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Posted at 11:45 AM ET, 03/ 7/2011

Will Libya matter in 2012?

By Jennifer Rubin

A reader e-mailed me over the weekend asking whether "the situation in Libya may affect the 2012 presidential campaigns." He mused: "Depending on how bad it gets in Libya, I envision a whole slew of political ads showing Obama shaking Gaddafi's hand back in 2009."

It is an important question and one perhaps being ignored by the White House and the Republican presidential contenders. I have remarked in the past that foreign policy is never the top issue in a presidential campaign unless it's the top issue in a presidential campaign. What I mean is that unless and until Americans feel their security is endangered or America is faltering on the international stage, domestic issues usually dominate. However, when events spin out of control, foreign policy failures can help bring down a president (as in the case of Jimmy Carter) or severely hurt his and his party's standing (as in the case of George Bush in 2006).

Libya may therefore become a critical issue in one of two circumstances. First, if -- as some conservatives fear -- it devolves into a bloody, prolonged civil war and casualties mount, this foreign policy debacle could well become a stunning example of President Obama's foreign policy ineptitude and of the perils of excessive reliance on multilateralism. We have yet to get a credible casualty count or see vivid depictions of the violence, but when those inevitably surface, the outrage over American passivity may well heighten.

Even if the Libya situation does not devolve into genocidal war, Libya may simply become one more item in the growing list of foreign policy failures. When viewed in conjunction with Obama's fixation on Israel's settlements, attempts at Iran engagement, his backing of Hugo Chavez's crony in Honduras and his deferential stance toward a wide array of autocrats (from Bashar al-Assad to Vladimir Putin), voters may come to see that Obama's foreign policy is hastening the decline of American influence.

The White House has seemingly viewed inactivity and non-intervention in the Middle East as less risky than the assertion of American power. The opposite is true: American quietude is dangerous and politically risky.

But will Republican candidates capitalize on this weakness? So far Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty have offered the most robust criticisms of Obama's foreign policy and have most closely identified with a Reaganesque approach to the world. At the other end of the spectrum, Mike Huckabee has suggested that the Afghanistan war is an unwinnable quagmire, while Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has sounded neo-isolationist in his outlook. The Romney-Pawlenty stance is closer to mainstream conservative thinking, and, I would suggest, positions them to provide a compelling contrast to Obama.

So, in answer to the reader, yes, Libya could be critical in the 2012 race -- but only if the Republican nominee provides a convincing critique of, and alternative to, Obama's downsizing of America's superpower status.

By Jennifer Rubin  | March 7, 2011; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  foreign policy  
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What continually amazes me about Jennifer is the schizoid nature of her arguments.

On the one hand, she criticizes Democrats for being reluctant to make more cuts in domestic spending, while on the other hand, her foreign policy recommendations seem to consist of having the US intervene militarily in situations without any regard to cost or any plan for how this would work in practical terms.

Posted by: mustangs79 | March 7, 2011 12:01 PM | Report abuse

What continually amazes me about Jennifer is the schizoid nature of her arguments.

She is consistently amazing;the most entertaining pundit on the Web. Just think,how much more amazing she could be if she would debate with her detractors. It's just too much to hope for,like Western style Democracy in Iraq.

Posted by: rcaruth | March 7, 2011 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Will Libya matter in 2012?
By Jennifer Rubin
Short Answer/NO.
Does Lybia matter in 2011? NO1
And if the GOP can find a Ronald Reagan quality candidate to run in 2012,neither will Obama. As much as the NeoCons despise Carter,it took a Ronald Reagan to remove him in 1980. If Gerald Ford had gotten the nod in 1980,it would have been very close.
My prediction is that the GOP will win in the Electoral College in 2012,after losing the popular vote by 5Million.

Posted by: rcaruth | March 7, 2011 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Americans have already forgotten we're still in Iraq and Afghanistan, Libya won't be remembered either. Most can't even find it on a map.

Posted by: jckdoors | March 7, 2011 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Why should it? Facts no longer matter in American politics. Republicans will make up whatever they want, sell it to ignorant voters with unprincipled ads, and keep selling America down the river to the oligarchs who are paying for it all. Apparently, most Americans will never catch on, so it will keep working.

Meanwhile, Libya is a foreign nation with it own problems to work out on its own. If we really believed in "freedom" and all that jazz, we'd let them do it.

Posted by: NomoStew | March 7, 2011 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Why do I keep getting this Jennifer Rubin column when I click on the link for "The Plum Line?" Is JR redirecting Adam Serwer's links to her own column?

Posted by: nazcalito | March 7, 2011 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Libya and revolution being carried out in the Mideast nations will matter in the 2012 election not only for the President but for all members, who will run for the position. If the Mideast nations will free from their ruthless autocrats, dictators, fair and free elections held at proper stage and elected democratic governments take over the charge with the help and resources of our political, economical and military help, Obama will be the only candidate for the Noble Peace Prize. His name will be written in our history with golden ink and Democrats will carry the election. But if Obama (the way he is now)will remain a just onlooker and play his timid games to save some ruthless dictators keeping many Arab nations like Libya, boiling in civil wars, he will be unable to even get courage to stand in the 2012 election. He and his DEMOCRATS WILL LOSE EVERY THING.

