Presidential Debate 2012: 5 Reasons Foreign Policy Matters in Election 2012

On Monday, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will square off on a topic that, according to most polls, just about 4% of the electorate votes on: foreign policy. If you’re wondering why the candidates would spend their final presidential debate — and, probably the last time they’ll share a stage together before the election — on this topic, you’re not alone. But, there are (at least) five reasons that foreign policy is important to consider in this election:

How America manages to make friends—or face enemies—in the post-Arab Spring world will impact the safety of voters here at home. If the next President does not craft a cohesive—yet flexible—plan for earning friends in the revamped Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, radicalism could rise. In today’s globalized society, the idea that American should isolate itself from the world is as out-of-date as a cassette tape. American values, like free speech, will only be advanced in these new democracies if America is actively engaged abroad.

As of today, America produces just 40% of the oil it consumes. Most Americans would be surprised to learn just how far we are from the candidates’ oft-repeated promise of “North American energy independence.” Smart foreign policy moves—like President Obama’s sanctions against Iran, which have cut the value of their currency by 50%—also impact our ability to charge our iPods. The next President will have to keep relations smooth with countries that provide the U.S. with energy. And, more importantly, he’ll have to find more of it to quench America’s increasing appetite for energy.

Today, one of the hottest debates in this country is over how America will shape its military to face the threats of the future. For the “Greatest Generation” that fought in World War II, the idea of diplomacy—using not just guns, but roads, schools and hospitals to influence the world—is endangered. If America abandons diplomacy, the sacrifices that our Veterans have made to create a more stable and democratic world will be at risk. The next President will have to enhance American security through diplomatic solutions, not just military force. Smart foreign policy is the way to do that.

As of today, according to the U.S. Treasury, each American would have to pay more than $46,000 to pay off the debt. That’s way higher than any point since 1918. President Obama’s gotten the memo: by drawing down troops in Afghanistan and taking all U.S. forces out of Iraq, he’s reduced military spending--a major driver of debt--significantly. Come January, the next President (be it Obama or Romney) will have to make similarly tough choices, particularly on hot-button topics like Veterans’ medical care.