I’m a Middle East wonk, but watching the final presidential debate one really has to ask… no mention of the economic crisis in Europe? China mentioned only in passing in reference to currency manipulation? No real discussion (a passing reference by Obama aside) of the Obama administration decision to shift America’s overall military priorities toward Asia? No discussion (a passing reference to Mali by Romney aside) of Africa – despite the fact that the US military has been expanding its footprint there throughout the Obama administration (this, to be fair, goes back into the Bush years – but it still needs to be talked about)? No attempt at a serious discussion of Russia? Pakistan discussed only in reference to its nukes – no mention of how that ties into our deepening relationship with India? Burmese Rohingyas? BRICS? Nuclear proliferation not involving Iran? Did anyone even say the words “North Korea”? Latin America in general? How, exactly, was this a foreign policy debate?

I’ve spent most of my career dealing with the Middle East. I appreciated the discussion of the Arab Spring and the fall of Mubarak. Iran got its due (and we learned that Romney is a bit geographically challenged when it comes to Iran), as did Syria. Even if the discussion of both countries never really went beyond boilerplate it at least happened. The who-loves-Israel-best discussion was a bit tiresome, but ultimately par for the course.

Among the topics that actually did get discussed the glaring hole was in Afghanistan. Both candidates avoided the obvious unraveling of our current strategy and paid lip service to the idea that we’re doing an excellent job of training Afghan troops, utterly ignoring the growing problem of those same troops opening fire on their trainers.

The real tragedy, however, was that the Middle East (broadly defined) so utterly dominated these 90 minutes. It’s my patch professionally, and on one level I appreciated the attention. We really, however, needed a broader discussion of so, so many issues tonight that, for some reason or other, simply did not make the cut.

We are now only a few hours away from Presidential Debate #2. Unlike the first debate two weeks ago this debate will use a town hall format and foreign as well as domestic policy will be on the agenda. With that in mind, please take a look at my latest column for Gulf News, which looks at the ongoing controversy surrounding the attack on the Benghazi consulate and the way both Obama and Romney have handled it.

Also noteworthy: this piece, published yesterday by Bloomberg noting that Morsi's administration in Egypt is now considering new measures to outlaw "political thuggery' - a term which appears to start with blocking traffic and takes off from there.

NYT on Morsi


This piece from arabist.net's Issandr El Amrani is a very useful update on the state of the Morsi administration. The basic premise - that Morsi's honeymoon is pretty much over - is an important one, as is the observation that the Egyptian leader is trying to perform a delicate balancing act: building a national base of support even as he rallies his core supporters for elections that are peobably only a few months off.

Or Not


OK, I was wrong. There was no mention of Libya last night and only one passing reference by Romney to the Middle East - and that as part of a longer riff on his part about (perceived) Obama policy failures. Perhaps Romney felt he did not have to bring it up. After all, most of the evening seemed to go his way.
My latest column, which appears in the Wednesday print editions of Gulf News, looks at Wednesday's first U.S. presidential debate.

Please read the column at the link above and return here, to the home page, to leave comments.

One note to add - in the 36 hours since writing this I have revised my view about foreign policy and the coming debate. Sunday night (which is when the copy needed to be finalized) I still believed that Libya would be excluded from this week's debate on the grounds that this first session is supposed to be restricted to domestic topics. Now I'm not so sure. It seems more and more likely to me that Romney is going to try to find a way to inject Libya into Wednesday's meeting. The issue simply looms too large for the GOP at the moment for him not to find a way to mention it.