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Opinion

Bessent: No fireworks in final debate, obscuring important issues

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question during the third presidential debate with President Barack Obama, held at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. (Oct. 22, 2012) Credit: AP

Did Barack Obama apologize to the Muslim world back in 2009? Mitt Romney says he did.  Obama says he didn’t.

Voters can make that judgment for themselves — and most probably already have. That sort of jousting may be good gotcha politics, but fighting about it does nothing at this point to advance U.S. interests in the world.

Is the United States' influence in the world waning? Now that’s a serious question. Unfortunately  the public won’t get an answer to that tonight because, like most foreign policy issues, it’s complicated.

Where the public should expect answers is about the war in Afghanistan, and it got some. Both Obama and Romney said the surge was successful and U.S. combat troops will come home by the end of 2014, no ifs, ands or buts.

Just as important, both candidates agreed we cannot just wash our hands of Pakistan, no matter how frustrating that relationship has become. They’re right. The United States can’t afford for Pakistan to spiral out of our sphere of influence or to become a nuclear-armed failed state.

Drones

Obama and Romney also agreed on the use of unmanned drones to press our anti-terror campaign around the world. But that’s an example where agreement can be a dangerous thing.

When opposing candidates agree there are no fireworks, and when there are no fireworks, important issues may not get the attention they deserve. This is one of those issues.  We need a national debate on the legal and moral questions raised by a policy of targeting people around the world for execution — including American citizens — with nothing traditionally recognized as due process.

That may be a necessary evil of modern warfare. Targeted hits reduce the number of deaths and save money compared to moving armies around the world, occupying countries  and engaging in nation-building. Hopefully we won’t wait until some foreign nation strikes inside the United States with a drone before we have that debate.

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