The recent violence in Libya will be a major factor in the foreign policy-oriented debate between presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
The assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya promises to play a big role in Monday's debate between President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney. But don't cringe: for all the silly gotcha moments about who cried "terror" and when, the Benghazi attack provides a chance for both candidates to address major concerns about their approaches to a chaotic world.
The first round of congressional hearings on the Benghazi assault have come and gone. But they didn't focus on the crucial question of the strategic implications of the assault. Does it mean the U.S. needs to involve itself deeper in the Arab Spring; pick favorites within the uprisings; or stand back as the the upheaval proceeds? Both candidates have said a lot about the incident and practically nothing about arguably the most important questions it raised.
Benghazi was a major departure for Obama. Whatever you think of his foreign policy, it's been devoid of single-shot, high-profile disasters. There haven't been hostage crises, Marine barracks or Khobar towers bombings, 9/11s or botched invasions. He's succeeded when his troops have executed missions like killing Osama bin Laden or freeing Americans from pirates; and secrecy conceals potential mistakes rising from his drone war. The result has been a veneer of competence.
But several aspects of his foreign policy have either skirted on the edge of disaster or risk tipping over into them, whether it's the surge and ensuing the drawdown from Afghanistan; or his inconsistent approach to the Arab Spring, where he'll intervene in Libya but not Syria. Indeed, Libya looked like the successful ouster of a dictator with no U.S. casualties, but it turned out the U.S. neglected the warning signs of Islamist resurgence in eastern Libya until it murdered four Americans.