Tonight Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan square off in a vice-presidential debate in Danville, Ky. Interestingly, their encounter comes one month to the day after the uprising in Benghazi, Libya, that led to the death of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
That’s important, because part of the debate will focus on foreign policy, an issue that, prior to the Libya attacks on September 11, had not played a major role in this year’s campaign. For my money, this is a positive development—foreign policy and national security are critically important matters, and this renewed focus on the issues is welcome.
Unfortunately, most of the media discussion leading up to the debate focuses not on the issues, but on questions of how the debate will affect the tightening presidential race. While that’s predictable, it’s a shame, because it downplays the important questions at stake about our nation’s future as a global power.
For those who do care about the issues, here are a few things to keep an eye out for in tonight’s VP debate:
- One month after the consulate attack in Libya, which coincided with anti-American demonstrations throughout the Middle East, we still have not gotten a clear accounting from the Obama administration about what happened and how it might have been prevented. The revelation in a Congressional hearing on Wednesday that U.S. officials had requested and been denied additional security only adds fuel to the fire as Americans realize that the full story has been suppressed. Will Vice President Biden address the serious questions about these events that have been heretofore ignored or obscured? Will Rep. Ryan offer a compelling competing vision for how the GOP team would do better?
- The security weaknesses in Libya appear to be reflected in other locations. Last week, the number of Americans killed in Afghanistan topped 2,000, a grim milestone; meanwhile, there’s evidence that the troubled nation is slipping back into anarchy, with a weak government that can’t supply basic security and stability and a resurgent Taliban ready to exploit that weakness. Yet discussion of the Afghanistan war has been notably absent from the campaign trail. What do the candidates have to say about where they would take the Afghanistan mission in the months (and years) to come?
- In January, planned cuts to the defense budget totaling some $500 billion over the next decade are slated to begin. These “sequestration” cuts, along with previously planned reductions announced by the Obama administration, will certainly have an effect on our military’s force readiness and our nation’s security. What do the candidates have to say about sequestration and the effect it will have on our nation’s position as a global military leader?
- All of these challenges are underscored by the proverbial elephant in the room that no one wants to discuss: the gargantuan $16 trillion U.S. national debt. At first glance, the national debt may not look like a foreign policy issue to most voters, but regular readers of this site know that debt is the number one threat to our nation’s security. If we’re $16 trillion in debt and can’t even afford to provide basic security to Americans serving around the world, just what is it that we’re paying for? Pay careful attention to what Biden and Ryan have to say about the debt and about restraining runaway spending in the government, including in entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which are the key drivers of government spending growth.
- And on the domestic policy front, it should go without saying that any discussion of key veterans’ issues—another area largely ignored in this year’s campaign—is always welcome. How would the candidates fix our broken military voting system? How would they reverse our growing VA backlog? And how would they effectively address our veterans unemployment problem?
Pay attention to the substance of tonight’s debate—and not just for the electoral score keeping. I enjoy watching the “horse race” aspect of the presidential campaign as much as anyone. But remember that there are significant policy issues at stake, and whoever wins on November 6, those issues aren’t going away soon.
Pete Hegseth is the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, and the former executive director of Vets for Freedom. Hegseth is an infantry officer in the Army National Guard, and has served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay.