The 2012 Republicans and Libya

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Is Gingrich making sense on Libya?

Scott Conroy's piece at RealClearPolitics on Newt Gingrich includes a reference to a video the former speaker claims justifies his position shifts on Libya. I've criticized Gingrich in the past for shifting on this, so it's only fair to include the counter-argument.

I'll admit I rarely watch the programs he's featured on in this video, so given a fuller context, I see how the shift is tied to Obama's remarks on March 3 - at least according to Gingrich's exploratory committee:

Gingrich said at that time that he could not support using the U.S military for a strictly humanitarian intervention. His message has been clear and consistent. Prior to March 3rd, he would not have intervened but used other means to defeat the dictator, but after the president’s March 3rd statement, he said that only reason to use our military force was to get rid of Qadaffi. He has maintained that position.

Regardless of what you think of Gingrich's shift - and there's no question there was a shift, it's just a question of whether it was a policy inconsistency, or a response to shifting facts on the ground and at the White House - it's worth noting that Gingrich is virtually alone in offering an intelligent commentary on the Libya situation among the potential Republican candidates for 2012. This may be one more example - there are many in the past on domestic politics - of Gingrich being penalized for being too much of a policy wonk, too specific in his arguments where others stick to pat generalities.

The statements from most of his potential foes are nearly all simple negatives: don't use ground troops, don't cater to the United Nations or the Arab League, don't do whatever it is Obama is doing. Tim Pawlenty did exactly this, though at least he has the excuse of doing it first. Mike Huckabee talked in vague terms about a need for an American presence, but does not specify how that will stop any of the killing of citizens he of course deplores. Haley Barbour embarked on what the Wall Street Journal tagged as a "glib trope to the isolationist left." Michele Bachmann gave a response which was just as isolationist, again without offering a solution. All of these individuals are actively engaging the national media - it's absurd that Mitt Romney, by all accounts the Republican frontrunner, thinks he can give a speech slamming Obama's foreign policy and then deliberately avoid reporters' questions on the most pressing foreign policy issue of the day.

Perhaps worst of all, it is profoundly disturbing that Mitch Daniels, a darling of the intellectual right, has as far as I can tell been completely silent on the matter - just as he has been nearly entirely silent on every foreign policy issue over the past several months. His comment in response to a question on Egypt in January was simply jaw-dropping: "I don't have a lot to say about it. I'm just a provincial governor out here." This is fine if one is interested in staying a provincial governor, but it is an unacceptable dodge from anyone interested in becoming Commander in Chief.

This has to concern anyone on the right who thinks the presidency demands an intelligent and sophisticated foreign policy approach if the mistakes of the Obama presidency are to be avoided. It's one of the reasons someone like John Bolton is likely to embark on a quixotic run, simply to ensure there's someone who understands the world outside our borders on stage in Iowa. Rather than just a litany of bullet points, perhaps Barbour, Daniels, Romney and others can just say "pass" and cede their time to candidates who are actually paying attention to the matter. Unfortunately, they won't be able to do this if they ever sit in the Oval Office.

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