The spirited exchange at last Thursday's vice presidential debate elevated attention to foreign policy, which will be a dominant theme of the next two debates. President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney have begun to flesh out their views on the challenges America faces abroad, but they have said little about a range of pressing international issues and skirted critical aspects of stories that currently grab the news headlines. In an effort to stimulate deeper debate on U.S. foreign policy, particularly on the future of democracy and human rights around the world, Freedom House submits the following questions to the presidential candidates:
1. To President Obama: How does your stated commitment to prevent mass atrocities apply to Syria? The death toll has passed 30,000, and the Syrian regime continues to bomb civilians. Moreover, the regime has crossed the red line you set against moving chemical weapons. At what point do you think more forceful U.S. measures will be needed to stop the killing in Syria?
2. To Governor Romney: You have criticized the Obama administration's record on supporting human rights in China and pledged to vigorously engage Chinese civil society groups that promote democratic reform. How would your support for democracy advocates in China differ from President Obama's?
3. To President Obama: Despite the reset in relations with Russia initiated during your first months in office, these relations are now strained. Since winning re-election in March, President Putin has imposed further restrictions on the political opposition, civil society, and the media. His government has resisted your calls to cooperate in bringing an end to mass atrocities in Syria, abruptly expelled the U.S. Agency for International Development, and prevented Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty from broadcasting on Russian airwaves. Given the current state of relations, what specific changes would you adopt in policies toward Russia in a second term?
4. To President Obama: Do you support the Sergei Magnitsky Act, which calls for visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials involved in gross human rights abuses?
5. To Governor Romney: In your speech at the Virginia Military Institute, you promised to "support friends across the Middle East who share our values." We have seen a historic political opening in the region, but most of the democratic transitions have faltered. What level of commitment will you make to help these transitions succeed?
6. To either candidate: In discussions about future U.S. policy toward Afghanistan, the fate of women has been all but ignored. Yet reports from zones controlled by the Taliban suggest that a Taliban-led government would impose just as cruel a regime on women as was the case during the first Taliban period, with lashings, stonings, closing of schools, and prohibitions on women holding jobs. What measures would your administration take to ensure that women's gains -- due in large extent to pressure from the United States -- are not rolled back?
7. To Governor Romney: You have pledged to "deepen our critical cooperation with our partners in the Gulf." But repressive governments in Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain deny basic rights to their own citizens. How would you promote respect for human rights in these countries?
8. To President Obama: In May 2011, you pledged to "promote reform across" the Middle East and "support transitions to democracy" as a top priority of the United States. In light of the challenges we face today in the region, what progress have you made in fulfilling this pledge?
9. To either candidate: In your view, what is the greatest threat to freedom in the world today?
10. To Governor Romney: You have called for American leadership to "focus multilateral institutions like the United Nations on achieving the substantive goals of democracy and human rights." How would you do so? Do you support continued U.S. membership on the UN Human Rights Council?
11. To Governor Romney: In your speech to the Clinton Global Initiative, you said that U.S. foreign aid should emphasize free enterprise. How will this work in countries where corruption is rife and private property is not protected? And will you continue programs to promote democracy?
12. To President Obama: Opinion polls point to a disturbing increase in isolationist sentiments in the United States. In the past, presidents like Truman, Kennedy, and Reagan went out of their way to explain why the spread of freedom represented a vital interest for the country. Yet even as opportunities for expanding freedom arise in the Middle East and elsewhere, little is said about them in this campaign. What commitment should the United States make to support democracy and human rights around the world?
Countries at Risk
13. To either candidate: In recent years, the state of democracy has declined in a number of Latin American countries, including Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua. What is your strategy to stem the erosion of free institutions in this hemisphere? And how do you plan to deal with a recently reelected Hugo Chávez?
14. To Governor Romney: Islamist militants are in control in the northern half of Mali, which was a democratic country for two decades, until a military coup brought down the elected government earlier this year. What would you do to help defeat these militants?
15. To President Obama: Would you be willing to impose targeted sanctions on officials in Ukraine if that country's parliamentary elections later this month go badly and President Yanukovych continues his refusal to release former prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko and other political prisoners?
16. To Governor Romney: The Obama administration has lifted restrictions on U.S. investment in Burma, despite concerns that such investment might bolster corrupt regime cronies who are complicit in human rights abuses. Do you agree with this approach? If not, what would you do differently?