The Blog

This Election Can't Just Be About the Economy

Yet the result of the presidential election in November matters to many of us beyond America's borders. Whether you live in Kabul, Damascus or Cairo, or indeed in London, your life will be affected by the decisions made in the Oval Office thousands of miles away.

The vast majority of the world's population won't get a vote in the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to be the world's most powerful person.

Yet the result of the presidential election in November matters to many of us beyond America's borders. Whether you live in Kabul, Damascus or Cairo, or indeed in London, your life will be affected by the decisions made in the Oval Office thousands of miles away.

Listen to any commentator and they will tell you this election is about the U.S. economy, and only the economy. It's a contest about the bottom line, not the frontlines.

The complete absence of any foreign policy debate in this election is a stark contrast with 2008 or 2004, when Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terror were top of the political agenda. Or for that matter the elections during the Cold War that were dominated by policy towards the Soviet Union, Korea, nuclear weapons and Vietnam.

This is a dangerous situation for the American people and for the rest of the world who will live with the consequences of this election.

While it is completely understandable for American citizens to be worried about their jobs, paying the mortgage and rising gas prices, the most powerful role of the presidency is that of commander-in-chief of the world's largest military and most influential diplomatic force.

The last time a U.S. presidential election was so devoid of foreign policy was in 2000. On that occasion, the American people elected a president on a platform of tax cuts and education reform, who turned out to be the most foreign policy-focused leader of his generation.

Whether you agree or disagree with George Bush's decisions, and many outside the U.S. did disagree, there's no question that he was elected as a domestic president and thrust into the role of foreign policy president.

There are numerous examples of presidents who tout their economic credentials who soon realise that the domestic role of the presidency is very limited and the foreign policy role is almost unlimited, or an event such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks puts domestic issues on the political backburner.

When Mitt Romney addresses the Republican convention in Tampa this week the world as well as America will be watching. They're unlikely to hear anything other than a few lines about what the GOP nominee will do to deal with the crisis in Syria, the ongoing war in Afghanistan or the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. No doubt there will be some red meat about being tough on Iran but no clue as to what Mr. Romney will actually do if he becomes the most powerful military commander on the planet.

The same can be said of his Democratic opponent. President Obama will no doubt make reference to the successful mission to destroy the leadership of Al Qaeda and the international effort to topple the Libyan regime, however there's unlikely to be many indications of what he will do on foreign policy for the next four years and who he will tap to replace Hillary Clinton as his chief diplomat.

While Obama will focus on the economy, the reality is that if he is re-elected he's likely to face an intransigent Congress that's not interested in passing his domestic agenda and he will prefer to spend a second term focused on foreign policy. With the nuclear stand-off between Israel and Iran and the ongoing instability in the Middle East, as well as a whole host of unexpected events that will no doubt force his hand toward foreign policy, he'll probably have no choice but to devote much of a second term to these issues if he wants to have an impact and a legacy.

While the conventions seem destined to avoid foreign policy at all costs, fortunately there is at least one presidential debate between Obama and Romney (out of the three planned) devoted to these issues.

America might want their next president to focus on the economy but history tells us that whether they like it or not, they are almost destined to be judged by their foreign policy decisions.

Let's hope on October 22 in Florida during the presidential debate slated to cover foreign policy, the candidates give some clue as to what they will do to address the world's most pressing diplomatic and security challenges and are asked the much-needed tough questions.

Neither candidate should be allowed to get away with claiming this election is just about the economy. It's about much more than that, and America's voters deserve to know where both the President and his challenger stand on the major foreign policy challenges that the next commander-in-chief will face.