POLITICS
10/22/2012 10:13 pm ET Updated Oct 23, 2012

Mitt Romney Avoids Libya During Debate, Obama Dabbles

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney took the first question in Monday night's debate -- whether or not the administration bungled its response to the attacks in Libya -- and he responded by talking about the Arab Spring, Syria, Mali, Iran, Egypt and Osama bin Laden.

"We see in Libya an attack apparently by, I think we know now, by terrorists of some kind against our people there, [and] four people dead. Our hearts and minds go to them," Romney said, before pivoting to matters loosely tied together by the Arab Spring.

"We see in Syria, 30,000 civilians having been killed by the military there," he said. "Mali has been taken over, the northern part of Mali, by al Qaeda-type individuals. We have in Egypt a Muslim Brotherhood president. And so what we're seeing is a pretty dramatic reversal in the kind of hopes we had for that region."

Romney added that he wanted to "congratulate [the president] on taking out Osama bin Laden," but added, "we can't kill our way out of this mess."

President Barack Obama didn't talk about Libya much either, though he walked through the steps he took in response to the attacks at the US consulate in Benghazi: making sure people still in harm's way were safe, launching an investigation into what happened and committing to finding the attackers.

"Keep in mind that I and Americans took leadership in organizing an international coalition that made sure that we were able to, without putting troops on the ground, at the cost of less than what we spent in two weeks in Iraq, liberate a country that had been under the yoke of dictatorship for 40 years," he said.

The president left the topic as quickly as he got on it though, and instead took a shot at Romney for his hazy foreign policy.

"I have to tell you that, your strategy previously has been one that has been all over the map and is not designed to keep Americans safe or to build on the opportunities that exist in the Middle East," he said.

Romney has spent more than a month hammering Obama over the attacks in Libya, claiming that the administration misled people to believe that it was not a terrorist attack but the result of a spontaneous demonstration over an anti-Islamic video. Obama shot down that charge during the presidential debate last week, stating that on Sept. 12, the day after the attack took place, he stood in the Rose Garden and referred to it as an "act of terror."

Materials prepared by the CIA and reported in the Washington Post last week reveal why: talking points given to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for three television appearances on Sept. 15 stated that "the currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations."

It was clear that the president came to Monday's debate with a plan to turn Libya into one of his foreign policy achievements -- pivoting back to the subject when responding to a separate question on Syria.

"We are mobilizing humanitarian support and support for the opposition," Obama said of Syria. "And we are making sure that those we help are those who will be friends of ours in the long term and friends of our allies in the region over the long term."

"But going back to Libya -- there is an example of how we make choices," he continued. "When we went into Libya, and we were able to immediately stop the massacre there, because of the unique circumstances and the coalition that we had helped to organize, we had to make sure Muammar Gaddafi couldn't stay there."

Obama did throw Romney a bone on the topic, saying it was "to the governor's credit" that he supported the Libya coalition until it came time to ensure that Gaddafi not stay in power.

PHOTO GALLERY
HuffPost
BEFORE YOU GO
Presidential Debate: The Final Showdown
PHOTO GALLERY
Presidential Debate: The Final Showdown

CONVERSATIONS