During the first question of the Oct. 22 foreign policy debate, GOP nominee Mitt Romney brought up Mali — and the influence of "al-Qaeda-type individuals" in the Northern part of the country — before Osama Bin Laden or Afghanistan had even been mentioned.
"Mali has been taken over," Romney said, "the northern part of Mali by al-Qaeda type individuals."
Later, the land-locked country in West Africa came up again — this time in the context of an Africa and Middle East in upheaval. "With Mali now having North Mali taken over by al-Qaeda," said Romney, "with Syria having Assad continuing to kill, to murder his own people, this is a region in tumult."
The attention on Mali, however unexpected, stood out as a sign that the country — and the fight to free it from al-Qaeda's influence — will enter the larger foreign policy conversation.
Although, as Bill Maher pointed out on Twitter, some viewers might have been hearing about the country for the first time tonight: