Who Won the Debate: Romney Loses on Libya, Obama Advocates Smarter Approach


On Monday, the final presidential debate will focus on foreign policy and a significant portion of the debate will focus on the Middle East. The topic of Libya and specifically the tragedy in Benghazi have been brought up in the previous debates and will be further discussed Monday night. As public reactions of outrage calm, it is necessary for Commander-in-Chief post election to fully comprehend the complexity of the various issues in the region and use that understanding as the foundation for new policies.

For live coverage of the presidential foreign policy debate on Monday, including real-time analysis and coverage, see here.

Calls to end foreign aid and disengage diplomatically reveal a less than nuanced approach to foreign relations. “Those ungrateful and violent Muslims/Arabs (since they are often interchanged regardless of accuracy) should respect the U.S., our citizens, and our freedoms.” The problem with comments that are full of generalizations and are steeped in hatred like this is that they fuel the growing misunderstandings and tensions that pervade U.S. relations with the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

As we condemn the violent actions of groups of extremists that are not representative of the majority of people in those nations, let us also work to diminish the power of extremist voices in our own dialogue. The backlash against the Arab Spring and the continuing prevalence of Islamophobia coupled with extremist violence threaten our ability to form mutually beneficial relationships with these nations that are working to transition post revolution.

The reports that the attacks in Benghazi could have been the work of Al-Qaeda, the continuing conflict between Islamists and secularists, fears of U.S. imperialism, and the struggles of nations to emerge post revolution are just a few of the facts that should inform our analysis of current events and the formation of U.S. foreign policy. What is occurring is not as simple as backlash against a movie. Trying to understand these events requires a more nuanced approach and necessitates a more nuanced response.

Although there was not significant media coverage of the protests in Libya expressing solidarity with the U.S., condemning the violent attacks, and expressing condolences, the responses to those photos were nothing short of disgusting. A simple scroll through the comment sections demonstrates a significant hypocrisy in our national dialogue. For many years there have been loud calls for Muslims to condemn terrorism, but when some witness the exact action called for, it is never sufficient. When will it be enough? How many is sufficient and who decides that number?

With protests continuing in Cairo today and across the MENA region, the nature of our future relationships with these nations remains unclear. Decisions to revaluate the nature of foreign relationships and the provision of aid should not be taken lightly and diplomatic disengagement should not be a knee-jerk response to this week’s horrible events.

People across the nation and around the world may have a variety of feelings regarding the recent attacks on U.S. embassies ranging from sadness to anger to confusion, and that is completely understandable. “But we must be clear-eyed, even in our grief.” – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

For live coverage of the presidential foreign policy debate on Monday, including real-time analysis and coverage, see here.