Questions that would liven up tonight’s foreign policy debate

US foreign policy specialist Stephen Walt lists the top ten questions you won’t hear during tonight’s last presidential nominee debate. Iran will be a central focus, if not the most talked about issue, but we’re unlikely to hear serious discussion along these lines according to Walt:

8. The United States has the world’s strongest conventional forces and no powerful enemies near its shores. It has allies all over the world, and military bases on every continent. Yet the United States also keeps thousands of nuclear weapons at the ready to deter hostile attack.

Iran is much weaker than we are, and it has many rivals near its borders. Many U.S. politicians have called for the overthrow of its government. Three close neighbors have nuclear weapons: Pakistan, India, and Israel. If having nuclear weapons makes sense for the United States, doesn’t it make sense for Iran too? And won’t threatening Iran with an attack just make them want a deterrent even more?

(Follow up: You both believe all options should be “on the table” with Iran, including the use of military force. Would you order an attack on Iran without U.N. Security Council authorization? How would this decision to launch an unprovoked attack be different from Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941?

The Daily Beast’s Ali Gharib also provides tough questions for both candidates:

Mr. President, you have said in all manner of ways that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be “unacceptable,” and that you will not take options off the table to prevent this outcome—a clear reference to the potential use of military force. But a bipartisan group of foreign policy heavyweights, in addition to numerous top former Israeli security officials, believe that attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities could engender grave consequences, with the maximum benefit being only a delay in Iran’s nuclear program. What’s more, many of these experts think attacking could actually spur the Iranian government to kick out nuclear inspects and actually build a weapon. Can an attack stop Iran?

Governor Romney, after going back and forth on where you would place the “red line,” which would trigger military action, on Iran’s nuclear program, you’ve settled on declaring that you would stop an Iranian weapons “capability.” On yourcampaign website, you say that if the Iranians get even a weapons “capability,” “the entire geostrategic landscape of the Middle East would shift in favor of the ayatollahs.” Other than appearing to be at some point short of nuclear weapons “production”—where the President Obama set his red line—”capability” is an illdefined concept. How do you define a nuclear weapons “capability” and how would that change the Middle East?

And on the issue of Israel-Palestine, which thanks to Bibi Netanyahu’s relentless Iran campaign this year has virtually disappeared from mainstream press attention, Walt asks:

3. Both of you claim to support a “two-state” solution between Israel and the Palestinians. But since the last election, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has increased by more than 25,000 and now exceeds half-million people. If continued settlement growth makes a two-state solution impossible, what should United States do? Would you encourage Israel to allow “one-person, one-vote” without regard to religion or ethnicity — as we do here in the United States — or would you support denying Palestinians under Israeli control in Gaza and the West Bank full political rights?

The National Security Network also provides a wealth of additional resources for tonight’s event.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.