22 OCT 2012 – Jesse Parent | Before tonight’s 3rd and final Presidential Debate (on Foreign Policy), I wanted to make a very brief point about Libya and how it is being portrayed within the US media. It should be no surprise that US foreign policy or world events are not particularly covered in the most level-headed way, but I think this warrants a particular “notice”.
Why Mitt Romney and Co are winning the Libya debate is because they’ve successfully managed to turn a blunder on their own part (trying to score political points by besting the administration), into a non-issue, and now into a seemingly “legitimate” question coming up in presidential debates. It came up in the 2nd, Town Hall style debate (see below), and it is sure to come up again tonight – (perhaps along with the particularly curious hinting at talks between the US and Iran about nuclear capabilities). But the GOP is doing what they do best – finding something to be at fault at, and tricking the Democrats into arguing seriously against them – thereby validating the issue. To that end, they’ve clearly out-politic-ed the left; I just heard a question from an audience member pre-debate: how come President Barack Obama didn’t simply swat down how Romney is framing this? Great question – and something for which Team Obama will, at least somewhat, needlessly spend more effort addressing.
So what’s the geopotlical reality?
Bluntly put: the problem is that, in a diplomatic or strategic sense, rushing out to say TERRORISM! is actually not a smart thing to do.
Yet that is what Romney has successfully changed the argument into. It is perhaps, at best, appealing to “Americans” in a patriotic way, something about “standing up for our values” – that’s all good and well, but, it’s irrelevant beyond the US. I would even argue it’s damaging within the US, as it furthers a flawed and problematic world view.
If you’ve been following the stories coming out of Libya (and the rest of the Middle East & North Africa, or MENA), there’s been a slow development and unraveling of stories. At the very first outset, it was all about the video, Innocence of Muslims; the video was cited as the instigation for protests and some questionable behavior in Egypt. Then the protests spread like wildfire across MENA, and beyond). Then there were more reports about armed men, about how Ambassador Chris Stevens was targeted, and so on. It took time for these things to develop.
Also, in case you haven’t heard, there are actually some reports that there were no Al Qaeda ties to the event – surprised?
The bottom line here is that rushing towards any statement, especially throwing around the word Terrorism, is poor in style and effect. The Romney campaign tries to tie this into the idea of “apologizing for America”, but the idea that this is about “American values” only, at best, suggests that American values are particularly egocentric. Whether or not that is the case, I’ll let you decide. But in terms of its strategic impact abroad, it only furthers the notion that those in the US are hasty to condemn those in the Middle East, eager to look for an Islamic opponent, and relatively clueless about how to approach sensitive and significant issues or developments. While that may elicit some flair from some voters, it has no positive impact abroad – 0% of the global media I saw was wondering how come the US wasn’t coming out more strong in their remarks, or fearing that terrorism will spread further because the US response was too delayed.
To this end, I certainly do not endorse Mitt Romney at what his job in the US would actually be: Commander in Chief. Or for that matter, Paul Ryan, who seemed particularly out of his element during foreign policy talk at the VP debate. It will be extremely valuable if Obama can tie on domestic social issues with his arguments tonight – ‘nation building at home’ should be his go-to phrase, and talk about building institutions as well as expanding human rights and equality but we’ll see what actually happens.
Many of my International Relations & Foreign Policy wonk friends are high in anticipation already, but how much substance we actually get out of this FP debate is hard to say. I don’t have high hopes, but I’ll be live-tweeting if you want to follow with me.
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