Drug policy: Apparently, Latin America being in our time zone is more salient to U.S. foreign policy than any discussion relating to drugs. As I’ve written for The New Criterion, the multibillion-dollar government boondoggle that is the war on drugs has proven a complete failure by every measure. Domestically, incarceration rates are sky high, usage is up, and drugs remain cheap and plentiful. Ludicrously inefficient programs like Operation Fast and Furious have killed Americans and foreigners alike, and from the poppy fields in the Middle East to PLAN Colombia, America’s eradication efforts have seen no benefits. Furthermore, to discuss Latin America without looking at the drug-related violence that has torn apart the region, from Honduras to Guatemala to Mexico, is to ignore the most pressing issue facing that part of the world.
Europe’s finances: Other than Romney’s two “road to Greece” references criticizing Obama’s handling of the economy, Europe was only really mentioned once, in its role as an ally. As The Guardian reports, few European outlets seem to take issue with the candidates’ decision to avoid discussion of the European economy.
Surveillance and targeted killings: There was some talk about drones, but no mention of America’s even more controversial policies. Both candidates were happy to leave citizens in the dark about the “kill lists” that led to the death of 16-year-old American citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and tactics, like warrantless surveillance, that are increasingly being used against Americans.
Climate change: Despite returning to the topic of energy during every debate, neither candidate talked about climate change. In fact, this was the first time in 24 years that climate change wasn’t mentioned during the presidential debates. While clean energy and energy independence might be good starting points for a discussion, these don’t even begin to address climate change, a major issue that requires a unified, global approach. The importance of a foreign policy dedicated to addressing climate change is evident when you consider that America’s carbon emissions are outpaced only by China’s, and the other top-emitting countries are Russia and India, none of which are likely to slow their carbon output without opening a dialogue about the environment.
I’ve written before about the contrived nature of presidential debates, and Monday night’s performance did little to change my perception. While the preceding issues are certainly on the candidates’ radars to one degree or another, their complete exclusion during the debate is an affront to both voters and the global community. Glenn Greenwald’s takeaway was apt: “That was just a wretched debate, with almost no redeeming qualities. It was substance-free, boring, and suffuse with empty platitudes. … The vast majority of the most consequential foreign policy matters (along with the world’s nations) were completely ignored in lieu of their same repetitive slogans on the economy. … In sum, it was a perfect microcosm of America’s political culture.”
Without a doubt, the economy is the biggest issue in this election, but to discuss Israel without even acknowledging the existence of Palestine, to treat Latin America as some sort of untapped economic Arcadia while ignoring the violence ripping apart the region, to discuss the danger of nuclear states and not mention North Korea portends a narrow-sighted and potentially disastrous U.S. foreign policy — regardless of who is elected.
Brian Kelly is a freelance writer, the assistant editor at The New Criterion, and a recent graduate of Brown University.