Previewing Tonight’s Foreign Policy Debate

The candidate's meet for one last time tonight to talk about some of the most important issues in the world.

The general consensus is that, to date, the Presidential debates have been something of a wash. Mitt Romney was the clear winner of the first debate both because the President came across as so lackluster that even some of his supporters wondered if he even cared about winning the election and because Romney did an effective job of making the points he wanted to make. The President came out ahead in the second debate, thanks largely to the fact that he was much more engaged and forceful than he had been on October 3rd and because Romney made a few errors that allowed the President to take advantage. Unlike Obama in the previous debate, Romney’s performance in that second debate was not bad per se and it doesn’t seem to have had the same impact on the polls that the first debate did. As we sit here today, the candidates are essentially tied in the national polls, and also fairly close in the Electoral College projections, both with and without toss-ups included.

So now, we head into the final debate of this Presidential cycle in Boca Raton, Florida. It will be devoted exclusively to foreign policy, and will see both men sitting around a table with moderator Bob Schieffer, a format that is likely to cause both men to tone down some of the more forceful body language and rhetoric that we saw earlier in the month. Indeed, Romney’s campaign is already hinting that his demeanor tonight is likely to be different than it has been in previous debates, and we’ll likely see the same thing from the President. The National Journal notes that this is the last chance for both candidates to show themselves to a mass audience before the election. The last two debates have had upwards of 70 million viewers and, despite the fact that both Monday Night Football and the National League Championship Series are likely to draw a chunk of that audience away, there will be no other opportunity for either of these candidates to speak to an audience of tens of millions of people before Election Day. For that reason, this debate is important for both candidates.

Given the subject matter of the debate, though, it seems rather apparent that the candidate with the most to prove tonight is Mitt Romney. Foreign policy is an area where a sitting President always has the advantage because, well, he’s the President. He’s the one who has been making decisions in this area for the past four years and, in the case of Obama, those decisions include things such as a drone war that makes it hard for the GOP to say that he’s weak on terrorism and, of course, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Like all Presidential challengers, Mitt Romney is at a distinct disadvantage here. He doesn’t have any real foreign policy or military experience, and has been dependent on advisers to get him up to speed on these issues over the years he’s been running for President. Of course, President Obama had no real foreign policy or military experience when he ran for President, and he was running against a guy who, whatever you think of him, had it in spades. As with the Clinton-Bush match-up in 1992, though, the voters clearly didn’t care about that and it’s possible they won’t this time around either.

Walter Russell Mead argues that Romney at least needs to come away from tonight with a tie:

Governor Romney doesn’t have to discredit President Obama’s foreign policy or win a big argument over America’s global priorities to have a good night. His goal is a simpler one and easier to achieve; he wants to complete the work he began at the first debate and continued at the Al Smith dinner. Romney has made progress in the polls by establishing himself as a qualified alternative for voters looking for a change. Romney isn’t running for wonk-in-chief or the biggest, toughest hawk in the tree. His goal is to impress swing voters that he’s an acceptable replacement for the incumbent, and to perform effectively in the debate he needs to keep that goal firmly in mind.

President Obama’s consistent strategy in this campaign has been to tie Mitt Romney to the policy legacy of George W. Bush, defined by the White House as irresponsible, pro-rich policies at home and ill-considered hawkishness abroad. Governor Romney needs to realize that if the election is a referendum on W, he loses.

Governor Romney cannot run on restoring the Bush foreign policy. There is not a groundswell of support out there for the second coming of Cheney and Rumsfeld. Romney needs to present himself as the Goldilocks candidate here: if Obama is too cool on foreign policy issues, Bush was too hot—and Romney pledges to get it just right.

Governor Romney’s task in the third debate is easy to describe, harder to accomplish. He must attack President Obama’s conduct of foreign policy without allowing the President to portray the Governor as inexperienced, testy and wild. Governor Romney wants to remind voters of Ronald Reagan; Barack Obama wants to make him remind them of George W. Bush.

Mead strikes me as being largely correct. If Romney can get a draw out of a debate in the one policy area where incumbent President’s have an inherent advantage, he will have done quite well indeed. The odds of actually coming out a winner strike me as being pretty low unless Obama actually makes mistakes, which I think is rather unlikely at this point.

