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Mitt Romney Libya Sidestep In Third Debate Was Deliberate, Aides Say

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Mitt Romney makes a point during the third presidential debate on Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Mitt Romney makes a point during the third presidential debate on Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Mitt Romney's decision not to press President Barack Obama on his administration's failures in Libya was a conscious choice by the campaign, several Romney aides said in the aftermath of the candidates' Monday night debate.

"What he chose to do up there was to take Libya out of the back and forth and raise the issue of what it says in the macro sense," said Dan Senor, a top Romney foreign policy aide. "It is a sign that President Obama's foreign policy is unraveling in a number of ways."

The first question of the Boca Raton debate was about Libya, where an assault last month on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi led to the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador.

Republicans have accused the Obama administration of first failing to properly secure the facility and then misleading the public about the cause of the attack.

But on Monday, Romney opted to quickly transition his response away from the specifics of Libya and onto the larger state of the Middle East.

"What we're seeing is a pretty dramatic reversal in the kind of hopes we had for that region," the GOP presidential nominee said.

"He's made it clear in other forums and interviews that there are many more questions than there are answers," said Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom after the debate. "He's done it in plenty of other forums. We are all very well acquainted with his position on the issue."

A third Romney senior adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Huffington Post that Romney avoided the issue in part because he expected Obama to be equipped with a prepared response.

Indeed, throughout the debate it was Obama who repeatedly returned to the issue of Libya, speaking about it at some length in his opening remarks and later raising it during a discussion about Syria, as an illustration of the complexity of presidential decision-making.

In the second presidential debate, at Hofstra University in Long Island, Romney had stumbled in his attempt to challenge Obama over the details of the administration's Libya response, allowing the president to offer a strong rebuttal.

Jen Psaki, an Obama spokeswoman, identified that exchange as "one of our best moments."

"The president made it clear this was not about politics; this was about leadership," Psaki said, suggesting that Obama would have been happy to talk about Libya further had it come up more on Monday night.

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