Our Forgotten Mali Moment

Rosie Gray’s quick item on Mali deserves a little bit of unpacking. Her premise is that Mitt Romney, who apparently ran for president in 2012, was “introducing the problems in Mali to a mainstream audience before most other politicians and commentators,” and an ungrateful nation did not notice.

It’s minor, but I think Gray overstates the backlash to Romney: The tweet from Bill Maher, commenting on the Mali line, is more of a goof on Stupid Americans. The larger point is that Romney used Mali in a larger argument about how the forces of terror were on the march, and that Benghazi was just the beginning. In the spin room before the debate (which is to say, in the room where there would be spinning, before anything spinnable was said), Sen. Lindsey Graham walked me through various Obama debacles and speculated about how to deal with them. “In northern Mali, we may have to look at special forces operations,” he said. “In Egypt, it might be redesigning our aid to promote democracy.”

But Romney didn’t really follow through on this. His surrogates kept their focus on Benghazi, as a preventable debacle and possible cover-up. There was no larger argument about How President Romney Would Deal With Al Qaeda in Mali, because there wasn’t real daylight between the administration and the GOP campaign. Romney didn’t want to commit the United States to any intervention of any kind in an African nation that voters hadn’t heard of. And the Obama administration has “led from behind,” leaving France to send troops in to its former colony.