Interview

Burning Questions

What Martha Raddatz would ask the presidential candidates at Monday's foreign-policy debate.

Martha Raddatz, the veteran ABC News correspondent and moderator of the vice presidential debate, talks to Foreign Policy about what she didn't get to grill Joe Biden and Paul Ryan on -- and the big questions that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama shouldn't be allowed to duck in their upcoming foreign-policy showdown.

Foreign Policy: There was some criticism in the last debate that you might have focused too much on foreign policy (not from our readers, of course), but there must be so much that you didn't get a chance to ask. So what's on the top of your agenda, if you could have some time with the presidential candidates?

Martha Raddatz: There's so much I didn't get to ask. The VP debate was supposed to be divided between foreign and domestic policy, and I think it was pretty much down the middle. But Pakistan and the issue of drones is at the top of the list. Think about it: Pakistan has enough nuclear material for 100 bombs, an unstable government, radical Islamic influence in its military, and they pretty much turn a blind eye when terrorists cross the border into Afghanistan and kill our troops. What are you going to do about it?

A former U.S. official said to me that he found it interesting that the U.S. has not really captured high-value targets or suspected insurgents in the last few years and that the administration outlawed waterboarding and methods of interrogation. And yet we're killing suspected terrorists in record numbers. This is not a question I came up with, by the way, but I think it's a really interesting one.

But I'd have a lot of questions about drones. Who should these decisions be up to? Would anything change on the drone policy if Romney and Ryan were elected? How would they view the question of who to strike or not to strike -- without judicial process? And do drones produce more enemies or do they reduce the threat enough that it balances out?

What do the candidates think we'll end up with in Afghanistan in 2014? And how serious is the threat of Al Qaeda in the world anymore? I mean, al Qaeda no longer has its iconic head - of course it still has [Ayman al-] Zawahiri, but has it morphed into something more or less dangerous?

FP: Do you think there's real daylight between the two parties on foreign policy right now?

MR: I don't think there are enormous differences on this. They certainly try to go at each other on Libya, but that's not really a policy question as much as it is just seeing what happened there in that instance. I think they have an overall different approach to foreign policy, but when you get down in the weeds I'm not sure there are major, major differences. Perhaps on Iran there are some subtle differences. We'll see a lot more on Monday with the debate, but on the face it's hard to see.

FP: What do you think about the politics that's being played over the Benghazi attack?

MR: I don't want to go there! But I think there are major questions to be asked about the attack. From day one, there were questions. The biggest question now is who said that there were protests there. My reporting early on was that we don't know. And a senior U.S. official said to me, "We don't think it had anything to do with protests." So why was it like that in the first couple of days, and then five or six days later you have someone saying that these appear to be spontaneous attacks? I would love to know where that story first started. Politics aside, there are some serious questions to be asked there.

FP: What else would you like to put to the presidential candidates?

MR: There has to be more about our veterans returning home and how we take care of them. About the mental health issues and the transition issues they will face. And really about helping the country stay engaged in that war. I find it really frustrating. There's been a lot of talk about Afghanistan in the last few months, but over the last couple years there just wasn't anything beyond "Yeah, we're leaving or we're sending in more troops, but we'll pull them out soon." I just think we can't forget about that war -- because we're still at war.

China will also definitely come up on Monday. If you go through the list of the most pressing threats in the world today, and then look at China, you'd then ask: "Wait, so why are we pivoting to China?" Does this challenge China in a way we don't want to challenge them? Does it end up in a more confrontational mode because of the build-up in Asia? Would the candidates say that there is a real China threat?

FP: What about the conversation on Middle East policy?

MR: I think there needs to be more questions on the support of democracy around the world. Do we support democracy in Saudi Arabia, in Bahrain? How far are they willing to go with the Arab Spring question? How far do we press our allies on democracy?

Also, there's the question of Syria intervention: Would they ever put boots on the ground? You look at these horrendous stories about a young boy being tortured and then you go back to the president's speech about Libya arguing for intervention, and I'd ask: "So what's different in Syria?"

Look, human rights is a really tricky problem. Probably every candidate in the world, once they get into office, says: "Woah, this is a lot more complicated than I thought it would be."

FP: What would you ask about Russia?

MR: I think in some ways the best way to get at this is to go in backwards. To ask: "So what would the consequences be if the president didn't push through the missile reductions with Russia?" I mean, do we want Russia as an enemy again?

You know, here's another great question: World War II is a long time ago, do we really need as many troops as we have in Europe? I asked the vice presidential candidates, but don't think I really got an answer to this question: "What national security interests really justify a really large increase in the defense budget?"

FP: I think we're over our two minutes. Final question: Do you think the American public really cares all that much about foreign policy?

MR: I don't think they care as much as they should -- and I wish they did. It's one of the things I thought very much about at the vice president debate. I didn't want my questions to be in the weeds. I wanted it to be something that people could understand and relate to. I mean Iran, for one, is an enormous issue. What I wish people would realize is that all of these foreign policy decisions really affect us at home -- in our lives, in our pocketbooks. What the president and vice-president decide on these issues affect all of us, every single day.

