PETER VAN BUREN [email]
Van Buren, a 24-year veteran Foreign Service Officer at the State Department, spent a year in Iraq. He is author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.
He just wrote “Don’t Ask and Don’t Tell: Six Critical Foreign Policy Questions That Won’t Be Raised in the Presidential Debates,” which states: “We had a debate club back in high school. Two teams would meet in the auditorium, and Mr. Garrity would tell us the topic, something 1970s-ish like ‘Resolved: Women Should Get Equal Pay for Equal Work’ or ‘World Communism Will Be Defeated in Vietnam.’ Each side would then try, through persuasion and the marshalling of facts, to clinch the argument. There’d be judges and a winner.
“Today’s presidential debates are a long way from Mr. Garrity’s club. It seems that the first rule of the debate club now is: no disagreeing on what matters most. In fact, the two candidates rarely interact with each other at all, typically ditching whatever the question might be for some rehashed set of campaign talking points, all with the complicity of the celebrity media moderators preening about democracy in action. Waiting for another quip about Big Bird is about all the content we can expect.
“But the joke is on us. Sadly, the two candidates are stand-ins for Washington in general, a ‘war’ capital whose denizens work and argue, sometimes fiercely, from within a remarkably limited range of options. It was D.C. on autopilot last week for domestic issues; the next two presidential debates are to be in part or fully on foreign policy challenges (of which there are so many). When it comes to foreign — that is, military — policy, the gap between Barack and Mitt is slim to the point of nonexistent on many issues, however much they may badger each other on the subject.”