by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
November 1, 2012
BRADENTON, Fla., Oct. 21, 2012 -- Before we hear a single word Monday night in the final debate of this presidential election season, we know that an awful lot of it will be about trade with China. The other big thing will be the Obama Administration's relationship with Israel and its handling of Iran's apparent attempt to develop nuclear weapons.
Romney's inexperience with foreign policy - as demonstrated by his insulting comment on the readiness of security for the flawless 2012 London Olympics - will probably not be so much on display. He's had weeks to study the briefing books prepared by his campaign, and has many seasoned State Dept. officials from the two Bush and two-term Reagan Administration to consult. It won't be a walkover, as some are predicting.
Symbolic of the difficulties faced by our foreign policy is the disarray in Pakistan. As the New York Times reports this morning, the government of Pakistan has allowed a major opportunity to strike the Taliban to be lost to inaction after the attempted assassination of 14-year-old Malala Yusufszai catalyzed huge demonstrations against the terrorists.
Mitt Romney is sure to make much of the fact that the U.S. has taken no role - beyond fighting the Taliban at the cost of more than 2,000 American lives over the past decade and drone-targeting Taliban elements for elimination in Pakistan's northern border territory of Waziristan - in prodding its leaders into fighting harder against the many terror groups that plague that country.
Gov. Romney is almost certain to attack you for the promise and then the withdrawal of a promised missile shield for Poland in the face of Russian opposition. Your overheard promise to Dmitri Medvedev to be more flexible after the elections will also be a target Romney will use. You need to have cogent, quick and convincing explanations for both.
I suspect Pakistan will prove to be a major element in the foreign policy debate. Ironically, one of the most popular prime-time series on television, ABC's "Last Resort," began its unusual narrative with a first-strike nuclear attack on Pakistan engineered by unknown forces who are part of a coup-in-motion in Washington, D.C. The fact that a prime-time series concerns such an attack is not trivial; Pakistan is rumored at high levels to have agreed to respond with nuclear weapons against Israel if the Jewish state attacks Iran with them, and the U.S. is certain to defend Israel in kind.
As painful as that scenario is to contemplate, there may be an element of truth in it; another published rumor recently had it that Saudi Arabia financed development of Pakistan's nuclear weapons in return for an agreement under which Pakistan would provide nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia, which, according to a study by the Bipartisan Policy Center (an advocate for an Israeli strike against Iran), may become a target of Iranian nuclear weapons if Iran ever gets them.
The fact that Iran has agreed within the past day to engage in one-on-one talks with the United States about its nuclear program after the elections is very promising, but opposed by Israel. You must renew your vow to engage with Iran and other sponsors of state terrorism without preconditions if it can reduce tensions and stop terrorist acts against this country, but you should remind everyone of the terms for such talks, which require the invitees to meet a very high threshhold of seriousness which are tantamount to preconditions.
The discussion of our relationship with Israel is fraught with peril for Obama, who has not had a collegial relationship with right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The fallout from that issue has already been substantial, and the issue of the relationship with Israel is critical to the many Jewish voters in the key swing state of Florida, many of whom are dual citizens of Israel. They probably wish that the right wing hadn't taken over Israel's government, so, going in, the issue is not one of the most dangerous, but any misstatements and missteps in the debate and the relationship would certainly make the traditional support of Florida's Jewish Democrats more precarious.
To the extent that President Obama can invoke the names of his many Labor Party supporters in Israel - whom a lot of Florida voters will be rooting for when Israeli elections are held in early 2013 - he can take advantage of the native antipathy to Netanyahu among these dyed-in-the-wool Democrats. He does need to restate with great clarity and force his long opposition to the possibility of Iran gaining nuclear weapons, and perhaps flesh out that opposition with a specific promise of Patriot missiles and other weaponry that will help defend Israel from any Iranian counterattack.
The President must carefully weigh the prospects for a Palestinian state when he recommits to it; as things now stand, it is not likely to happen in the next three or four years, so there is plenty of time to modify a policy he states Monday night. The contentious vote on the capital of Israel that galvanized coverage of the Democratic National Convention (you'll remember it took DNC chairman Antonio Villaraigosa three tries to get a satisfying voice vote for naming Jerusalem as Israel's capital in the party platform) was a remarkable symbol of the opposition within the party to our currently antagonistic relationship with the Palestinian Authority, and while it would not be decisive on Election Day, the issue does have the power to change a few votes.
