Getting beyond slogans.

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The Questions That Clinton and Trump Should Be Asked

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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The U.S. is still fighting a war in Afghanistan and has troops in Iraq, the Iranian nuclear deal remains controversial, the Islamic State is weakened but continues to be threatening, North Korea is launching missiles, Russia flaunts international norms and China has expansionary designs.

QuickTake Debate Q&A

It's a dangerous world. Yet in the U.S. presidential election the foreign policy debate chiefly involves insults and cliches. None of these issues will disappear by Inauguration Day; the press and public should pressure Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to better define their views over the next six weeks.

Based on suggestions from six top national security experts, Republicans and Democrats, here are some questions that should be answered.

Let's start with Clinton. She is more of a foreign policy hawk than President Barack Obama. She voted for the Iraq War in 2003, spearheaded the 2011 Libyan intervention and unsuccessfully tried to get the U.S. more involved in the Syrian civil war.

Question: Libya is now a dysfunctional terrorist haven; Obama says the worst mistake of his presidency was failing to prepare for what happened after toppling Moammar Qaddafi. Do you disagree with the president, were you mistaken, and what have you learned?

Question: How likely is it that all the parties in the Syrian crisis -- the U.S., Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey --could cut a delicate deal: Bashar al-Assad remains in power for a while, then a transition government prepares for elections? If not, what other path is there for resolution?

As secretary of state, Clinton said the the Trans-Pacific Partnership was the "gold standard" for trade deals and would bolster U.S. security and economic interests in Asia. As a presidential candidate, facing the anti-free trade Bernie Sanders, she flipped.

Question: Most of America's important allies in Asia say the TPP is crucial to counter Chinese political and economic hegemony in the region. Why are they wrong?

For Trump:

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is the alliance between the U.S. and 27 countries, including the three Baltic states: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Article 5 of its charter explicitly states that an attack on one member should be considered an attack on all.

Question: You have praised President Vladimir Putin, vowing to fashion better relations with Russia. But if, as he did in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, Putin intervened militarily in one of the Baltic states, would you favor invoking NATO's Article 5 and sending forces to counter Russia?

Question: Explain your concept of nuclear deterrence and how your willingness to have Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia acquire nuclear weapons enhance global security?

In the 1968 election, candidate Richard Nixon claimed to have a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War. He won the election and the war lasted six more years, with more than 21,000 Americans killed.

Question: Secret plans usually are secret because they aren't real. You have claimed to have a "fool-proof " plan to defeat the Islamic State. Unless you specifically lay out a plan, that promise is as empty as Nixon's secret plan for Vietnam plan. How would you eliminate the Islamic State and how quickly?

Question to both candidates: Since Jimmy Carter's Camp David summit, five different presidents have failed to make much progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What would you do differently, or should the U.S. stay out?

Question to both candidates: Top national security advisers are central to a president's conduct of policy: Nixon had Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter had Zbigniew Brzezinski and George H.W. Bush had Brent Scowcroft. Could you name a few of your most important foreign policy advisers?

The stilted format makes it unlikely that a whole lot of information will be forthcoming at Monday night's much hyped debate. But these questions should be pursued vigorously over the next 43 days.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net