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Economics

There's Nothing Foreign About Foreign Policy

Age-old distinctions between domestic and international affairs no longer make sense
There's Nothing Foreign About Foreign Policy
Photo Illustration by 731; Binoculars: Lew Robertson/Getty Images; Fracking: Jim Wilson/The New York Times/Redux; Ahmadinejad: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

It took barely half an hour for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to change the subject of their final debate from foreign to domestic policy. Responding to moderator Bob Schieffer’s question—“What is America’s role in the world?”—the candidates launched into their respective plans for rebuilding the U.S. economy. Obama talked about creating manufacturing jobs; Romney vowed to support entrepreneurs. Then they sparred over the merits of hiring more public school teachers. “Let me get back to foreign policy,” Schieffer interrupted—but the candidates ignored him, spending a couple more minutes debating whether or not Romney deserved credit for improving student test scores as governor of Massachusetts.

Voters expecting a focused discussion on matters of war and peace might have been confused by the frequent detours into domestic policy. Yet the very assumption that overseas challenges are distinct from those at home is outdated. In a global economy, every national priority, from the stability of the financial system to the safety of the food supply, is influenced by what happens beyond America’s borders. The discussion of domestic issues in the context of national security is long overdue. “Both candidates, in their own way, made the point that we need to look to ourselves to restore, repair, and replenish the foundations of American power,” says Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.