Sen. Barack Obama arrived in Pinellas on Tuesday and plans to spend some time here preparing for the first presidential debate, scheduled for Friday night in Mississippi. The topic is foreign policy, but really, all politics is local. With that in mind, here are a few questions we would like Obama and Sen. John McCain to answer:
1Tampa is home to the U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S. fleet near Iran. How would you engineer a transfer of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan to fight the resurgent Taliban without compromising the gains made in Iraq?
2Is it wise to send aircraft and troops into border regions of Pakistan without the permission of a country that is ostensibly our ally? Where is the balance between killing terrorists and endangering innocent civilians, not to mention rankling an unstable nation that has nuclear weapons?
3Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is at the United Nations this week. Under what conditions would you now agree to talk with him?
4Sen. Obama, you have said you would sit down with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, among others — and that leaders don't have to earn the right to meet with the American president. Listening to his continuing bombast, do you still stand by that? How might that meeting be productive?
5Tampa Bay is home to a substantial Cuban population. Obama believes that Cuban-Americans should be able to freely visit family in Cuba and to send as much money as they wish. McCain does not. The current strategy has failed. When should the embargo be lifted?
6Sen. Obama has called China neither an enemy nor a friend, but a competitor. Given our credit crisis — and how much of our debt China holds — just how do we compete? For the multitudes of Suncoast retirees who have seen their accounts shaken by Wall Street's recent meltdown, how do your foreign policy ideas reassure them that they and their money will be safe?
7Look across the gulf. Over the horizon is Mexico. Do you still feel that NAFTA should be renegotiated?
8The Bush administration's efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement have failed, and both the Israelis and the Palestinians have their own internal political issues. Given all of the next president's challenges, how much effort would each of you put into trying to facilitate an agreement, and what would you propose?
9Sen. Obama says the United States can't go it alone on foreign policy, that this country needs to be one in a family of nations. A good idea, certainly. But how would that work, practically, to persuade Russia to do the same?
People are worried about their own world as well as the larger world. Our unemployment is rising here, and people in Florida are losing their homes at a frightening rate. Their tab at the gas pump, their electric bills and their insurance premiums are all going up.
So one final question.
10Our small Pinellas town of Oldsmar is seeing the effects of globalization firsthand, as skilled workers from other countries arrive there under the auspices of Tata Consultancy Services to do work for the Nielsen TV ratings people, jobs formerly held by Americans. The arrangement seems good for the company, and it's good for the town in some ways. But American workers in Oldsmar have lost their jobs. Is that inevitable? How would your foreign policy play out in a place like Oldsmar in addressing these complexities of a global work force?