Daniel Larison sees danger for Romney if he talks about foreign policy as he had in the past:

 The greatest danger for Romney is that he sabotages himself by repeating attack lines that only hawkish ideologues find credible. That would show that he is either just mouthing their phrases or so intent on proving that he is a hawk that he doesn’t care how politically harmful their hard-line policies are. For example, if he returns to dated, nonsensical complaints about the Green movement protests or missile defense, he wouldn’t land any hits on Obama’s record and he would demonstrate how much he relies on the movement conservative echo chamber for his arguments. The less that he sounds like the candidate who delivered the VFW and VMI speeches, the better it will be for him politically. A reliable standard for judging how well or badly Romney has performed is to see how the most ideological neoconservatives respond to what he says in the debate. If they are extremely pleased by his performance because he echoed their views, Romney will have lost the debate very badly indeed.

Based on what we heard on foreign policy during the “Town Hall” debate, especially the completely bungled response on the Libya question, the danger does seem fairly high that Romney will slip into that hawkish mode at some point during the debate tonight. When the subject of Iran comes up, for example, it will be hard for him to to mention the standard conservative line about the 2009 Green Revolution even though there’s little evidence that there’s anything the United States could have done at the time. Indeed, many members of the Iranian opposition explicitly said they didn’t want the U.S. to get heavily involved, even rhetorically, because it would play into the regime’s argument that the protests were being orchestrated by outside forces. The Libya situation is likely to be an area where Romney could fall into Obama’s trap as well, and at this point it seems clear that there’s little value politically in continually bringing that whole situation up.

At the same time, though, there are plenty of troubled areas of the world where U.S. policy seems to be, at best, muddled that Romney could use to his advantage. For all the glorious speeches about democracy that were made at the time, the Arab Spring has devolved into a situation where many of the most populous nations in the Arab world, principally Egypt, are drifting into a form of political Islamism that threatens to destabilize the region. How is the United States going to navigate in this new world, and what is our response going to be if our primary ally in the region ends up with hostile regimes on its northern and southern borders? And what happens if (when?) Lebanon goes the way of Syria?  While we’re on the way out in Afghanistan, our plan to turn responsibility for security over the Afghans has become a pathetic joke in the wake of a massive increase in “Green on Blue” attacks. And even if we do leave Pakistan, it seems rather clear that Pakistan is going to continue to be a security concern for some time to come. The revolution in Libya has opened up vast swaths of territory for militant groups to hide, and has led to a civil war in Mali that has caused the central government there to lose control of the entire northern part of the country. Is Northern Africa going to be the new front in the War On Terror? And, if so, what are our plans there?  President Obama’s supporters like to think that their candidate has an impeccable foreign policy record, but the truth of the matter is that he’s largely continued the flawed policies of his predecessor and, four years later, we’re left with a world that is far more unstable than it used to be and he has failed to make clear what his policy is in this brave new world. These are the types of areas where Romney could potentially make an effective case against the President tonight. Whether he’ll be able to do it is another question.

In the end, though, I have to wonder how much impact this debate is really going to have on the race. The polls continue to show that economic issues remain far and above the issues that voters are most concerned about, foreign policy is fairly far down the list. It is worth noting that a new Pew poll indicates that voters are skeptical about the Arab Spring’s aftermath now, but I’m not sure that’s the kind of issue that is going to play a big role in how those people who are still persuadable make up their minds before Election Day. Romney’s real challenge tonight is to show that he can pull off looking Presidential in a debate that covers a President’s most important job. If he can do that, he gets that tie we talked about and walks away from the stage in a fairly good position for the final two weeks.

Personally, I’m not making any predictions about how tonight will go. I thought Obama would do far better in the first debate than he did and I was wrong about that. I’m willing to expect the unexpected at this point.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Campaign 2012, National Security, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. pylon says:

    I’m wondering if Romney will take up Benghazi again, in light of the new information:

    “Talking points” prepared by the CIA on Sept. 15, the same day that Rice taped three television appearances, support her description of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate as a reaction to Arab anger about an anti-Muslim video prepared in the United States. According to the CIA account, “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.”
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/benghazi-attack-becomes-political-ammunition/2012/10/19/e1ad82ae-1a2d-11e2-bd10-5ff056538b7c_story.html?hpid=z2

    and

    The assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi last month appears to have been an opportunistic attack rather than a long-planned operation, and intelligence agencies have found no evidence that it was ordered by Al Qaeda, according to U.S. officials and witnesses interviewed in Libya.
    http://articles.latimes.com/2012/oct/19/world/la-fg-libya-attack-20121020

  2. nitpicker says:

    @pylon: Hell, Pylon, I’m wondering if Doug Mataconis will get around to admittin all his whining about “the narrative” was pretty much bulls**t.

