Will Libya matter in 2012?
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.
| March 7, 2011; 11:45 AM ET
Categories: foreign policy
Save & Share: Previous: Republicans vs. Democrats on discretionary spending
Next: Rep. King's hearings: Already a success?
Posted by: mustangs79 | March 7, 2011 12:01 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: rcaruth | March 7, 2011 12:28 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: rcaruth | March 7, 2011 1:01 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jckdoors | March 7, 2011 1:25 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: NomoStew | March 7, 2011 2:17 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: nazcalito | March 7, 2011 2:28 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: citysoilverizonnet | March 7, 2011 2:31 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Pygar | March 7, 2011 2:50 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: arthurflowers | March 7, 2011 3:03 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ahduth | March 7, 2011 3:17 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: nickprzy | March 7, 2011 3:26 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: nickprzy | March 7, 2011 3:28 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: mfray | March 7, 2011 3:29 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: K2K2 | March 7, 2011 3:53 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: beckerl | March 7, 2011 4:01 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: falcon269 | March 8, 2011 9:40 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: reheiler | March 8, 2011 11:04 AM | Report abuse