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US Elections Analysis: A Foreign Policy Debate Which Will Not Mean That Much

See also EA Video Special: How to Win Presidential Debate Buzzword Bingo....
US Elections Analysis: The "Fiscal Cliff" and the Races for the New Congress

Tonight in Boca Raton, Florida, President Obama and Mitt Romney face off in the third and final Presidential debate, solely concerned with foreign policy.

The debate will be split into six segments, in no particular order:

* 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

It is a narrow selection: Nothing on Latin America, Africa or India --- among others --- and no obvious opening for a discussion of the two candidates' opinions on climate change. But the subjects that have been chosen are a secondary interest tonight.

In a world perceived as a dangerous and unpredictable place, what will matter is how both candidates present US influence in the securing of a safer future. Will America work in cooperation with the international community to solve global problems, as President Obama prefers and might actually try to implement in his second “legacy” term? Or will it pursue a course where America leads, and the rest of the world can follow if they want --- Romney's vision for the next American Century? These are not just US concerns, but the rest of the world does not get to vote for the next President.

This is not to argue that tonight's debate is a pivotal moment in this election campaign. That moment --- so far --- occurred in the first debate in Denver, where Obama let Romney dominate the stage and propel himself back into the contest. This debate is about both campaigns avoiding a major error, while consolidating their positions as they offer the foreign policy line expected by their supporters. It is a night to shore up the base, urging it to the ballot box with dire warnings of the impending disasters of the other side.

There is little that either candidate can say tonight which will sway the opinion of the wavering voters who will decide this election. Neither Obama or Romney has a foreign policy of details and concrete proposals that is distinctive. If there is the perception that each would act differently in the event of a major crisis, but that impression is already factored into the calculations of the "undecided".

The debate is not irrelevant, especially if Romney loses some of the “Presidential” aura he won in Denver. But the reality is that, if the Republican simply gives the appearance of a resolute leader, this election returns on Tuesday morning to a two-week battle to persuade the cluster of undecided voters, in a few key states, to make up their minds based on the economic and social agenda of the "better" candidate.

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