Foreign policy has received relatively little attention so far in the debates, but we might hear a bit more about a wider range of these issues tonight. One of the announced topics for the final 2016 presidential debate is “foreign hot spots,” which suggests that the candidates will be pressed for their views on various conflicts and flashpoints around the globe. It is almost a given that one question will be on the recently announced Mosul offensive against ISIS, and I assume there will be more of the same leading Syria questions that we heard last time. Ideally, we should also hear questions about at least two of the following: the ongoing war in Afghanistan, heightened tensions between India and Pakistan following the attack in Uri, the war on Yemen and the U.S. role in it, the supposed firing of missiles at U.S. ships in the Red Sea related to that role, the Russian deployment of Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, and the public rift between the U.S. and the Philippines under its new president. All of these involve U.S. policies and relationships in one way or another, and we have not heard much of anything from either candidate about any of them. I doubt that any of these additional topics will come up tonight, but Wallace may surprise me.
Tonight will be Trump’s last chance to challenge Clinton on her lackluster foreign policy record. He has mostly failed to do this in the last two debates, and I don’t expect him to do any better this time. If he could spell out the dangerous implications of Clinton’s Syria policy, that could finally put her on the defensive and possibly put a dent in her support, but to do that he would have to know what he’s talking about. Meanwhile, Clinton has been allowed to skate through the entire campaign without facing much scrutiny on foreign policy at all, and there is almost no time left. For all the talk of how this was going to be a foreign policy election, the subject has mostly been ignored for the duration of the general election. Considering that the next president will take office while the U.S. is fighting and/or supporting at least three wars after fifteen years of being at war somewhere in the world, this is a major failure on the part of the candidates and the media. Americans are electing another wartime president, but the candidates have had to answer remarkably few questions about how and why they would continue America’s entanglements in foreign conflicts.
P.S. As usual, I will be covering the debate on Twitter (@DanielLarison). The debate begins at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.