Israel, a nuclear Iran, war in Afghanistan and the Benghazi attack candidates to tussle over international issues in third meeting

Mon, Oct 22, 2012, 01:00

JUDGING FROM the list of topics for tonight’s foreign policy debate, Europe, Africa and South America will not even be mentioned.

In addition to the US’s role in the world, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will tussle over the following:

THE CHANGING MIDDLE EAST AND THE NEW FACE OF TERRORISM

The Romney campaign hopes this two-part segment will focus on the administration’s fuzzy explanation of what it knew about the attack that killed four Americans, including the US ambassador, in Benghazi on September 11th.

Administration officials alternately called it a spontaneous demonstration sparked by a video about the prophet Muhammad and a preplanned terrorist attack. Republicans say Benghazi proves that Obama has not vanquished al-Qaeda.

Romney’s attempts to exploit the Benghazi attack for political gain have backfired twice, when he accused the Obama administration of “sympathising with those who waged the attacks” and when he mistakenly claimed that Obama had not condemned terrorism in his Rose Garden speech following the killings.

To the consternation of liberals, Obama has maintained many of George W Bush’s counter-terrorism policies, including drone strikes, the CIA’s renditions programme, detention without trial, and – albeit unwillingly – the prison in Guantánamo.

On Israel-Palestine, Obama began his term by insisting that Israel freeze settlements in the occupied West Bank, but backed down in the face of Israeli intransigence. There have been only two weeks of formal negotiations in the past four years.

In a secretly recorded video, Romney said Palestinians don’t want peace and implied he would “kick the ball down the field” rather than push for negotiations.

RED LINES – ISRAEL AND IRAN

The New York Times reported yesterday that the US and Iran have agreed in principle to begin one-on-one negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme for the first time following the US election.

The White House said no final agreement had been made, but a spokesman reiterated that the administration had always been prepared for bilateral meetings. The report could strengthen Obama’s case for diplomatic rather than military action.

Romney often reproaches Obama for failing to support the 2009 “green movement” in Iran in the hope of a rapprochement with Iranian leaders.

Romney and Obama have also differed on how far they would allow the Iranian nuclear programme to proceed. In Israel last summer, Romney aligned himself with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu when he said an Iranian nuclear “capability” – sufficient highly enriched uranium for a warhead – was unacceptable.

In the vice-presidential debate, Joe Biden appeared to draw the line at “weaponisation”.

“OUR LONGEST WAR” – AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN

Obama abandoned nation-building in Afghanistan and decided to make for the exits almost two years ago. The task has been complicated by corruption in Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s government and the killing of 51 members of the coalition by Afghan forces this year.

Romney criticises Obama for setting the late 2014 deadline, yet says he would respect it. Obama would probably withdraw troops progressively over the next two years, while Romney is thought likely to maintain 68,000 US troops in Afghanistan until the last minute.

Neither candidate has proposed a solution to the US’s tense relationship with its nuclear-armed ally Pakistan.

THE RISE OF CHINA

China was mentioned 22 times in the debate last week, always negatively. Romney says he would denounce China as a “currency manipulator.” Analysts warn that risks starting a trade war.

Bain Capital, the private equity firm that Romney co-founded and from which he continues to collect dividends, has outsourced thousands of US jobs to China.

The outsourcing has continued during the election campaign. A Bain-owned company is in the process of transferring 200 jobs from a plant in Freeport, Illinois, to China.

“Governor, you’re the last person who’s going to get tough on China,” Obama said in the last debate.