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Why Malala Really Matters: The Foreign Policy Debate We Didn't Have

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The U.S. presidential foreign policy debate. It's long gone, but I can't stop thinking about it.

The most complex challenges we face as a country, as humanity, are foreign policy challenges.

Where would our economy be if we had made different decisions about war and peace? Where would our economy be if we had made different decisions about fair trade and global financial regulation?

What about getting life-saving vaccines to all children or getting all kids in school? These are problems of such importance and complexity that they require the best brains and the most of our political might and heft and leadership. But these did not figure in the U.S. presidential foreign policy debate?

Whose fault is this? The moderator? The candidates? All of ours?

As well as railing against evil-doers and terror cells when they blow up planes and embassies, why do we not decry their calculated plans to keep life-saving commodities, and services from the world's most vulnerable?

Consider this: The Taliban leader, Mullah Fazlullah, suspected to have ordered the assassination of Malala Yousufzai, a Pakistani school girl, became locally famous in the mid 2000s for his roving radio rants against the government, education, music and the polio vaccine.

Is it a coincidence that Fazlullah rose to prominence on the backs of the most vulnerable, by spreading misinformation and fear and that he '"tried to maintain his stature and public standing by attacking those most vulnerable and least likely to resist"? Is it a coincidence that Fazullah spread misinformation about life-saving vaccines?

Not even for a second. This is the most important link we barely ever seem to make.

Where we suffer as a country and as a world, we suffer because we lack the political will to connect the dots -- to get clear that where people suffer a lack of access to basic services -- where they don't have a safe place to go to the bathroom, enough food, or the freedom to even assert that girls should be in school -- this is not unlucky, this is the result of decisions that leaders in all countries, including the U.S., make every single day.

This is where we face the challenges that connect us all. And this is where we should fight them.

It's a serious governance challenge in Pakistan that someone can rise to prominence on an anti-vaccine, anti-education platform that eventually leads to an assassination attempt on a school girl, and it's a governance challenge of another sort, also serious, that we don't test U.S. presidential candidates by asking about these global health and education issues and what our leadership is going to do to solve these most serious and complex challenges.

That's the debate I'd still like to see.

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