Libya could become Obama liability in 2012
By Sam Youngman - 03/23/11 06:11 AM ET
Nuance on foreign policy is a cancer on Democratic presidential campaigns.
With a sudden military intervention in Libya that has come under criticism from both parties, President Obama is experiencing the early stages of this potentially fatal campaign disease.
As Obama struggles to explain the U.S. mission in Libya, more questions than answers are arising.
Republicans are seizing on those questions to underline their argument that Obama is an indecisive, uncertain leader. That will be their major pitch to voters in 2012.
Separately, Republicans and Democrats alike are upset that the administration didn’t consult more with Congress before taking action. Analysts are warning about parallels to Iraq, and all sides seem to be genuinely confused about what Obama is trying to accomplish.
“There is little doubt about the fact that his military involvement in Libya has put him at great risk politically,” said Lara Brown, a political science professor at Villanova University.
Presidential candidates must always be able to clearly explain their reasons for taking the U.S. into action. For that matter, they must also be able to easily explain their opposition to a war.
In 2004, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) struggled to reconcile his vote backing action in Iraq with his opposition to the war. President George W. Bush’s campaign ridiculed the Massachusetts Democrat for voting for the Iraq war before voting against it.
Obama, in contrast, was boosted in 2008 from his clear opposition to the Iraq war. That helped him defeat a host of more experienced Democratic politicians, most notably Hillary Clinton, during his party’s primary battle.
In pushing for the fight in Libya, Obama has blurred his image as an anti-war president.
Brown said Obama’s decision to intervene in Libya will further sour the anti-war crowd that embraced him in 2008, propelling him to the White House.
“The progressives who made up Obama’s 2008 base are more ideologically and philosophically motivated than they are motivated by their party affiliation,” Brown said. “They would rather keep their principles and lose, rather than lose their principles and win.”