The glaring lack of foreign policy discussion in the first two rounds of Democratic presidential debates can be remedied in Houston Thursday, where 10 candidates will appear on the same stage. It is highly problematic for Democrats to ignore foreign policy, especially these days.

We start with the reality that every challenger must clear the bar as a credible commander in chief. Failing to test them in a critical area will leave Democrats unable to spot trouble, and the nominee won’t be practiced in debating national security when he or she gets to the general election.

Moreover, at a time when President Trump’s inadequacies as commander in chief are glaring — from cooing at North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, to scraping and bowing to Russian President Vladimir Putin, to inviting the Taliban to Camp David — he is extremely vulnerable on that front. Democrats should relish the chance to point that out.


For ABC and Univision, Thursday night’s hosts/moderators, it’s an opportunity to bring a level of seriousness and coherence that we’ve been missing to date. The moderators can choose from a long list of issues, including:

  • When would you have face-to-face negotiations with the leader of a hostile regime or group?
  • You want to bring troops home, but the Taliban is making no concessions and won’t talk to the Afghan government. What do you do?
  • What would you do about the troops in Iraq and Syria? How do you prevent a resurgence of terrorist groups?
  • How should we adjust our relationship with Saudi Arabia?
  • What, if any, of the post-9/11 anti-terrorism infrastructure (e.g., data collection, holding detainees in Guantanamo) would you alter?
  • China continues to steal our intellectual property. If you think Trump’s approach has been ineffective, what would you do?
  • Explain what you would be doing and saying with regard to Hong Kong if you were president?
  • Should we be encouraging or discouraging Brexit? What do you think the ramifications of a no-deal Brexit would be for the world economy?
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is promising to annex part of the West Bank if reelected. What should the administration be saying to him?
  • President Trump has tried to substantially cut foreign aid. Would you spend more, less, or the same, and how, if at all, would you reset our priorities?
  • What do you do about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) now that Iran has apparently violated its terms and continues to engage in unacceptable nonnuclear aggression and human rights violations?
  • What is the right level of defense spending?
  • How would you amend NAFTA 2.0?
  • What should we be doing with regard to Venezuela?
  • President Barack Obama did not condition lifting various sanctions on Cuba on progress on human rights and democracy. How would you address our Cuba policy?
  • The current administration has severely cut the number of refugees we accept. What should the number be and why?
  • How do you address international white nationalist terrorism?

That’s just a sample. The key is short questions that force the candidates to speak at length, not simply deliver sound bites. Candidates who aren’t fully prepared to discuss national security should be forewarned. And if they aren’t ready, they really have no business running for president.

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