Trevor Timm, the Executive Director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, published an op-ed with The Guardian on Saturday, March 12, outlining “crucial” foreign policy questions he thinks debate moderators should have (but have not) already asked candidates in the U.S. presidential race.

These were his top five picks:

The Libya catastrophe

By all accounts, Libya is currently a cesspool for terrorism. Filling the vacuum created by the chaos after the US helped depose Gaddafi in 2011, Isis fighters are reportedly telling their followers to go to Libya to train and fight instead of Syria – which leads the obvious question: why did we make such a catastrophic mistake of once again overthrowing a country’s leader?

Saudi Arabia’s destruction of Yemen

If there is any central US ally that has been outright ignored during this election season – as usual – it’s Saudi Arabia. Currently Saudi Arabia is engaged in an indiscriminate bombing campaign in one of the world’s poorest countries, Yemen, which has led to thousands of civilian deaths and millions of people being displaced.

Where do the presidential candidates stand on this appalling war? Will they continue to help Saudi Arabia fight it, thereby creating another generation of terrorrists in Yemen? Or will they stand up to the Saudi monarchy to try to put an end to it?

War powers

We are currently engaged in an indefinite war with Isis spanning multiple countries which many legal experts across the political spectrum consider illegal – yet the presidential candidates are almost never asked about why congress has not authorized the military action like the constitution requires.

Why has no debate moderator asked about this important issue? They have no problem bringing up Isis at every possible opportunity.

Nuclear weapons

While an enormous amount of time during this campaign has focused around the Iran nuclear deal, almost no attention has been given to any country that actually has nuclear weapons and what they plan to do with them over the coming years and decades. Six years after supposedly making nuclear non-proliferation a priority, the Obama administration has done a 180 and is now in the process of spending trillions of dollars over a 10 year period to “modernize” our nuclear weapons instead of destroy them.

Given that many analysts think a nuclear explosion – either by accident or on purpose – is dangerously likely, it sure would be nice to see where the candidates stand on ridding the world of these awful mass killing devices.


The largest drone strike in history was announced by the US last week. One hundred and fifty people were reportedly killed in Somalia at an al-Shabaab training site. Many human rights organizations have called them [drone strikes] illegal, and retired military leaders have said they backfire, creating more terrorists than they kill. While it seems that many if not all of the candidates support drone strikes, despite these obvious problems, we have no idea what they’ll do with the CIA drone program once they become president. Will they be more transparent than the Obama administration? Will they acquiesce to limits imposed by congress, or expand the program?

I agree that drones, executive war powers, and nuclear weapons are incredibly important issues that should be debated by the candidates; in fact, the United States’ tacit support for Saudi Arabia’s attacks on Yemen is a question that should be directly asked of the White House.

But, where Libya is concerned, the issues has already been exhaustively covered this campaign season.

During the February 25 Republican debate, Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz engaged in a fight about their respective records on the intervention in Libya, with Trump stating: “He’s saying I was in favor of Libya? I never discussed that subject. I was in favor of Libya? We would be so much better off if Gadhafi were in charge right now.”

At the February 11 Democratic debate, Secretary Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders had a long exchange about Libya and overthrowing leaders as a matter of general, U.S. strategy. During the discussion, reference was made to Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq, who was overthrown in a U.S.-backed coup in 1953, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted by protesters in February 2011.

Instead of focusing on past decisions, we should be engaging in more meaningful debates about the candidates’ futures plans for a host of important foreign policy issues, including the following:


There are various dynamics in Israel that should be of interest to any future-president, including a long-stalled peace process with Palestine, ongoing expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, and the detainment of African refugees. All of the current presidential candidates have essentially expressed unwavering support for Israel, without much push back from debate moderators.

War Crimes

Donald Trump has made some bold, disgusting remarks about his willingness to engage in torture and target civilians, all with very little backlash from his supporters. This is an issue all candidates should address and call out.

The Refugee Crisis

Neither party has formulated a clear policy for dealing with the global surge in refugees in 2015. According to Brookings, American public opinion surrounding refugees has fluctuated wildly in just the past six months. It is important the candidates discuss their plans to address the largest refugee crisis since World War II.

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