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Interview

Huntsman Speaks Out

Republican primary contender Jon Huntsman sounds off on the U.S. presidential race -- and the big issue the candidates aren't talking about.

Since withdrawing from the Republican primaries in January, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman has tried to stay engaged with China, where he served as Barack Obama's ambassador from 2009-2011. But China hasn't always wanted to engage with Huntsman: In an interview with Foreign Policy in mid-October in his Washington, D.C. home, Huntsman revealed that the Chinese government canceled his visa, prohibiting him from entering the country to give a talk in September. He also spoke candidly about his primary defeat, Mitt Romney's foreign policy, and the difficulty of managing the most important relationship in the world. Excerpts:

Foreign Policy: Put yourself in the shoes of the moderator at the upcoming foreign-policy debate on Oct. 22. What do you think he should ask about China?

Jon Huntsman: What are the core philosophical drivers that inform the thinking of the candidates? What are our national interests at play? How do we maximize our position in the Asia-Pacific region, understanding that China is the centerpiece geographically. And fourth, given that it is the relationship of the 21st century, how do we intend to sustain the cyclicality that is inherent in a large, complicated relationship?

FP: Let's say you and Romney were in the same room, and he were to ask you, "How should I improve my China policy? What have I been saying that I shouldn't be saying, and vice versa?"

JH: Well, far be it from me to give anybody advice. I tried that race and didn't do so well.

But I think there's one simple fact that ought to be brought out when you're talking about China, and that is that the U.S.-China relationship is only as strong as we are domestically. And I think that the best U.S.-China policy is to get back on our feet domestically, to shore up our economic fundamentals, to focus on international economics, to get our infrastructure strengthened, to improve our schools. These are all things that, [over the] long term, are going to make a stronger U.S.-China relationship. And we've got to start here -- fixing and strengthening our core. That's a message I think a lot of Americans can relate to, but the candidates don't seem to want to talk about China in the context of fixing our own house first in order to have a better relationship with China long term.

FP: What differences do you see between Romney and Obama's foreign policies?

JH: Well, they differ in some senses in the levers of power that are being pulled. I think Obama has chosen more the soft levers of power, and Romney is at least articulating some of the hard levers of power, where in reality, we need a combination of both. During campaign season, you never want to talk about anything except the hard levers of power. But we're also trying to get over 10 years of war in the Middle East that have set us back enormously economically and diplomatically, and in terms of loss of life.  And that's a reality that we're not having a conversation about.

FP: Are you surprised that China hasn't become a bigger issue in the campaign?

JH: Beyond it being used as a political tool rhetorically, we've had very little talk of China at a time when we ought to be having a substantive conversation, because it is the relationship that will matter the most in the 21st century.

FP: What's your understanding of what Chinese officials think about all this rhetoric and what's behind it? Do they see this as one of the downsides of democracy, or of Americans playing into the fears of American decline?

JH: I think it's happened for so long that they've grown to expect it during the election season. I think it affected them more in the earlier years, but now they've grown accustomed to the political cycle, just as we've grown accustomed to the leadership cycles in China, where they do the same thing to us. We just have a bigger megaphone. And they tend to be a little more sensitive, because face still matters a whole lot in terms of human interaction.

FP: So, you don't think the responses we've seen in Chinese state media outlets like People's Daily and Xinhua don't really mean anything; it's just low-level bluster?

JH: Oh, it always means something, but you have to put it in perspective. I was supposed to be there a month ago giving a speech, but they canceled my visa. Why? Because I talk too much about human rights and American values, and they know that. And at a time of leadership realignment, the biggest deal in 10 years for them, they didn't want the former U.S. ambassador saying stuff that might create a narrative that they would have to fight. I understand that. But when the transition is done, the crazy American ambassador will be let back in, and I can say whatever I want. As they used to tell me when I was over there was "Women zhongguo ye you zhengzhi"---"We have politics too in China."

FP: So they ended up letting you back in this time?

JH: They did, because I wasn't over there for a speech; I was there for a board meeting.

FP: How did they communicate that to you, that they had canceled your visa? It was just not approved?

JH: Well, the group that was bringing me in to speak, the organizers -- they had a little pressure put on them, shall we say.

FP: Subtle?

JH: Oh, I think it was pretty overt pressure.

FP: Do you think your expertise on China and your Mandarin-speaking hurt your campaign? Do you think your message was too -- I don't want to use the word "intelligent," but do you think your ability to speak on issues like China at that level was not the way to communicate?

JH: Well, to be sure, I was an imperfect messenger, so I only have myself to blame. But here's the context. You're coming out of the most compartmented, sensitive, confined relationship probably in the U.S. government, where a lot of your work is being done behind closed doors. A lot of it is stuff that no one will ever read about, and then you jump on to what is probably the most public stage in the world: that of running for the president of the United States. So the mental gymnastics that go from one job to the other -- it takes a little bit of settling in.

Update: Huntsman's office, after the interview was published, provided this clarification:

"The governor's invitation to speak, not his visa, was rescinded for political reasons. The governor misspoke in the interview, citing a canceled visa when he meant to say cancelled invitation."

 

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