A Romney-Perry Foreign Policy Debate?

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.

Marc A. Thiessen is a visiting fellow at AEI

Rick Perry for President

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author


Marc A.
  • A member of the White House senior staff under President George W. Bush, Marc A. Thiessen served as chief speechwriter to the president and to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Prior to joining the Bush administration, Thiessen spent more than six years as spokesman and senior policy adviser to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). He is a weekly columnist for the Washington Post, and his articles can be found in many major publications. His book on the Central Intelligence Agency's interrogation program, Courting Disaster (Regnery Press, 2010), is a New York Times bestseller. At AEI, Thiessen writes about U.S. foreign and defense policy issues for The American and the Enterprise Blog. He appears every Sunday on Fox News Channel's "Fox and Friends" and makes frequent appearances on other TV and talk radio programs.

    Follow Marc Thiessen on Twitter.

  • Phone: 202-862-7173
    Email: marc.thiessen@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Justin Lang
    Phone: (202) 862-5948
    Email: Justin.Lang@aei.org

What's new on AEI

image The money in banking: Comparing salaries of bank and bank regulatory employees
image What Obama should say about China in Japan
image A key to college success: Involved dads
image China takes the fight to space
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
  • 22
  • 23
  • 24
  • 25
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.