Will the United States military strike targets in Libya before the October 22 presidential debate, which, coincidentally, will focus on foreign policy and national security?
Would this attack fall into the “October Surprise” or “Wag the Dog” category?
The attack would certainly be no surprise. On September 11, terrorists killed four Americans in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Since 9/11, the U.S. has consistently responded to terrorist attacks on American citizens with force—and done so as expeditiously as possible. A U.S. strike after Benghazi would be nothing new.
The attack could not also legitimately be a “Wag the Dog” scenario, with the Administration constructing a crisis to divert public attention from another issue. Clearly, terrorist activity has been building in North Africa for some time. In particular, there were numerous threats and attacks on U.S. personnel in Libya before September 11, 2012. There was bound to be a reckoning in Libya sooner or later.
On the other hand, will the Administration play the “national security” card to make the President look more presidential?
Of course it will.
The White House has a consistent record of shaping, shifting, and spinning foreign policy events for that purpose. Vice President Joe Biden’s declaration during a political speech that “Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive” was a typical example of how the Administration trumpets its record—as it sees it—to make the President look more commander-in-chief-like.
Even during the first presidential debate, which was supposed to be on domestic policy, President Obama mentioned several times that he had pulled the U.S. out of Iraq. Of course, this was framed as an accomplishment without any discussion or debate that the withdrawal may have been premature, resulting in the current declining state of security that’s compromising U.S. interests in the region.
Will the President try to use military operations to shield himself from criticism or suppress the investigation into government activities before, during, and after the attacks in Benghazi?
The Administration is too smart to think it can use military operations to play duck and cover—that would just fuel Wag the Dog speculation. Nor is it likely that Governor Romney will go after the President for attacks in Libya. He no doubt learned a lesson to be more cautious and deliberate after the criticism he received in responding to the statement made by the U.S. embassy in Cairo before the anti-American riots broke out.
Will there be a serious discussion on foreign policy in the next presidential debate regardless of what happens in Libya?
There is no subject on which the two candidates differ more than in their views regarding foreign policy and national security. They represent two profoundly different paths on nuclear weapons and missile defense policy; what constitutes a strong nation defense; the way U.S. engages with countries like Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea; and a host of other issues. There is no way they can just rally around the flag for 90 minutes in a presidential debate on foreign policy and national security.
One way or another, the question of “Are you safer now than you were four years ago?” is going to get answered.