Below is a real brief list:
We Will Learn Nothing about the Libyan Embassy Attack
The Obama administration is open to criticism about their handling of security at US embassies in Libya, and the administration has clearly bungled the messaging on the subject. I've already written that Mitt Romney's response to this crisis was completely inappropriate, and there's doubt as to whether Mitt Romney would be any better at handling Foreign Policy, there are many unanswered questions about what happened that day and in days following the incident.
Don't expect to get answers from President Obama. At the last debate, he said that the situation was part of an active investigation. From what we know, there is a criminal as well as an intelligence investigation ongoing, and it's not generally accepted policy to declassify information at a political debate, although congress has been engaged in this recently.
In other words, unless Mitt Romney wants to re-walk the low road that didn't get him very far in the last debate, don't expect much news here.
Benghazi is a Pretty Nice Place
Whilst debating with a polemically minded friend of mine, he characterized Libya a "hellhole" soon after the 9/11 embassy attack. What's interesting is that the opposite is in fact true. Reporters whom we have had contact with praise Benghazi for its security situation, despite formidable obstacles.
In fact, New York Times correspondent David Kirkpatrick, who famously interviewed the frappe-drinking prime suspect of the attack, Ahmed Abu Khattala, at a high-end hotel in Benghazi, describes the encounter.
Some of the key surprises - First, this incident may have been, at least partially, about the video. This is a surprise to the administration, which was reversing course on this narrative, and the Romney camp, which was attacking the Obama administration for spreading this narrative.
It's also proof that intelligence takes time.
Another surprise - Anar al Sharia, the suspected group, is both not representative and feared by local militias, militias who are successfully keeping the peace. The interview gives a clear indication of why the suspect has not been arrested, and how Libya has overcome a lot of problems to get to where they are now.
I'll never forget Andy Carvin being greeted as a hero in Benghazi. It's a town that was nearly destroyed by horrific violence, and at the end of the day, it's just not that bad a place.
I'd still wait a few years before you book your vacation.
The People the US Backs in Syria Aren't Leading
Mitt Romney wants to supply weapons to the insurgents in Syria, but he wants to hand pick those groups to make sure that the people who totally support our values get the weapons. According to Vice President Joe Biden (voicing sentiments that will likely be echoed by the President tonight), the US is already doing this.
It's not working, and part of the reason why is that the US hasn't given the weapons to the people doing most of the fighting.
The latest news from Syria is a perfect illustration of this. The US has backed a group of defected soldiers led by Riad al Assad. These Free Syrian Army groups have signed onto the Geneva Convention, and have expressed their support for a secular government. The only problem is that many recent victories have been won by insurgents with little or no connection to the Free Syrian Army leaders in Turkey. While Qatar and factions in Lebanon aligned to Saad Hariri have had no problem arming groups like the Al Farouk brigade, a ruthless brigade that has proven extremely combat effective, the United States has been overly cautious in who is arms. The result is that the Al Farouk brigade, armed with a ferocious attitude and shiny weapons from foreign backers, have ruled the battlefields in Syria, while Riad al Assad has yet to show up on the battlefield.
Al Farouk is often characterized as "Salafist" or "Jihadi." This is inaccurate, especially since the Al Farouk brigade actually attacked a group of foreign jihadis. They're largely supportive of a democratically elected government, albeit one with a strong Islamic value system, and unlike many older political analogues, their concerns don't seem to spread far beyond the borders of Syria. In other words, there's a huge difference between a radical group dedicated to creating an Islamist state through force, and a group of Islamist fighters would prefer a state with an Islamic identity. Some foreign fighters fit into the former category, and Al Farouk fits into the latter.
Al Farouk has some blood on its hands, and they're hardly supporting "American values," the way the American politicians would define them, but they're also not Al Qaeda. In other words, they are definitely not the good guys, definitely not the bad guys, and they're definitely winning the war against Bashar al Assad. The reality is far more complicated than American political discourse allows, and so both Romney and Obama will continue to support Riad al Assad, despite his lack of presence and leadership in Syria.
I'm not saying that the US should arm the likes of the Al Farouk Brigade. I am saying that arming Riad al Assad will continue to be ineffective.
Obama may be right, and Romney may be righteous, but neither one of them is backing a winning strategy.