Published October 23, 2012
The biggest question left after the foreign policy debate Monday night might be about the questions left unasked: What happened to Libya?
Republicans have made last month's deadly consulate attack in Libya a major point of contention in questioning Obama's record abroad, and Romney on the campaign trail has accused Obama of not telling a straight story to the American people about what happened.
But although moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS News raised the topic of the Sept. 11 attack in Libya in his first question onstage Monday in Boca Raton, Fla., Romney and then Obama instead responded by broadening the topic to Al Qaeda, the Arab Spring and the Middle East.
Romney only mentioned Libya once, saying that the attack was carried out "apparently by, I think we know now, by terrorists of some kind against our people there."
He went on to “congratulate (Obama) on taking out Usama bin Laden and going after the leadership in Al Qaeda. But we can’t kill our way out of this mess. We’re going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy.”
Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack in Benghazi, Libya. The Obama administration has faced criticism for its changing explanation of the attack, in particular claims that it was a "spontaneous" outgrowth of protests over an anti-Islam film.
Intelligence officials still are looking at the possibility that the film played a role in sparking the attack, and it isn't clear how long the attackers had been planning the assault on the consulate -- though some reports say it may have come together in a matter of hours.
In the debate, Obama briefly defended his administration's response to the attack.
"As I indicated in the last debate, when we received that phone call, I immediately made sure that, number one, that we did everything we could to secure those Americans who were still in harm's way; number two, that we would investigate exactly what happened, and number three, most importantly, that we would go after those who killed Americans and we would bring them to justice. And that's exactly what we're going to do," he said.
Even so, Republicans praised Romney's performance.
“Governor Romney came in here tonight and showed he was presidential,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said after the debate. “The president was small. … Only Mitt Romney spoke and acted like a president.”
Joe Trippi, a former campaign manager for Democrat Howard Dean, told Fox News that Romney’s strategy was “not to let Obama paint him as the reckless guy who’s going to take us to war.”
“I just want to call this debate the 'big hug,'" Trippi said, noting examples in the debate of Romney agreeing with Obama's foreign policy. "But I think the president had the edge.”