to issues at home, including the impact of U.S. trade policies and how foreign affairs generate jobs at home.
4. Appealing to women: It mustn’t be forgotten that the candidates need to balance their responses in recognition of many women voter’s lukewarm response to military action abroad in previous elections. Both candidates should be mindful of using strong rhetoric as this may prove to be their downfall in some states.
5. Will tonight’s TV scheduling impact the outcome? After strong viewership for the first two debates, tonight’s sporting events are likely to place more power in the media’s hands as new agencies will be relied upon to summarise the debate once the Chicago Bears-Detroit Lions game and Cardinals-Giants game is over. This will place even more pressure on the candidates not to mess up and to be articulate at every turn, as the media will be quick to report gaffes, sound-bites out of context and one-liners.