There's an old line that the foreign-policy debate in Washington is like a football game played between the 40-yard-lines. You might think that last night's third-party debate, hosted by the Free and Equal Elections Foundation in Chicago, would feature more disagreement, pitting left-wing candidates Jill Stein of the Green Party and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party against Virgil Goode of the right-wing Constitution party, and Libertarian Gary Johnson.
But the four candidates did find quite a bit of common ground in the Larry King-hosted debate, over limiting the ability of the president to authorize the use of force, cutting back on U.S. military commitments -- particularly an early end to the war in Afghanistan -- and expressing concern over the use of drones. Watching it after Monday night's debate between Obama and Romney was a bit like watching a parallel football game being played between the 10- and 30-yard lines.
Here's Stein on drones:
A foreign policy based on militarism and brute military force and wars for oil is making us less secure, not more secure. We need to cut the budget and bring the troops home, and we need to end the drone wars, not bring the drones home, because they're already coming home. We need to end the use of drones and not lead the development of a new arms race, but lead the development of a new treaty -- a convention to permanently ban the use of drones as a weapon of war and as a means of spying on the American public.
Here's Goode on use of force:
I would not be in Syria unless congress makes a declartion of war. We will not stay in Afghanistan if I am elected president unless Congress makes a declaration of war. Only by going through that constitutional process can we ensure that the will of the American people is addressed when we have issues like Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran.
Here's Johnson on military spending:
The biggest threat to our national security is the fact that we're bankrupt -- that we're borrowing and we're printing money to the tune of 43 cents out of every dollar that we spend. So I'm promising to submit a balanced budget to Congress in the year 2013, that would include a 43 percent reduction in military spending. How does that go down? Well a 43 percent reduction in military spending takes us back to 2003 spending levels. It's getting ourselves out of all the military engagements that we're currently involved in. Stop with the military interventions.
During the Bush and the Obama years, our Constitution has been shredded while the imperial presidency has expanded, with presidents who think they can unilaterally take us to war, often on a pack of lies, with presidents who think the federal government should have the authority to round anyone up, including U.S. citizens, and imprison them up to the rest of their lives without charges, without trial, without legal representation, and without the right of habeas corpus. And our elected officials are sound asleep while the Pentagon is warning the climate change is a greater long-term security risk to the United States than terrorism.
As Slate's Will Oremus notes, that last claim might not pass muster with fact-checkers. But it should still be noted that a number of important issues that were notable by the absence from the Obama-Romney debates -- including civil liberties, the war on drugs, and climate change -- were prominently featured.
Johnson, the former New Mexico governor who has been campaigning since the GOP primary, probably had the most polished performance and his closing pitch, asking the audience to "waste your vote on me," was probably the night's most memorable moment. Johnson also discussed his past marijuana use and suggested that Obama and Romney should have to wear “NASCAR-like jackets” showing their corporate sponsors.
There will be another third-party debate hosted by the Free and Equal Elections Foundation next week, featuring the two candidates who win an online poll. (Johnson and Stein, with the biggest national followings, are probably the favorites.)
Whether or not you agree their overall limited-government, small-footprint take on foreign policy, it's certainly a perspective that's missing in the general election. Just as Ron Paul was often the only one actually arguing with anyone during the foreign-policy sections of the GOP debates, dropping at least one of these candidates into a matchup with Obama and Romney might have made the discussion more interesting.
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