04/13/2012 02:49 pm ET Updated Jun 13, 2012

First Face-Off on Foreign Policy Between Obama and Romney Campaigns

This week, Mitt Romney moved one step closer to gaining the Republican nomination with the departure of Rick Santorum from the Republican primary. While the economy will take center stage in a potential Romney-Obama showdown for the presidential race in 2012, foreign policy will offer an opportunity for what we assume will be two distinct visions for America's role in the world.

The Romney campaign has continually criticized Obama for a soft approach to foreign policy, and one that "leads from behind" particularly in the Arab Spring and over Iran's nuclear ambitions. Obama's record on foreign policy, on the other hand, has received higher praise in opinion polling than has Romney's, particularly coming off of the assassination of Osama bin Laden last year. Romney and his campaign have continually referred to Obama's foreign policy as weak and lacking in a leadership approach that puts American values out front.

While it is fairly clear that the biggest difference between the two campaigns is over Iran and how to impose sanctions and avoid military intervention, what is less clear is the type of vision that each candidate has for engaging not only Iran but the larger Muslim world. With the Arab Spring in flux, Syria's ongoing human rights disaster, and the upcoming elections in Egypt that most likely will bring the Muslim Brotherhood into power, America needs a clear vision and strategy for engagement in the wider Middle East and Muslim world.

On Sunday, April 15, top advisers in foreign policy to both campaigns will square off at George Washington University in the first foreign policy debate between the two candidates. Kerry Healey, Special Adviser to Romney for President and former Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor, will debate Michèle Flournoy, adviser to Obama for America Campaign on National Security and former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. The moderator, John Milewski, host of the Woodrow Wilson International Center's "Dialogue" program and formerly with C-SPAN, will start by probing precisely what the candidates' views of the world are at this time. What are the underlying organizing principles that will influence the candidate's choices on U.S. global engagement? From these big picture perspectives, the advisers will jump into more focused questions from young people aged 18-27, touching on the rise of China as a superpower, Iran and sanctions, the Arab Spring, climate change, and then the floor will be open to the youth attendees.

The debate is hosted by Americans for Informed Democracy, a national group founded by grad students studying abroad during 9/11 who were touched by the empathy and solidarity expressed by foreigners for America's horrible trauma. These grad students were the first movers to help the 9/11 generation define what the U.S. role in the world, and their role as individuals, should be.

Americans for Informed Democracy has started an impressive network across college campuses that seeks to educate and mobilize students to care about positive U.S. global engagement, for the good of both the U.S. and the rest of the world. They have a network of 40,000+ young people aged 16-27 taking action on global issues they care about: security, environment, jobs, hunger, and health.

The debate promises to offer an important first step in defining the key differences between the two campaigns on foreign policy.

For more information and to attend the debate and larger "2012: Challenge Accepted" conference on April 14-15, visit