The final debate between President Obama and Governor Romney, centered on foreign policy, and as such, our discussions centered on the Discussion Report entitled: “Helping Out: Humanitarian Policy for Global Security.” The discussion was held at the offices of the Washington Post in conjunction with TheRoot D.C., and we employed the same format as the week prior. The environs of the Post were outstanding because no one else was occupying our space so all attention could be focused on the discussion without the usual distractions of ambient noise from our fellow restaurant patrons. Our discussion began with individual groups and then we joined together for the last half hour prior to the debate to share our thoughts, impressions and expectations for the final debate in this pivotal election. I for one expected the President to perform even better than last week, because foreign policy is his admittedly strongest area and Governor Romney’s weakest. But the more interesting aspect of the evening was the public discussion centering on when and how should the United States intervene in global crises. Apparently, the candidates were focused on the Middle East and did not touch on hypothetical situations of when America should flex it’s diplomatic muscle. In fact Governor Romney demurred answering a hypothetical question regarding an Israeli declaration of aggression that surprised me. Our discussion touched upon benchmarks for lack of a better words of when to enter any fray that was more enlightening than the candidates mostly agreeing on the pursuit of diplomacy.
My group of participants was actually a mix of young professional students in law school and a few people established in their careers as lawyers, which made a great opportunity for networking in the early portion of our discussion. Whereas most discussions begin with people stating their names and occupations, the discussion began with an administrative law judge dispensing sage advice on how to secure clerkships after law school and how to navigate the legal marketplace. This was helpful for me as well—even though I have been practicing for a dozen years! All things being equal, I would prefer to have groups composed of students and professionals in the same field as an enticement to garner more participants for public discussion in the future.
The Public discussion as aforementioned focused on when and where to enter a foreign theatre on a diplomatic basis. A few of the participants were hesitant to accept any scenario where the United States acts as diplomatic helping hand outside of a natural disaster based on historical references where such engagements went woefully wrong. The first thought that came to my mind was the Vietnam conflict where American military advisors arrived in what was then French Indochina beginning in 1950 and then escalated to the full blown Vietnam War lasting to roughly 1975. Even if there was a benefit to be had by the U.S., most participants did not feel it appropriate to harvest resources because they could not think of a time when that type of arrangement was mutually advantageous to both nations. One participants did mention an interesting fact about the industrial pioneering nation of Botswana. With respect to preserving local resources as a possibility, this gentleman recounted how Botswana has the highest GDP in the region because they only export finished goods whereas other nations trade in raw products such as diamonds and oil. This was an interesting concept that the U.S. could begin to export to other nations in an effort to lend a hand towards upward mobility for developing nations. The group could not think of a more useful export to assist developing nations in their ascent. Even though I have done a discussion on this report previously, this discussion brought forth an entirely difference perspective and approach that I found useful and will employ in my future discussions.
The debate went as expected in my opinion with President Obama clearly gaining the upper hand early. He also had poignant zingers such as we also don’t use the same amount of bayonets and horses that were used in 1916 because we have evolved and so aircraft carriers and submarines trump multitudes of ships that are no longer viable in today’s military. I regret that the debate did not engage in foreign policy hypotheticals because the candidates’ visions appear identical, and it would be interesting to see how they differed in particular situations. All in all, I think the debate season was informative and a successful undertaking to have these policy discussions precede each debate. I look forward to taking what I learned and implementing it as new possibilities.