For the third debate, it’s a small world after all

If your foreign-policy interests focus on Mexico, South America, Canada, the European Union, Korean Peninsula or sub-Saharan Africa, you might want to see what Netflix is offering during the time Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will be debating. Here is the menu of topics for tonight’s debate released by the Commission on Presidential Debates:

-- America’s role in the world
-- Our longest war -- Afghanistan and Pakistan
-- Red Lines -- Israel and Iran
-- The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism -- I
-- The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism -- II
-- The Rise of China and Tomorrow’s World

The commission notes that the topics are “not necessarily to be brought up in this order,” meaning that Bob Schieffer could go rogue and have the candidates tackle  “The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism -- II” before they get to “The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism -- I.” (Remember that “backwards” episode on “Seinfeld”?)

But, however the order is mixed up, this is a pretty skewed agenda, a geopolitical version of those New Yorker covers where Manhattan hogs the map and other places are foreshortened. Of the six 15-minute modules, three will deal with the Middle East, a traditional preoccupation of foreign-policy wonks, and two (“America’s role in the world” and “Our longest war”) are likely to concentrate on the deployment of U.S. military forces.

Moreover, there is no room  on the agenda for “transnational” issues like climate change, narco-terrorism and HIV/AIDS. Some of these may be shoehorned into the catchall category of  “America’s role in the world,” but  they’ll have to compete for that scarce real estate not only with defense policy but also with countries and regions outside the charmed circle of the  Mideast/Iran/Afpak. (Since the debate takes  place in Florida,  I suspect that one or both candidates will find a way to mention Cuba. Sudan, not so much.)

The debate rules do allow for “possible changes because of news developments,” so an earthquake in Mexico or a bloody crackdown on dissidents in Moscow in the next few hours might be able to crash the proceedings.  More likely, the discussion will pinball between Jerusalem, Kabul, Cairo, Islamabad, Tehran  and Benghazi for most of the evening, with a finale of competitive China-bashing. If you’re interested in the rest of the world, there’s always Wikipedia.


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