The questions that concern the Arab Spring are also ones that can have wide consequences. Here, our down 'n dirty war in Yemen is impressive evidence of our limitless resolve to fight al-Qaeda wherever it is found. The President is a stalwart defender of democracy, as he demonstrated so thanklessly in Libya, but exercising that defense in the case of Syria is particularly problematic. The President should openly state that his Administration, mindful of the Libyan experience, is arming carefully selected elements of the Syrian rebel army, and at the same time he should condemn Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the strongest possible terms for the slaughter of 28,000 Syrian civilians; in that, he should noT be a diplomat nor resort to diplomacy's stilted language.
I, too, have been disappointed with the pace of legal action against China's depredations upon our trade relationship. It is difficult to push China in any direction, as Ambassador John Hunstman would surely tell him. I think Obama needs to go to the intelligence community for new and sound information that he can safely use to declare his dissatisfaction with China's behavior; he is likely also to have to defend the lack of progress in freeing the Chinese yuan from its very narrow price range against the dollar that has complicated our bilateral trade. He needs to make it clear that if necessary America can encourage India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and poor nations in Africa to compete with China's production of low-cost goods for export to our country.
Our relationship with the European Union centers around our readiness to assist in any effort the European Central Bank makes to ensure the continued use of the Euro in Greece and the solvency of the Italian, Spanish, Irish and Portuguese governments. Romney is likely to know what he is talking about in this area, and it is one where the President might reasonably stumble. He has two jobs to do in this regard: first, to avoid committing this nation to bailouts of any other nations; and, second, to make it clear we will do everything short of a bailout to ensure the stability of the European Union and our valued trade partners.
There is little time Monday for new issues in the foreign poolicy debate, but among those the President could safely address are the Maoist rise to power in Nepal, and the salutary progress in Burma, or Myanmar, towards representative democracy. The President might point to the successful peaceful transition of Indonesia and The Philippines from dictatorship to democracy, and urge that future eruptions of the Arab Spring emulate those. He would find quite a few sympathetic ears if he could promise stronger support for Tibet against the Chinese takeover of its lands and people. He also has to be on guard for attacks based on our failure to join with India in this cause so that we can be united and strong in defending Tibet's sovereignty.
My suggestions have not included southern and equatorial Africa, but if I was Mitt Romney, I would try to drag you into an extended discussion of current unrest in Kenya simply for its potential to cause embarrassment. But today, the real action is in preserving democracy in Nigeria and extending it to all of Mali; condemnation of the forced imposition of Sha'aria law by terrorists in the north of Mali would probably help your cause. Many more challenges are faced in Africa, but they are probably too obscure to explore Monday night.
For your closing, the time may be right for a sterling peroration on the need for international cooperation on global climate change. If you entertain one, choose a series of dramatic examples, first from this country and then from others and the Antarcic, that together illustrate the dramatic need for concerted action among competing economic partners. Remember, though, that it's the spirit of such action that must be paramount, not the Kyoto Accords-type details. Where the spirit leads, the nations follow. Your eloquence will never be better served than by a statement that moves millions to unify behind this important foreign policy issue.
Remember, Mr. President, that you wounded Mr. Romney in the last debate, and he may be feeling cornered. State unequivocally, as he does, that you are going to win. Don't let him talk over you. Get plenty of rest the night before the debate, and review the tips you successfully took on posture and presence in the last debate. Your only flaw in that contest was when you spoke too softly at times to be taken seriously. If you are going to open your mouth, make your words count. Make them have weight. But don't use the word "lie;" use "untruths" instead - like a true diplomat.
AR Correspondent Joe Shea has covered four wars for the Village Voice, Middletown (NY) Times-Herald Record and Seattle Times; he hosted visits from 150 leading journalists from news organizations in about 50 nations at his home in Hollywood, Calif., under the auspices of the Los Angeles International Visitors Council, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Information Agency. He is now based in Bradenton, Fla., where he is Parliamentarian of the Manatee County Democratic Executive Committee and a contributor to Obama For America. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.