Posted by: citysoilverizonnet | March 7, 2011 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Wow, the economy is suffering so bad from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Jennifer here muses on her blog about how we should be chomping at the bit to start another.

Well Jennifer, not only do wars cost money, but it's also not guaranteed that sending our soldiers to kill people in Libya is going to make less death happen there. (I know, your a "Republican Humanitarian"- you think M-16s shoot out rainbows of democracy at people, but you are wrong...M-16s shoot bullets and make people die)

Also, I don't fault people for making an attempt at diplomacy and then finding out later that person was "bad" somehow.... If our foreign policy is to become a "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality every time, then lets just "push the button" already and get it over with.

The rest of us should start paying close attention to people around us like Jennifer- she really sounds like a "wolf in sheeps clothing" in this article, and unfortunately for the rest of us, people like this are becoming more and more common. Realize when you see them, that they always act like part of the crowd,that they are your buddy looking out for your interests- but they are the most selfish of us all... and in the end, they will just invent some justification for choosing themselves over you just like they invent justifications for their wars and oppressions now.

Posted by: Pygar | March 7, 2011 2:50 PM | Report abuse

this is some kind of bait and switch

the link suggested substance

instead i got this

Posted by: arthurflowers | March 7, 2011 3:03 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure why i got this column either.

But since I read it, I might as well comment. She seems to be proposing that Libya could be a useful way to divert voters' attention away from the GOP's complete lack of a coherent domestic program? Fighting Obama head on, as relates to issues of substance, doesn't seem like a winner. So let's talk about how we should be bombing Muslims. Win!

Posted by: ahduth | March 7, 2011 3:17 PM | Report abuse

"So far Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty have offered the most robust criticisms of Obama's foreign policy and have most closely identified with a Reaganesque approach to the world."

HILARIOUS. Yeah, Regan's track record of supporting coups and revolutions was just great. Excellent results there, Jennifer. Truly a model that naive rube Obama should be emulating.

Posted by: nickprzy | March 7, 2011 3:26 PM | Report abuse

"Obama's downsizing of America's superpower status."


Yep. Obama's fault there, too. The financial meltdown and the previous administration had nothing to do with it.

Posted by: nickprzy | March 7, 2011 3:28 PM | Report abuse

"And if the GOP can find a Ronald Reagan quality candidate to run in 2012.."

We might find a Reagan quality candidate, but it won't be a candidate with a Reagan philosophy because the candidates must run through a "neocon gauntlet" in order to have a chance to win the nomination.

Reagan realized weilding a big stick was good. Dropping trillion dollar coins into the machine to play whack-a-mole with that stick was stupid.

Good ol' days indeed.

Posted by: mfray | March 7, 2011 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Rubin's obsession with 2012 is so bizarre, given the absolute absence of any viable GOP candidates, based on Ms. Rubin's devotion to what she thinks matters to the "base".

Will Libya matter in 2012? If gasoline prices shoot above $4/gallon and stay there, disrupting any chance of economic recovery in the world, you betcha!

All depends on whether Libya turns into an African-style civil war that does not end, no matter what anyone does.

Only the Mayan prophecy can save us for another twenty months of GOP candidate sound bites. I prefer the end of the world to any more of this tripe.

Posted by: K2K2 | March 7, 2011 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Rubin thinks that Libyan body counts could be a determining factor in the coming elections. Americans still don't care how many Iraqis died due to the invasion and that was due to our actual actions. I doubt voters will care about how many Libyans die due to our inaction.

And the idea that voters will put a perceived failure in Libya next to a perceived failure in Honduras seems even sillier. This is more of the echo chamber effect of the right that people out there are compiling a list of foreign policy failures.

Posted by: beckerl | March 7, 2011 4:01 PM | Report abuse

We now have Israel's best interests from you. How about covering the U.S.' best interests, Jennifer?

Posted by: falcon269 | March 8, 2011 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Even if Libya "doesn't matter" in 2012, it will still matter. This is true because the situation in Libya is driving gasoline prices higher, and is likley to get worse, particularly given the fecklessness of the Obama administration. In other words, Libya may be a foreign policy issue, but its ramifications are very domestic and, in the context of a fragile, halting economic recovery, very deadly.
The argument for a Republican candidate to make is one that illustrates that the traditional characterization of politics as "foreign" and "domestic" is nonsense, especially as the world continues to get metaphorically smaller. Reagan did this when he explained that economic vigor was necessary to defeat the Soviets, and then impelled them (through the much-maligned "Star Wars") to spend themselves into oblivion on military hardware.
Foot bone connected to the ankle bone....

Posted by: reheiler | March 8, 2011 11:04 AM | Report abuse

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