You would not know it from the GOP debates so far, but the next president of the United States will also be the next leader of the free world. At the recent CNN debate, the candidates spent more time debating Gardasil than national security. This is unacceptable. Voters are understandably focused on jobs right now, but the last five presidents (three Republicans and two Democrats) have deployed U.S. forces in crises and conflicts they did not anticipate before taking office. It is critical that the candidates debate the vital foreign policy issues they would face in the White House.
There is only one way to ensure such a discussion takes place — and that is to hold at least one debate exclusively on national security. I asked the Romney and Perry camps if they would be willing to commit to such a debate. Team Romney was an enthusiastic yes. Chief strategist Stuart Stevens told me he loved the idea, adding: “We welcome the opportunity to discuss and debate critical foreign policy issues with the leading candidates. A format that allowed for longer answers and in-depth discussion would be very productive.” Perry strategist Ray Sullivan told me “We would be open to such a debate, depending on the sponsoring organization and date.”
Here are some of the foreign policy questions every candidate should have to answer:
Surprise: In the 2000 presidential debates, George W. Bush was never asked about the threat from al-Qaeda. What is the one foreign policy issue you worry about that no one is talking about today?
Iran: Can a nuclear Iran be contained, or do you believe Iran must be stopped from gaining a nuclear weapon? How would you stop it? What would you do if Iran tests a nuclear weapon? Were Israel to take military action to prevent Iran from going nuclear (as it took with Iraq and Syria), would you back Israel?
Israel: How would you respond to the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state?
Afghanistan: Do you agree with President Obama’s decision to reject the advice of his military commanders and bring the 30,000 surge forces in Afghanistan home by September 2012? If elected, would you reverse this decision? Would you continue the counterinsurgency strategy put in place by Gen. David Petraeus, or would you move to a more limited counterterrorism mission, as recommended by Vice President Biden?
Iraq: Sixty years after the Korean War, America still has 28,000 troop stationed on the Korean peninsula as a guarantor of stability. Yet President Obama is reportedly reducing the U.S. presence in Iraq to just 3,000 troops by the end of this year — far few than the 15,000 to 18,000 troops requested by the U.S. commander in Iraq. Do you agree with this decision? How would you ensure the gains we made in Iraq are not lost and that Iran does not move in to fill the power vacuum left by U.S. withdrawal?
Pakistan: How would your approach to Pakistan differ from Obama’s? What would you do about the dual role Pakistan plays as a U.S. ally in the war on terror and supporter of Islamist terror groups?
Terrorist detention: The head of U.S. Special Operations Command recently told Congress that because the United States has nowhere to take captured terrorists, if we cannot try them in civilian court or find a third country to take them, we simply “let them go.” Is this acceptable? Where would you detain and question enemy combatants? Would you restore the CIA’s enhanced-interrogation program?
Libya: Is the world better off without Moammar Gaddafi in power? Was the Obama strategy of “leading from behind” the right model in Libya? Is it a model for the future?
Arab Spring: Is the Arab Spring a welcome development or dangerous for U.S. interests?
Freedom: Do you have a “freedom agenda,” and what is it? Do values matter in foreign policy?
Alliances: Who do you see as America’s most important allies? Is NATO still important to American security?
Latin America: How will you combat the influence of the Chavez-Castro alliance and restore America’s leadership in this hemisphere?
China: Do you see China as a friend, a competitor or a strategic threat? How would you respond to the rise in China’s military capabilities? Do you agree with the Obama administration’s decision not to sell F-16s to Taiwan? What would you do to fix trade imbalances with and currency manipulation by China?
North Korea: What would you do about Pyongyang’s continued development of nuclear weapons?
Isolationism: Are you concerned about growing isolationist sentiment in the GOP, or is this concern overblown? If you are concerned, what will you do to combat it?
Defense: Would you reverse the massive defense cuts contained in the debt-limit deal? What percentage of gross domestic product would you devote to national defense?
Obama: What is President Obama’s greatest foreign policy mistake and his greatest foreign policy success?
The candidates have answered almost none of these and other vital foreign policy questions — and there is no way they can do so in the few minutes the television networks have been devoting to national security. Voters deserve at least one debate dedicated solely to how the candidates would handle the job of commander in chief. Romney and Perry are willing, and the other candidates most likely will be, too. So let’s do it.