Mr. Schieffer, Inquiring Middle East Minds Want to Know...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

CBS News' sage journalist Bob Schieffer will be moderating Monday night's foreign policy debate, where Middle East issues will surely grab their share of headlines.  From my current vantage point, traveling in the Middle East this week, I hope his no-nonsense, get-to-the-point reputation will compel both candidates to shed much needed light on their respective approaches to a very, very troubled region.  On one thing Arabs and Israelis I talked with agree: whoever wins this race will inherit a Middle East inbox that is wrought with consequences to U.S. national security for decades to come.    

Voters should know whether Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama has either more of the same or something new and improved in his Middle East policy for his second term.  And as for Gov. Romney, the debate accords Mr. Schieffer an opportunity to prevent the governor from merely challenging Mr. Obama on Middle East minutiae without establishing good cause that he can do a better job than his opponent.

So as a public service to the debate's esteemed moderator in the unlikely event he may have overlooked the following lines of inquiry, I serve up the following questions that are an unscientific compilation from those with whom I met:

For Mr. Obama:

1.  Growing Anti-Americanism: Why have you failed to rebuild trust and confidence between the U.S. and the majority of Arab nations since you addressed the Muslim world in 2009.  What would you do in your second term to reverse a trend that has reignited anti-Americanism?  Would you agree that al Qaeda is far from being vanquished in the Middle East?

2.  Syria: In 2010 you demanded that Bashar al-Assad go, but your administration has repeatedly avoided taking any leadership role to support his regime's opposition.  Did you not undermine American credibility in the region by not doing more to support that goal earlier?

3.  Libya: One of your declared successes was the U.S. role in overthrowing Col. Qadaffi.  However, since his overthrow Libya's newly elected government has been beset by armed militias, a resurgence of al Qaeda and the death of American diplomats.  Did you prematurely abandon Libya when the U.S. should have done more to prevent this threat to its newborn democracy?

4.  Arab-Israeli Peace: Why has your administration failed in its goal to further Middle East peace, which seems more remote today than ever before?  Did you miscalculate by picking fights with Israeli PM Netanyahu over settlement expansion?  Is Middle East peace a priority in your second term and if so, what would you do differently to achieve it?

5.  Iran's Nuclear Program: Why is a nuclear armed Iran such a national security threat to the U.S. that has led you to assert that you will go to war against Iran if it builds a nuclear weapon?

Can you confirm or deny that your administration is engaged in any bilateral negotiations with Iran outside the P5+1 framework?  

Can you assure the American people that your administration has the intelligence assets able to determine that Iran has actually begun building an atomic weapon from its enriched uranium supplies?

For Mr. Romney:

1.  Middle East Strategy: You recently stated in your recent speech at VMI that you will construct a better national security strategy in the Middle East, yet you failed to elaborate what you mean by that.  What are the elements of this new strategy?

2.  Syria: You are critical of U.S. policy toward Syria for not doing enough to support efforts to overthrow Assad.  Would you commit the U.S. to establishing a no-fly zone over Syria without UN Security Council consent?  Would you send U.S. arms directly to the Free Syrian Army?

3.  Iran: Is there any difference between you and President Obama over your policy toward Iran's nuclear program?  If so, can you be specific as to what you would do differently at this point in time going forward to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb?

4.  Palestinian State: Do you oppose Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank?  What would a Romney Administration do to get the peace process moving again and do you the Palestinians deserve a state of their own?

5.  Russia and the Middle East: You stated that Russia is the number one geo-strategic threat to U.S. interests.  If that is the case, what would you do to challenge Russia's support for Iran's nuclear program and its continued military support to
Syria's regime?

For Both Candidates:

1.  U.S. Israel Defense Treaty? Given each of your declared intentions to use military force to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, would you seek to negotiate with Israel a formal mutual defense treaty that would require the U.S. to defend Israel if it were attacked by Iran and or any Arab nation?

2.  Iran Regime Change: Would it be your policy to seek the overthrow of the current regime in Iran by its people?  If so, what would you commit the U.S. to do to accomplish that goal?

3.  Egypt: Should the U.S. continue to provide military and economic assistance to Egypt without any strings attached?  If not, what conditions would you impose before providing U.S. aid?

Good luck, Mr. Schieffer!
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