The contenders in the Republican presidential primary field have attacked President Barack Obama’s foreign policies. They say Obama showed weakness by not leading the allied air campaign in Libya, where the U.K and France played prominent roles, and not being tough enough on Iran to stop its nuclear-weapons efforts.
Welcome back to 2004. The Democrats knew they did not like George W. Bush. What they couldn't quite decide on was... why. Since so many of them supported the Iraq war -- mostly out of political cowardice, a few out of conviction -- it wasn't easy to fault Bush for it. But it was a political necessity in an election occuring in the shadow of 9/11. So the critique became: sure, Bush was right to invade, but he massively botched the job; I wouldn't have.
Voters saw this for what it was: a muddied non-contrast that sounded like sideline carping. John Kerry lost an election he probably should have won. (He didn't just lost because of Iraq, but Iraq didn't help.)
And so now the GOP's critique of the Libya war is: Obama shouldn't have let the U.K. and France take the lead. Welcome to the latest Incompetence Dodge -- except this time around, the GOP doesn't have the political luxury of a war waged incompetently. First the GOP called for a no-fly zone and then bashed Obama for answering the call. Obama then waged a discomfiting open-ended war that blurred the difference between stopping Gadhafi's aggression and overthrowing Gadhafi; all while limiting the U.S. commitment. It was weird. But then it worked! It worked in eight months and then it really ended. The cost to the U.S. was $1.1 billion, a wrecked Fire Scout and no human casualties.
After a decade of confusing, disastrous, inconclusive wars, it might be hard to remember what a successful war looks like. As it turns out, it looks like Libya. And the GOP is saying that it "showed weakness"? Because the U.S. didn't have to do too much? Their problem is with a... cost-effective war? Ask Moammar Gadhafi's rotting corpse if the U.S. looks weak. The average voter, if he cares about foreign policy at all, might not have wanted to get the U.S. involved in Libya. But he's going to hear that critique and think it's pathetic -- the sort of petulant tantrum a child throws when he can't figure out what's bothering him.
Bush in 2004 must have lit a cigar when he heard what Kerry was going to throw at him on Iraq. Obama might want to call him up so they can share an improbable chuckle.