  3. The fact that the White House got faulty intelligence from the CIA about this attack raises questions all its own, don’t you think?

  4. pylon says:

    I guessif I’m Obama I just ask Romney why his foreign policy advisors are the guys who Bush fired for the second part of his presidency.

  5. anjin-san says:

    The fact that the White House got faulty intelligence from the CIA about this attack raises questions all its own, don’t you think?

    Sure, like “why aren’t people and institutions infallible?

    How much ink did you burn on this issue Doug? Is it that hard for you to simply say you were wrong? Instead, you go for the bait and switch.

  6. @anjin-san:

    Let the White House and Foggy Bottom answer questions about the security cutbacks in Libya first. And, before you say it, you can’t blame that on the budget.

  7. David M says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Lower security at consulates and even embassies isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

  8. Doug says:

    Four Americans were killed. Why is it important whether it is labelled an ‘act of terror’ and why did the Administration hedge using these words? I don’t understand fuss on either side. Do the words trigger something?

  9. Ron Beasley says:

    According to this PEW poll when it comes to ME Foreign Policy Obama is to the right of a majority of Americans and that includes a majority of Republicans. If Romney lets his neocon advisors drive him to the right of Obama it could be trouble.

  10. pylon says:

    The fact that the White House got faulty intelligence from the CIA about this attack raises questions all its own, don’t you think?

    Isn’t your argument on this topic getting a bit mixed up?

    And who says it was faulty intelligence? The locals have corroborated the gist of the CIA info. The contrary information comes from the Libyan politicians, as far as I can tell.

  11. pylon says:

    Kevin Drum has put it pretty simply:

    At this point, the known facts are pretty simple:

    ■The CIA’s collective judgment on Saturday the 15th, when Rice taped her interviews, was that the protests earlier in the week in Cairo — which had been inspired by the video — had also inspired protests in Benghazi. Later, extremist elements hijacked those protests to storm the consulate. The CIA subsequently backed off its belief that there had been protests in Benghazi, but that only happened later. On Saturday, the CIA told Rice there had been protests, and that’s what she said on TV.
    ■The evidence to this day suggests that, in fact, the YouTube video did play a role in the attacks. It’s simply not true that Rice invented or exaggerated about that.
    ■Rice was, in fact, properly cautious in her TV appearances. The transcripts here are crystal clear. On Face the Nation, for example, she carefully told Bob Schieffer that she couldn’t yet offer any “definitive conclusions,” but that “based on the best information we have to date” it appeared that there had been a spontaneous protest in Benghazi “as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where […] there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video.” She then immediately added: “But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent.” When Schieffer pressed her on whether the attack had been preplanned, or whether al-Qaeda was involved, she said directly that we simply didn’t know yet.
    http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/10/high-tech-lynching-susan-rice

  12. pylon says:

    Oh, and security? As the New York Times reported a couple of weeks ago, “The requests were denied, but they were largely focused on extending the tours of security guards at the American Embassy in Tripoli—not at the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, 400 miles away.”

  13. wr says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Your chief complaint for weeks wasn’t about the security, it was about the White House “lying” and claiming that the riots were sparked by that video. Now it comes out that you were completely wrong — the WH, as they said all along, were repeating what they were hearing from the intelligence community as they were hearing it — and, by the way, saying that it was all uncertain and subject to change.

    But now that you have been proven to be entirely wrong, you are rewriting history so that you’ve been concerned all along with the security cutbacks.

    I’d take this concern a lot more seriously if you could admit you were wrong about the first one.

  14. Ben says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Doug,
    As has been pointed out to you several times now, the security requests were for Tripoli, not Benghazi.

  15. Ben,

    You do understand that security teams typically travel with the Ambassador, right?

    Also, the fact that the security wasn’t requested for Benghazi is irrelevant. That’s just an indication that many people dropped the ball on this one including, possibly, people in the US Embassy in Libya.

