Granted the first debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney was supposed to be about domestic issues, but with the recent assassination of a US ambassador in Libya and the swirling controversy in Washington about why the White House didn’t make clear the violence had apparent Al Qaeda roots, or fully protect the consulate that was attacked, there was considerable speculation that the Middle East would crash the party.
And it did for one short breath, when Mitt Romney made a passing reference to the problems in the region as one of the challenges that America faces.
“What''s happening in the Middle East -- there are developments around the world that are of real concern,” he said.
While moderator Jim Lehrer didn’t ask any foreign policy questions, it wasn’t as though Romney had no opportunities to raise the issue and try to score points against Obama.
At one point Obama said, “The first role of the federal government is to keep the American people safe. That’s its most basic function. And as commander-in-chief, that is something that I have worked on and thought about every single day that I’ve been in the Oval Office.”
But Romney did not use that opening to talk about Libya. In fact, the topic of Libya was never raised. That doesn’t mean that it won’t come up – the two final debates are both slated to devote at least some time to foreign policy.
But it does mean that despite raging anti-American protests and other Middle East bedlam, the presidential candidates are still focused above all else on the economy. This is the major concern for Americans; they don’t want to lose time they could spend talking on pocket-book issues to much more distant complications. And they don’t see those issues as the ones most likely to win them any votes.