The Foreign Policy Debate that Didn't Feel Like a Debate

By Megan Sehr on October 26, 2012

This week’s foreign policy debate in Boca Raton, Florida had been marked on my calendar for a couple of weeks.  During the debate, I was hoping to discern the candidates’ different policies on issues such as terrorism, a nuclear Iran, and a rising China.  I thought the debate would reveal two distinct ideologies about the direction of American influence around the world.

Yet, the candidates seemed to agree on many key issues during the debate. The lack of daylight between Romney and Obama’s statements made it difficult to choose a policy I favored more, and it will complicate my final decision on November 6, 2012.

What major issues did both candidates agree on during the debate?

The Situation in Syria:Both Mitt Romney and President Obama discussed policies that excluded military intervention as a viable option.  They expressed their support for the overthrow of Assad’s regime, and they talked about helping rebel groups organize and receive humanitarian assistance.  The candidates also stressed the need for a final transition to a stable Syrian government.

The Arab Spring (especially Syria) was a major topic during the foreign policy debate. Photograph by FreedomHouse at Flickr.

A Nuclear Iran: When Schieffer asked about Israel and the threat of a nuclearized Iran, Romney and Obama stressed their support for the Jewish state.  Both candidates made clear that a nuclear Iran is an unacceptable option, and they gave their support for economic sanctions against the Iranian regime.   Romney and Obama also emphasized that military action against Iran would be a last-resort if every other avenue (sanctions, diplomatic relations, etc.) failed to stop their nuclear ambitions and if Iran became an imminent existential threat toward Israel.

The Use of Drones: President Obama was not specifically asked about the use of drones in countries like Pakistan, because his administration has supported the targeted assassination of individuals linked to terrorist organizations.  When Schieffer asked Romney to share his opinion about drones, Romney supported using drones “to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world.”  Although drones have been a source of controversy among academics in this topic (the violation of state sovereignty, the threat to civilian lives, etc.), neither candidate opposes the use of drones in Pakistan or Yemen.

Trade Relations with China: Both candidates agreed that China should have to follow the same trade rules as the rest of the international community.  Neither candidate, according to their viewpoints at the foreign policy debate, wants the United States to roll over while China takes advantage of trade relations.  They intimated that China should be held to the same standards as the other major international economic players.

I was disappointed that neither candidate had a different idea to offer on these major foreign policy issues.  Whether or not I would have agreed with the alternative idea, I would have liked to see some differentiation between their ideas about American influence around the world.  Instead, they both argued about who would fulfill policy agendas with more strength and dedication, an argument that is based on emotion, not facts and logic.

I saw some major potential in the results of this debate, but I was let down by the points made by the candidates.  When they weren’t agreeing with each other, they were arguing about their domestic policies, taking from the foreign policy aspect of the debate.  As an individual that waited to finally hear the candidates express their ideas about America’s role in the international community, I felt that this debate did little to the distinctions between the two candidates.

For a complete transcript of the presidential debate on foreign policy, go to

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