  16. Besides Ben, that leads to the other question. Given the fact that Benghazi has been a place where Western targets were being attacked on a regular basis long before 9/11/12, why were we putting American diplomats in danger there with limited to non-exsitant security to begin with?

  17. michael reynolds says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    Has the CIA ever been right? They missed the fall of the USSR and the Iranian revolution.

  18. pylon says:

    And they did this time as well. So?

    A September 21 Wall Street Journal article reported that security at the Libyan consulate included “a four-man team of armed guards protecting the perimeter and four unarmed Libyan guards inside to screen visitors.” The Journal also noted: “Besides the four armed Libyans outside, five armed State Department diplomatic security officers were at the consulate.” [The Wall Street Journal, 9/21/12 ]

  19. @wr:

    I never said they were lying. I said they were incoherent, which they clearly were. The fact that this incoherence may have been caused by bad information from the CIA doesn’t really mean that this was no big deal. Indeed, it makes one wonder whats going on at the CIA.

    This is especially true given the fact that their station chief was providing completely different information:

    The CIA station chief in Libya reported to Washington within 24 hours of last month’s deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate that there was evidence it was carried out by militants, not a spontaneous mob upset about an American-made video ridiculing Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, U.S. officials have told The Associated Press.

    It is unclear who, if anyone, saw the cable outside the CIA at that point and how high up in the agency the information went. The Obama administration maintained publicly for a week that the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans was a result of the mobs that staged less-deadly protests across the Muslim world around the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks on the U.S.

  20. @David M:

    Not when you are talking about a city like Benghazi where Islamist militias have been roaming free for the better part of a year it isn’t.

  21. J-Dub says:

    So let’s assume they had doubled his security detail. How does that help against smoke inhalation? We’d probably be talking about 8 dead men instead of four.

  22. The other issue that the attack in Benghazi brings up, of course, is the fact that post-Gaddafi Libya is far from stable and that the Arab Spring seems to be heading down a road that leads toward destabilization of the entire Middle East.

    That’s not necessarily good news and, as I said, it’s one of the issues that ought to be brought up tonight.

  23. pylon says:

    Did you prefer Gaddafi? What’s Romney’s proposal?

  24. David M says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The other issue that the attack in Benghazi brings up, of course, is the fact that post-Gaddafi Libya is far from stable and that the Arab Spring seems to be heading down a road that leads toward destabilization of the entire Middle East.

    That’s not necessarily good news and, as I said, it’s one of the issues that ought to be brought up tonight.

    You can’t answer that in sound bites though, so we’re all likely to be sorely disappointed.

  25. Geek, Esq. says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    That’s absolutely an issue, but it’s not a partisan issue. It’s also not exactly clear that the CIA’s take was 100% incorrect.

    Similarly, the issue of security for the consulate is also worth investigating. But, again, hard to score partisan points there.

  26. pylon says:

    The Obama administration maintained publicly for a week that the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans was a result of the mobs that staged less-deadly protests across the Muslim world around the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks on the U.S.

    I realize this is a quote. It’s also an exaggeration of what the admin was saying.

  27. Geek, Esq. says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    That’s certainly worth talking about with the candidates, and how they would address this is very much worth considering in how people vote.

    But, where Romney loses people is where he claims that Libya and the rest of the Arab world being in chaos is Obama’s fault. The reason it’s in chaos is that the previous source of order–dictators–have been dumped. So, other than (1) supporting the dictatators or (2) committing US troops as peacekeepers and nation-builders, it’s awfully hard for Romney to articulate what should be done to stabilize them.

    Most Americans recognize that we can’t police the entire planet, and that it’s foolish to try.

  28. Geek, Esq. says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Except that news reports the day of cited the attack as being conducted by militants.

    Here’s a crucial matter: the attack being carried out by militants and being spontaneous in nature are not mutually exclusive.

  29. bk says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The fact that the White House got faulty intelligence from the CIA about this attack raises questions all its own, don’t you think?

    YES! Because that has never happened before, EVER!!!! I am sure that Issa will get to the bottom of this in a discrete and intelligent way, though.

  30. wr says:

    @Doug Mataconis: You’ve been implying all along that the WH has been acting in bad faith. It’s pretty clear now that this is not, was not, and never was the case.

    I don’t see how you can straightfacedly demand that Obama admit he was wrong when you are completely incapable of doing the same thing.

