I sat down prepared to explain why my guy won tonight's debate. On the economy, he showed a command of both national policy issues and the everyday matters Americans discuss around the dinner table. On foreign policy, he was a smart guy in command of the facts, nothing like the celebrity empty suit the McCain campaign has lampooned in their commercials. Early polling looks good.
I'm happy about the politics. Yet I'm sad about the questions that weren't asked and the answers we never got to hear. Since 40 minutes were used to discuss our economic crisis, they had maybe 80 minutes to discuss, well, everything important to six billion people around the world. Senators Obama and McCain got to summarize their views on Russia, Afghanistan Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan. The words "India" and "China" showed up in the transcript. That's pretty much it.
Hey guys, if it's not too much trouble, could someone address some other matters?
Desperate poverty grips more than one billion people around the world. Many live in failed states governed by scared thugs who cannot meet citizens' basic needs for food, public health, education, and protection against violence. What security threats do such conditions pose to the United States and to others? How can we act, alone or in concert with allies and international organizations, to address these concerns?
Many of our closest Middle-eastern allies are authoritarian governments with limited democratic legitimacy. Many citizens in these countries might well prefer an Islamic state. How should the United States respond to such difficulties? How should we address blemishes in our own human rights record, such as the poor conditions facing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees now living in Jordan, Syria, and other neighboring nations.
Global food prices are rising, in part due to protectionist agricultural policies pursued by the United States and other wealthy nation. Given the failure of the Doha Round of global trade, how can we discourage such policies?
Do you see global population growth as a security threat? How would you address this issue in public policy?
How would you continue or change the PEPFAR initiative, maybe the one worthy component of President Bush's legacy? What are your other top priorities in global health?
Should the United Nations' Security Council be modified to reflect the rise of India, Brazil, and other nations, and the declining position of some great powers that held sway after World War II?
Senators Obama and McCain discussed Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs. What incentives do nations really have to renounce the development of such weapons? How can we strengthen these incentives, given that our military options to enforce nonproliferation are increasingly limited?
How should international institutions be modified to address global challenges such as climate change and cyber-terrorism?
Fifteen years from now, America will be less militarily and economically dominant than we are today. What should we be doing now to operate successfully in this increasingly multi-polar world? How can you mobilize support for these policies within an often ill-informed and insular American public?
Americans are not used to thinking about such questions, some of them anyway, as national security matters. They are.
Senators McCain and Obama held a nice debate over our current military entanglements. They never discussed how we must operate in an increasingly-fragmented 21st-century world. I guess we'll find out some of these answers after one of these men takes the oath of office.
At least after last night, there's a good chance the winner will have actually thought about these things.