Brush Up On Your Foreign Policy: A Primer On Tonight's Presidential Debate

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The first two presidential debates gave us Big Bird and binders full of women. But at the third debate, the hot topics are more likely to be a bit more real. We're thinking along the lines of Benghazi and bin Laden.

That’s right: Tonight is the foreign policy face-off, which will probably be super boring because, honestly, President Obama and Gov. Romney have pretty similar stances on most foreign policy issues. Still, with the candidates at a dead heat in some polls, both will be hoping to sway those elusive undecided (or decided-but-impressionable) voters to their ticket. As you get ready for tonight’s Bob Schieffer-moderated match-up, here are a few things to think about:

1. Both candidates are vulnerable. Since Romney made some foreign policy-related gaffes in the months before the debates (remember when he said Russia was our biggest strategic threat? Or when he insulted England’s Olympic preparedness?), many assumed tonight would be an unfair fight. But, the first debate erased those thoughts. And though Obama clearly has more foreign policy experience (since he’s, well, the president), Romney will surely resume his jabs about the attack on the U.S Consulate in Libya and possibly use the foreign policy questions to bring the debate back around to the economy.

2. Iran may or may not have agreed to negotiations. Saturday, the New York Times broke a story saying the U.S. and Iran had agreed to sit down to negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. Then, officials from both countries denied that they had come to such an agreement. Right now, it looks like Romney might refuse to negotiate with Iran altogether, while the Obama administration has said repeatedly that they are open to talks. So while apparently no one has agreed to anything quite yet, this topic will definitely come up during the debate.

3. China, China, China. Thus far, Romney has loved bringing up China (he calls the country a “cheater”), and it’s basically guaranteed he’ll talk about it tonight. These discussions are usually about sending jobs overseas and trade issues, but both men have to walk a fine line: We don’t really want to make China mad, if only because we need them to help support sanctions against Iran. Oh, and they own quite a bit of our debt.

4. Remember Afghanistan? It’s strange to those who have a loved one in the military that Afghanistan so rarely comes up. This is mainly because Obama and Romney basically agree on the current strategy there, which calls for withdrawing international troops by the end of 2014. But we can’t imagine that a foreign policy debate won’t have at least one mention of a war we’re still fighting – or that Obama would miss an opportunity to mention that he ordered the attack that killed Osama bin Laden.

5. This one may come to fisticuffs. Okay, we’re joking. But with the way Romney and Obama were circling each other last time and getting all up in one another’s business, we wouldn’t be totally surprised if someone threw an elbow. Perhaps Schieffer should draw a line down the middle of the room, just in case.

Photo by: Scout Tufankjian for Obama for America