  31. wr,

    No, I have just been pointing out that they haven’t been presenting a coherent story and that Eastern Libya is now dominated by Islamist militias. Not that the second thing is all that big a deal, of course.

  32. @Geek, Esq.:

    Well, it’s worth it to remember the Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn Rule here. You broke it, you bought it.

    We, along with the rest of NATO, participated in the war that brought Gaddafi’s regime to an end and we seem to have ignored the fact that, in the last year, Eastern and Southern Libya are becoming areas where militants are able to roam free and threaten the sovereignty of nations like Mali. I opposed intervening there to begin with, largely because it was already clear by March of 2011 that the “rebels” were mixed up with some rather unsavory characters. Now that the deed is done, though, we seem to have decided that what happens next doesn’t really matter.

  33. C. Clavin says:

    When Doug links to an RCP aggregate that shows Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin all as toss-ups….his bias is crystal clear. Certainly you can’t expect him to look at a complicated picture like Benghazi and make a reasoned judgement.

  34. Geek, Esq. says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    So, we shouldn’t have participated to prevent the massacre of rebels unless we were prepared to occupy Libya, by invasion if necessary?

    There’s really no intelligible criticism for Romney to make here. There’s a leftwing/Ron Paul one–we should have not used military force there. There’s a hardcore Neocon one–we should have been ready to commit US troops to stabilize the region and spread our values.

    Because whatever Romney says about Libya then has to withstand scrutiny not only on its own merits but also in light of his positions on Syria.

    So, unless he becomes a born-again isolationist or Cheneyesque Neocon, his approach is going to be an incoherent “everything is Obama’s fault” hodge podge.

  35. Geek, Esq. says:

    Also, Romney certainly does not share Doug’s view that we should have not acted militarily in Libya. What we’ll get is “this shows American weakness under Obama.” When asked what he’d do differently, we’ll get some nonsense about acting more boldly, with more strength, commanding more respect, without a hint as to what he’d actually do or say.

    Guarantee that “leading from behind” will be a phrase he’ll use.

  36. Rafer Janders says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Given the fact that Benghazi has been a place where Western targets were being attacked on a regular basis long before 9/11/12, why were we putting American diplomats in danger there with limited to non-exsitant security to begin with?

    First, the security was not “non-existent”, it was simply not enough to withstand a coordinated assault using heavy weapons.

    Second, it’s sometimes the job of an ambassador to go into dangerous areas and expose himself to danger so that he can be seen and be seen. Danger is part of the job, just like it is in many areas of public service internationally. If we want perfect security, we can always not have ambassadors and do everything via video-link out of the DC suburbs, but that doesn’t exactly endear us to the locals.

  37. jukeboxgrad says:

    doug:

    before you say it, you can’t blame that on the budget.

    Before you say that, you need to address what I said about the evidence you’re citing.

  38. jukeboxgrad says:

    doug (not mataconis):

    why did the Administration hedge using these words?

    It didn’t. Obama said it at least four times within a week of the attack (link).

  39. jukeboxgrad says:

    doug:

    I never said they were lying. I said they were incoherent, which they clearly were.

    The one who is incoherent and simply flat-out wrong is you. You recently said this:

    at no point during the speech [Rose Garden, 9/12] did he call the attack itself an act of terror. And, in fact, his Administration conspicuously avoided using that word or anything similar to it for a full two weeks afterward

    Except that Obama can be found “using that word” on at least three other occasions within a week of the attack (link).

    When are you going to add a correction to that post? You made a statement that is blatantly false.

  40. anjin-san says:

    You broke it, you bought it.

    I think that all of the people who lived in countries that were ruled by US backed despots who maintained power via the ruthless suppression of any dissent would argue that the middle east was already broken. When cheap oil was flowing freely, how many Americans stopped to question the status quo?

    The death of four Americans in Libya is tragic, but it is a small part of a tragic story that goes back many decades.

  41. grumpy realist says:

    Doug, on this topic you’re about as silly as those Italian judges and the “not-predicting earthquake==manslaughter” thing.

    The White House made a statement based on the information that the CIA was providing them. The CIA got it wrong. So what? Considering that the CIA failed to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union, they don’t have that great a track record.

