It’s fitting that the third and final presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will be held in Las Vegas: The campaign season has been a spectacle, to say the least. But despite the old trope, what happens in Vegas on Wednesday night won’t stay in Vegas—much to the contrary, it’ll be watched with tremendous (huge, even) interest around the world.
Director of Communications and Managing Editor - Foreign Policy, The Brookings Institution
This is the first U.S. presidential election in three generations, as Brookings’s Bruce Jones has written, in which the basic tenets of American internationalism have been called into question—and not just on the political fringe, but in the mainstream, by a major political party. Needless to say, that’s made U.S. allies—Germany, Japan, South Korea, and others—nervous, just as it’s drawn an unusual degree of interest from more adversarial countries like Russia and Iran.
Particularly in a moment characterized by intense skepticism of U.S. foreign policy and America’s role in the world, voters deserve to hear a thorough airing of the candidates’ proposals for the highest-priority foreign policy challenges facing the country. During the first and second debates, Trump and Clinton were asked about trade, U.S.-Russia relations, the anti-ISIS fight and the Syrian civil war, allies, refugees, the Iran nuclear deal, and nuclear no first use. While these lines of questioning unearthed some concrete policy ideas—Clinton said during the second debate that she’d seriously consider arming Kurdish fighters in Syria more heavily, for example—the candidates also relied heavily on platitudes and ambiguity.
Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday should push Clinton and Trump to get specific on Wednesday night by challenging them directly on their respective policy plans. Here are 10 questions he could ask, with links to recent policy briefs by Brookings scholars:
1. China sometimes behaves aggressively in its neighborhood but can also be a constructive player in a variety of global forums. As president, would you approach China as fundamentally a cooperative partner or an adversarial competitor, and what are policies that follow on from that approach?
2. Trump, you’ve proposed measures—such as a 45 percent tariff on imports from China—that could risk getting the United States into a trade war with China. Can you make the case for how such policies would be good for the U.S. economy?
3. Secretary Clinton, at one point you gave high praise to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but during your presidential campaign you’ve walked back on your support for the deal. Yet studies consistently show that the U.S. economy would be better off with the enactment of the TPP. What would you do to counteract negative economic effects, either of signing the deal or of not doing so?
4. In a major ramp-up, North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests this year. As president, would you seek to more tightly squeeze the North Korean regime, look to enter a dialogue, or take another approach?
5. As president, would you continue to provide U.S. military aid to Ukraine? Do you think Washington can and should play a role in helping to resolve the ongoing conflict there? If so, how?
6. Would U.S. involvement in Afghanistan change if you became president? If so, how?
7. Do you believe that the United States has a role to play in seeking a resolution to the conflict in Syria, or that it’s best left to regional parties? What specific measures would you support?
8. If the United States and its allies were to succeed in defeating ISIS militarily under your watch as president, what would come next? Particularly in Iraq, where there is not also a civil war to contend with. Additionally, how do you assess Iraq’s critical needs at this juncture?
9. What’s your assessment of how U.S. alliances help and/or hurt U.S. security and prosperity? As president, are there relationships that you’d reform or reconsider? If so, how?
10. How do you assess the state of the U.S. military today? What military reforms would you enact as president, and what are the military contingencies that you think we’re not prepared for?
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