If the Romney and Obama campaigns are to be believed, Wednesday's presidential debate will pit an inexperienced, bumbling, and hopelessly overmatched challenger who isn't expecting to turn in a game-changing performance against a mediocre, zinger-less, long-winded, and grossly unprepared incumbent who might very well tumble off the stage. (The contest looks entirely different if the campaigns are talking about the other guy; Obama campaign press secretary Jen Psaki has compared Romney the debater to an "Olympic decathlete" who has prepared more than "any presidential candidate in modern history," while Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski has labeled Obama a "world-class debater who laid waste to Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and John McCain.")
The candidates and their supporters, of course, are engaging in the increasingly absurd election ritual of managing debate expectations. But this week's debate -- the first of the general election -- is unlikely to be either a comedy of errors or an epic clash of the titans. Instead, it will probably produce a few critical exchanges that could sway the polls, define the candidates (for better or worse), or, at the very least, be remembered for years to come. Although international affairs won't be explicitly discussed until the vice-presidential debate and final two presidential debates later this month, it's worth looking back at the most memorable foreign-policy moments of elections past as we prepare for Wednesday's face-off. Here are 10 of the best:
1960: Kennedy channels Lincoln
Everyone has heard about the contrast between Richard Nixon's brow sweat and stubble and John F. Kennedy's sunny demeanor during the first televised presidential debate in U.S. history, but less famous is the unexpected offensive Kennedy waged against Nixon (and the Republican vice president's foreign-policy advantage) during his opening statement. The Democratic candidate placed his domestic policy -- the assigned topic for the debate -- in the context of the Cold War. "In the election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln said the question was whether this nation could exist half-slave or half-free," Kennedy noted. "In the election of 1960, and with the world around us, the question is whether the world will exist half-slave or half-free.… I think it will depend in great measure upon what we do here in the United States, on the kind of society that we build, on the kind of strength that we maintain."