Passport

The Election 2012 Weekly Report: Getting heated in Hempstead

Round 2, fight! There was only one foreign-policy question at the second presidential debate, held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Tuesday, but it provided one of the most memorable exchanges of the night. Audience member Kerry Ladka asked President Barack Obama why the State Department had "refused extra security for our embassy in ...

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Round 2, fight!

There was only one foreign-policy question at the second presidential debate, held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Tuesday, but it provided one of the most memorable exchanges of the night. Audience member Kerry Ladka asked President Barack Obama why the State Department had "refused extra security for our embassy in Benghazi, Libya." (The request was actually for the embassy in Tripoli, not the Benghazi consulate.)

Obama didn’t address the question directly, instead vowing again to "investigate exactly what happened, regardless of where the facts lead us, to make sure that folks are held accountable and it doesn’t happen again." The president also said that on the day after the attack that killed U.S. Amb. Christopher Stevens, he had "stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an ‘act of terror.’"

Sensing an opening, Mitt Romney countered that it "took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror." After Obama asked Romney to "get the transcript" and moderator Candy Crowley interjected, "He did call it an ‘act of terror.’"

In fact, Obama had said, "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for." Some conservative commentators countered that the president was not actually referring to the Benghazi attack, but Obama had also used the description more specifically the following day.

Overall, the debate was generally scored as a win for Obama — in stark contrast to the first debate two weeks ago — with liberal commentators pointing in particular to the Benghazi exchange as a pivotal error by Romney. The voters, of course, may have another view.

Not optimal

The fallout from Benghazi continued to dominate media coverage of the election this week. On Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made headlines by saying, "I take responsibility" for the security arrangements at U.S. facilities abroad. Some interpreted the remark as an attempt to shift blame away from the president, though Obama later said at the debate, "I’m the president. And I’m always responsible."

The Drudge Report also highlighted a comment Obama made on the Daily Show on Friday — "If four Americans get killed, it’s not optimal" — though the president was actually responding to a question from host Jon Stewart that used the word "optimal."

The New York Times reported on Friday that one of the prime suspects in the attack, Ahmed Abu Khatalla, had spent several hours sipping frappés and chatting with reporters at a hotel in Benghazi despite U.S. and Libyan pledges to bring the perpetrators to justice. Khatalla accused U.S. leaders of "using the consulate attack just to gather votes for their elections."

Polls keep narrowing

A Pew Research poll this week shows the two candidates running about even on foreign-policy issues. Overall, voters favor Obama 47 percent to 43 percent on handling foreign policy, but that’s down from a 15 point spread in September.

The poll also found voters favoring stability over democracy in the Middle East, supporting "taking a firm stand" against Iran’s nuclear program over avoiding military conflict, and "getting tougher" with China. Respondents supported Romney’s policies on China by a 49-40 percent margin, but gave Obama a narrow edge on handling Iran and political instability in Egypt and Libya.

The final debate

The narrowing polls have raised the stakes for the third and final debate on Monday night, which will focus entirely on foreign policy. The debate will be held at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. CBS’s Bob Schieffer will moderate. Although the two campaigns have sparred repeatedly on Iran’s nuclear program, instability in the Arab world, and trade with China, a number of issues have yet to be discussed, including the fallout of the European financial crisis, the effects of climate change, and U.S. policy in Latin America and Africa.

You can follow FP’s coverage on Monday night on the site and on Twitter using the hashtag #FPDebate.

The latest from FP:

Rosa Brooks makes the case that Obama’s foreign policy team is dysfunctional and gives some suggestions on how to fix it.  

Shen Dingli on why China might prefer a Romney presidency.

Former candidate Jon Hunstman gives FP his take on how the race is shaping up.

Joshua E. Keating explains what would actually happen if Romney labeled China a currency manipulator.

David Roberts lays out what the two candidates aren’t telling voters about the future of coal.

Christopher Stephen reports from Benghazi on a situation that looks very different from how the U.S. political spin cycle is portraying it.

Douglas Feith and Seth Cropsey argue that the Russian "reset" exemplifies the flaws of Obama’s foreign policy.

Mark Bowden on the six biggest myths around the Osama bin Laden raid.

 Twitter: @joshuakeating

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola