One week from tonight, the eyes of the electorate will turn to the University of Mississippi, where Barack Obama and John McCain will meet for the first face-to-face showdown of the 2008 general election. Although the candidates have already been asked thousands of questions in this campaign, their answers have revealed more about their political styles than their substantive policy proposals. Moreover, what has been almost totally absent from this campaign has been any real discussion of their competing worldviews or political philosophies.
Our hope is that the upcoming presidential debates, while affording voters a good look at the candidates’ different policy proposals, will also provide us a glimpse of their basic political principles, the values that make them tick and would necessarily inform their decisions as president. Accordingly, the editors of America present the following ten groups of questions for the consideration of the moderator and presidential candidates. The first debate will focus on foreign policy and national security. A second online America editorial will pose questions for the subsequent debate on domestic issues.
1. In your judgment, what are the conditions that must be satisfied in order for an armed conflict to be morally justified? Do you believe in a doctrine of “preventative war?” Are the classical requirements for a just war necessarily suspended in the so-called war on terror?
2. A frequent refrain in foreign policy debates is that the U.S. ought to act on the global stage only when it is “in our national interests.” Do you subscribe to this view? If so, how do you define the “national interest” of the United States? When is something “in our national interest” and when is it not?
3. Do you believe that when a foreign government has failed to fulfill its duty to protect its citizens either through neglect or through active persecution, that the international community has a legal or moral duty to intervene? If so, should such interventions be undertaken only under the auspices of the United Nations or other international organizations or can you envision circumstances in which the U.S. should intervene unilaterally?
4. Do you believe that the U.S. has a moral or legal obligation to stop genocide when and where it is occurring? Do you find the current definition of genocide contained in the Genocide Convention of 1948 and endorsed by the U.S. State Department to be adequate? Can you envision circumstances in which the U.S. should not act to stop genocide by any means available? Has the U.S. ever failed to stop genocide? If so, when?
5. There has been much discussion in this campaign about how the U.S. ought to approach its relations with its designated “enemies.” Could you tell us: what is “appeasement” and what is the difference, if you think there is one, between appeasement and negotiation and compromise?
6. Do you believe that the foreign policy of the U.S. should be guided by a concern for human rights? If so, could you explain why open trade and diplomatic engagement are appropriate for U.S. relations with regimes or former enemies that routinely violate human rights, such as China or Vietnam, but not appropriate for U.S. relations with Cuba, which has a similarly dismal record on human rights?
7. Do you believe it is ever morally justifiable to use nuclear weapons? Do you believe it is possible for the U.S. to lead a persuasive and credible global nuclear non-proliferation effort without a substantial reduction in its own nuclear arsenal? If so, what is your ethical justification for maintaining a sizable nuclear arsenal in the U.S. while preventing other nations from amassing the same?
8. A number of conflicts have arisen in recent years because of the desire of certain peoples or regions to secede in order to form their own nation-states. This has occurred throughout the former Yugoslavia and, most recently, in Georgia. What is your view of secession? Is a democratic majority by itself enough to establish a nation-state? Do minority peoples have rights to self-determination by virtue of their ethnicity or nationality, and may their rights supercede those of the majority?
9. Do you believe that the struggle against terrorism is primarily a job for law enforcement or for the military? Do you believe it is ever morally appropriate for law enforcement agents of the United States government to travel to a foreign country for the purpose of engaging in an activity on behalf of the U.S. government that is legal in that jurisdiction but illegal in the United States? If so, what are the conditions under which this is appropriate?
10. Do you believe that the United States, as the world’s sole superpower and most abundant nation, has a moral duty to promote the progress of the developing world even when such an effort may have a detrimental effect, however marginal, on a particular sector of the U.S. economy?
Friday September 19
 According to the convention, genocide is "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, national, ethnic, racial, or religious groups, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."