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What You Likely Won't Hear in Foreign Policy Debate

Climate Change, Drones and Torture Unlikely to be Addressed

(Photo: The Atlantic.)

President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney will face off in Boca Raton Monday evening to discuss foreign policy during the third and final debate before voters choose a president two weeks from Tuesday.

Following two debates that focused more "on how the candidates deal with each other and with real-time pressure, and with sometimes unexpected questions or challenges," wrote James Fallows in The Atlantic, the questions that likely will not be posed to the candidates are foremost on the minds today of some of the country's top political minds.

Chief among them is climate change.

"Despite the fact that this past September was tied for the warmest in the 132-year history of record keeping, the word “climate” crossed neither candidate’s lips (during the Oct. 16 debate), nor was it mentioned by moderator Candy Crowley or the audience of undecided voters selected to ask questions," Chris Hayes wrote Monday.

Should the candidates not discuss the issue, it would mark the first time it was not raised during a debate since 1988, despite the fact that "Crushing impacts like drought, wildfires, flooding, sea level rise, and ocean acidification are now hitting American communities," wrote Brad Johnson Monday in Think Progress. "Instead of a substantial reduction in the use of fossil fuels, consumption and pollution have grown exponentially."

Other issues they could be challenged on include drones, the definition of torture and targeted killings.

Fallows wrote that a friend's wish-list for topics to be added to tonight's debate includes some "big stuff."

"No questions on the Pentagon or defense spending … No questions on the criteria for the use of force, whether in Iran or Syria or … Mexico. No questions on the war powers of the President, either regarding Iran or drones or targeted killings. No questions on civil-military relations."

Also writing for The Atlantic, Andrew Cohen posed legal questions that should be addressed regarding issues such as drones, torture, and the war on drugs.

Obama, for example, could be asked why the case of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaqi, killed in Yemen by a drone strike reportedly authorized by Obama because of unproven allegations that he was a terrorist, was never examined by a judge.

Romney might be asked whether as president he would — as his national security advisors wrote in a memo leaked to the New York Times — return to professionally administered torture, and what waterboarding is, if not torture.

Specifically on the Obama administration's policy of targeted assassination, Esquire's Tom Junod, offers these questions to debate moderator, B Scheiffer:

To President Obama: Mr. President, you have over the last four years greatly expanded the use of targeted killing in America's war against Al Qaeda. If you are given a second term, will you keep expanding the use of this tool? If so, is there any natural limit on its use, and if not, what will you do to rein it back in? Governor Romney, are you comfortable with the framework that the Obama administration has established in regard to targeted killing, or are there new limits that you plan to introduce if you are elected president?

To Governor Romney: You have called for a return to limited government if you are elected president. But you have not said a single thing about targeted killing, even when the those killed have been American citizens never indicted for a crime. How can you square the expansion of what seems to many like the ultimate power with your vision of a limited constitutional government? And President Obama, how do you respond to those who view the expansion of targeted killing under your administration as symptomatic of your belief in government in general?

To President Obama: Your administration has not just employed targeted killing; it has made the case for targeted killing to the rest of the world. What would you tell the leader of another country who wants to make use not only of technology pioneered by America but also of legal arguments pioneered by America? Do those arguments only count for America, or do they count also for Russia, China, and well, North Korea and Hezbollah? Governor Romney, have you prepared for the possibility of another country acquiring and using drone technology during a Romney Administration, and have you considered the possibility that you might have to argue against a prerogative so forcefully championed by your predecessor?

And, finally, to both men: President Obama, you got your start as a community organizer and as a law professor. Governor Romney, your experience, before you entered politics, was as a missionary and then, for a long time, as a businessman. Neither of you have been trained by the military. And yet the confluence of asymmetrical threat, data-driven intelligence, and drone technology has called for the president of the United States to exercise power in a new and startlingly personalized way — to say, quite literally, who is going to live and who is going to die. President Obama, has lethal responsibility changed the nature of the job for you and do you think it changes the nature of the presidency itself? Governor Romney, you will inherit the power to target and kill individuals, if you are elected president. Does this, in any way, give you pause? Do you have any qualms about it, and can you tell us if and how you've made peace with lethal responsibility — with killing?

Sanho Tree, foreign policy expert at the Institute for Policy Studies, doubts this question about US drug policy will find its way into tonight's debate, but offers it nonetheless:

Last month, the presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala – all three conservatives who have diligently fought the drug war alongside the U.S. – sent a letter to the Secretary General of the UN asking for a fundamental reevaluation of international drug policies. All three have talked about ending drug prohibition and exploring regulatory alternatives because the drug war provides an astronomical “price support” to drug traffickers against which many governments cannot compete. Will you engage them in a fundamental reevaluation or will you support more of the same policies?

John Nichols in The Nation argues that trade issues and human rights—in China and Tibet in particular—should be addressed.

Monday's debate, at Lynn University in Boca Raton, will be moderated by Bob Schieffer and is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. Eastern Time.

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