Paul Greenberg
The last of this year's long slog of presidential debates Monday night was about foreign affairs -- that is, the state of the world and America's place in it. By the end, the essential question raised by the debate should have been clear: Which candidate is living in the real world we've all experienced the past four years? And which in a world of denial and excuse-making?

To ask such questions is to answer them. Just look around you. As the ancient Romans might say, to put it in plain Latin, res ipsa loquitur. The state of the world speaks for itself. And, as always, it is fraught with danger. And full of people who'll deny it. And who are ready to explain that we're doing just dandy. And about to do dandier.

In the president's world -- any resemblance to the real one may be purely circumstantial -- we're living in the best of all possible worlds, thanks to his guidance, wisdom, leadership and virtues in general. Much like Voltaire's Candide, he looks around and concludes there is nothing to be improved on. Once again the United States is in control of developments. That's good to hear, just hard to believe.

In the world his presidential challenger inhabits, along with the rest of us, this administration continues to be caught by surprise as its foreign policy unravels. Caught unawares, repeatedly, this administration has been unprepared for emergencies and, worse, unwilling to admit its mistakes, which only assures that more unpleasant surprises are in store. For how correct mistakes and misassumptions if they're never recognized?

If there is a single event that summarizes this administration's unpreparedness, it is what happened just last month to the American consulate in Benghazi, to our ambassador and three other dedicated envoys there, and what it revealed about the whole, unwinding fabric of American policy in the Middle East.

Revealing, too, is what didn't happen after Benghazi: an honest, far-reaching re-assessment of the assumptions that policy is based on. Assumptions this president has operated on from the outset of his administration, when he made a grand apology tour speaking of how America had "shown arrogance and been dismissive, even divisive" in the world. Much as the president might like to deny it now.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.