Debate prep: Six essential reads on foreign policy

October 21, 2012

(Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty)

Sundays are a great day for reading long-form journalism. As President Obama and Mitt Romney prep for Monday night's foreign policy debate, what better way to spend today's couch time than by reading up on the same issues? But rather than cramming with candidate-style talking points and briefing books, try these much more enjoyable reads on the foreign policy issues likely to dominate the debate.

"A U.S. platoon awaits the end of the Afghan war," by Greg Jaffe, The Washington Post: "How does a war end? In Jaghatu, these soldiers are learning one way. It ends with resignation, isolation, boredom and the soldiers of 3rd Platoon striding out of the chow tent and into the bright light of a warm September day. Now that they had defined mission success, they had another question: What exactly was the mission anymore?"

"How China Sees America," by Andrew J. Nathan and Andrew Scobell, Foreign Affairs: "Most Americans would be surprised to learn the degree to which the Chinese believe the United States is a revisionist power that seeks to curtail China's political influence and harm China's interests. This view is shaped not only by Beijing's understanding of Washington but also by the broader Chinese view of the international system and China's place in it, a view determined in large part by China's acute sense of its own vulnerability."

"The Scariest Little Corner in the World," by Luke Modelson, the New York Times: "Iran looms just as large over western Afghanistan as Pakistan does over the east — and nowhere is this more keenly felt than in Zaranj, where the land beyond the wall can represent anything from benevolent neighbor to malicious oppressor. But while Pakistan’s machinations in Afghanistan often feel obvious, Iran’s have proved far harder to discern. Everyone I spoke to in Nimruz, for example — provincial officials, smugglers, police, border guards — insisted that “Iranian agents” had placed or arranged for the placement of the land mine that killed the two Baluchi drivers and injured Gulbadeen. As for why, each source offered a different theory — usually in a hushed voice, after glancing to the left and right."

"The Vegetarian: A notorious spymaster becomes a dissident," by David Remnick, the New Yorker: "Since early last year, however, Israelis have witnessed a very different kind of dissidence, of a variety almost unknown since the founding of the state. As [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and his Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, routinely speak of an imminent 'existential threat' from Tehran, comparable to that of the Nazis in 1939, and warn that the Iranian nuclear program is fast approaching a 'zone of immunity,' a growing number of leading intelligence and military officials, active and retired, have made plain their opposition to a unilateral Israeli strike. [...] These men are anything but liberals; most have impeccable hard-line credentials. The insiders are more muted in their language than the 'exes,' but there is no question that together they present Netanyahu and Barak with a formidable barrier to an attack."

"The Opiate of Exceptionalism," by Scott Shane, the New York Times: "This national characteristic, often labeled American exceptionalism, may inspire some people and politicians to perform heroically, rising to the level of our self-image. But during a presidential campaign, it can be deeply dysfunctional, ensuring that many major issues are barely discussed. Problems that cannot be candidly described and vigorously debated are unlikely to be addressed seriously. In a country where citizens think of themselves as practical problem-solvers and realists, this aversion to bad news is a surprising feature of the democratic process."

"How Different Would a Romney Foreign Policy Be?" by James M. Lindsay, Council on Foreign Relations: "Probably not much."

See also these 12 hypothetical but pointed Middle East debate questions for Obama and Romney, by Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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