Roger Simon makes an annoying comment on last night’s debate:
And there is another problem with foreign policy, which Romney demonstrated when he twice mentioned Mali.
Mali? Is Romney not aware that in an oft-quoted Roper poll sponsored by the National Geographic Society in 2006, 75 percent of American young people couldn’t find Israel on a map – – which might be understandable considering it’s pretty small – – but also that 50 percent couldn’t find Ohio? Or New York?
And he wants people to know from Mali?
The flaw in Romney’s mentions of Mali last night wasn’t that most voters presumably don’t know where the country is. The problem was that he mentioned Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s presence in the country without even a minimal effort to link this to the effects of the Libyan war. He simply assumed that rattling off several undesirable things from around the world would work as criticism, and he took it for granted that anything that goes wrong somewhere in the world can be laid at the door of the administration. It was an instance when he might have had a legitimate criticism to make, and he didn’t know what to do with it.
The ridiculous thing about his references to Mali in the debate is that Romney evidently remembered just enough from his briefings to know that he should say something about it, but he couldn’t make it part of a larger argument. His room for maneuver was severely limited by his own support for the Libyan war and the small detail that he had never once mentioned Mali in the last ten months in any of his foreign policy speeches or op-eds. It hadn’t occurred to him to bring it up before now, and so it seemed to come out of nowhere. It’s as if his advisers said, “Be sure to remember to mention Mali tonight,” and he remembered, but that was all. More worrisome than Americans’ bad grasp of geography is Romney’s poor grasp of foreign policy issues, which will be far more consequential if he should be elected than the fact that young Americans can’t locate foreign countries on a map.