In the wake of recent violence, including the tragic death of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya, some have called for the United States to decrease its diplomatic engagement with the Middle East. With perceptions of America in the region already greatly damaged by a legacy of narrow relationships with autocratic governments, such a move would be a grave mistake with dire consequences for U.S. foreign policy and national security interests. Ambassador Stevens was among the strongest advocates of building relationships with the Arab public, and it would be tragically ironic to see his death lead to an abandonment of this critical task.
The spirited exchange at last Thursday's vice presidential debate elevated attention to foreign policy, which will be a dominant theme of the next two debates. President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney have begun to flesh out their views on the challenges America faces abroad, but they have said little about a range of pressing international issues and skirted critical aspects of stories that currently grab the news headlines. In an effort to stimulate deeper debate on U.S. foreign policy, particularly on the future of democracy and human rights around the world, Freedom House has submitted a series of questions to the presidential candidates.
Women and men in Tunisia and around the world were appalled earlier this month when it came to light that a woman who filed charges of rape against two police officers was herself charged with "public indecency." After a week of protests and embarrassing press, the Tunisian president issued a formal apology to the woman, though it remains to be seen what will become of the charges against her and the police officers. This is just one recent example of a much wider affliction that plagues countries around the world: sexual harassment, violence, and intimidation directed at women.
While both President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, have their sights set on November 6, there is another important election around the corner. On November 12, the United States will compete to retain its seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council.
It may be largely absent from the presidential campaign, but the promotion of human rights is central to American foreign policy -- and has been for decades in both Democratic and Republican administrations. The next president, whether a second-term Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, will face critical human rights challenges and must be ready to address them from day one.
China is a nuclear power with the world’s largest army and a population of over 1.3 billion. It boasts the world’s second-largest economy, and is the largest single foreign owner of U.S. public debt. Its Communist Party regime, in place since 1949, now serves as a model for authoritarian states around the globe. And it may well be heading toward a major economic and political crisis. Yet for some reason, the U.S. presidential candidates have barely mentioned China in nearly a year of campaigning. When they do, the discussion tends to focus on pressing matters such as the price of imported tires.
It is a core belief of Freedom House that American foreign policy should be grounded on support for democratic values and the global expansion of freedom. Practically every aspirant to the American presidency would agree that the United States should remain the world’s beacon of democracy. But especially in an era of rival claims for global leadership and calls for fiscal austerity, the development of a U.S. strategy to propel freedom forward poses a serious challenge. Thus far, the presidential candidates have failed to grapple with the complexities of this challenge, and the discussion has been far from illuminating, to put it mildly.