    The fact is: NEITHER DOES ANYONE ELSE. While I’m sure you could track down individuals who were able to “predict” event X, the question is not whether they happened to guess correctly, but whether they are consistently accurate, time after time after time. And no one can do that . So we’re stuck with mildly erroneous predications from the CIA–as long as they’re doing better than the other goofs out there, I’ll take their predictions over those of a random blogger on the net, thankyouverymuch.

  42. grumpy realist says:

    Oh–and Doug? I suggest you go work for the State Department and spend some time abroad before you make more comments about how the system “should” work. There’s Libertarian Idealism….and then there’s reality.

  43. Davebo says:

    @bk:

    Shhhh.. We aren’t allowed to mention the sieve that is Issa on OTB.

    Didn’t you read the posting guidelines!

  44. Davebo says:

    I opposed intervening there to begin with, largely because it was already clear by March of 2011 that the “rebels” were mixed up with some rather unsavory characters.

    Really? It was clear? Where did you get that information Doug?

  45. Rafer Janders says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Well, it’s worth it to remember the Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn Rule here. You broke it, you bought it.

    That’s complete nonsense? We broke Libya? Libya was already broken, and had been for decades under Qaddafi’s rule. A civil war had broken out. All we did was hasten the desired result, getting rid of the Qaddafi dictatorship, which is what most Libyans wanted.

  46. Rafer Janders says:

    @Davebo:

    opposed intervening there to begin with, largely because it was already clear by March of 2011 that the “rebels” were mixed up with some rather unsavory characters.

    So…you favored continuing the Qaddafi dictatorship? Or you favored not intervening on the side of the rebels, which would have led to an even longer, more drawn-out and bitter war with more regional spillover, as we now have in Syria? Or you just wish it would all go away so you wouldn’t have to think about the real world and could go back to your libertarian fantasiese?

    Good god, man, what do you actually want?

  47. Rafer Janders says:

    Sorry, that should have been a reply to Doug, not Davebo.

  48. Rafer Janders says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    No, I have just been pointing out that they haven’t been presenting a coherent story

    Yes, but you’re wrong about that. They’ve been presenting a developing story. The fact that the story is developing, and that new facts come out with more time and investigation, is not the same thing as saying it is not “coherent.”

  49. Rafer Janders says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I opposed intervening there to begin with, largely because it was already clear by March of 2011 that the “rebels” were mixed up with some rather unsavory characters.

    What’s with the scare quote around “rebels”? Are you implying they weren’t rebels? If they weren’t rebels, why were they in open armed rebellion against the government?

    Also, too, please name me one revolution in history where the rebels were not mixed up with unsavory characters.

  50. grumpy realist says:

    @Rafer Janders: The American Revolution?

    I hope that people with a better grasp of this area of history than me jump in here. (My history knowledge stops with the Council of Trent.)

  51. Rafer Janders says:

    @grumpy realist:

    The American Revolution?

    Nope, plenty of unsavory characters there. Remember, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. And let’s not forget that many of the Americans were slave-owners — it’s hard to get more unsavory than that.

  52. jukeboxgrad says:

    anjin-san:

    When cheap oil was flowing freely, how many Americans stopped to question the status quo?

    It’s quite outrageous that the Arabs decided to hide our oil under their sand.

  53. jukeboxgrad says:

    rafer:

    They’ve been presenting a developing story. The fact that the story is developing, and that new facts come out with more time and investigation, is not the same thing as saying it is not “coherent.”

    I think perhaps the best summary of the entire situation is this:

    “A demand for an explanation that is quick, definite and unchanging reflects a naïve expectation — or in the present case, irresponsible politicking,” James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, said at an intelligence symposium on Oct. 9.

    I think “naïve expectation” and “irresponsible politicking” are both pretty good synonyms for “Doug Mataconis.”

  54. rudderpedals says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The fact that the White House got faulty intelligence from the CIA about this attack raises questions all its own, don’t you think?

    At one time, yes. Not anymore and the questions have been asked and answered regularly since, most recently Kevin Drum’s piece nails it, again. What think you about Jukeboxgrad’s pointer into the Rice hearing?

  55. anjin-san says:

    @ Doug

    And, before you say it, you can’t blame that on the budget.

    I was not going to say it, it never even crossed my mind. But keep dancing, by all means. I guess that for you it is preferable to simply admitting you were wrong.

  56. mantis says:

    My prediction for tonight’s debate: Bears beat the Lions.