Do Republican Contenders Have To Declare Themselves on Libya?

There is an interesting discussion over at the Compass Blog of RealClearWorld (always worth reading) about the extent to which presidential hopefuls are obligated to take positions on big foreign policy issues like Libya.

It was kicked off by Benjamin Domenech,who summarizes the statements on Libya of the various candidates and maybe-candidates. As Domenech sees it, knowing one’s mind about foreign policy is a test of a politician’s readiness to serve as the nation’s commander-in-chief. Accordingly, he gives the lowest grade to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels for demurring altogether on Libya. My politics are very different from Domenech’s — in my view, Amb. John Bolton’s experience has not made him “someone who understands the world outside our borders” — but he raises a very interesting question about how politicians should handle their foreign policy learning curve.

In response, the Compass’ Greg Scoblete and Daniel Larison on his Eunomia blog turn the question on its head. Being members in good standing of the Realist school, they extol the virtue of prudence. By restraining himself, Mitch Daniels is actually showing his respect for the seriousness of the issues. Here’s Scoblete pushing back against fellow Compass blogger Domenech:

An “intelligent and sophisticated” person would not, in my view, formulate serious foreign policy positions in a matter of weeks in response to media demands that he or she say something profound. Given the gravity and magnitude and pace of change in the Middle East, I think it speaks rather poorly of a candidate to articulate sweeping policy doctrines or give definitive answers on matters of war and peace …

Domenech rightly decries the vacuity of most of the potential 2012 presidential candidates positions on Libya, but this is symptomatic of a glib political culture (one that, again, is not a Republican phenomena but a bipartisan one). Standing aloof from that, at least at this stage, isn’t a bad thing, in my view.

With the benefit of two cycles as an Iowa caucus-goer — as well as having been the main foreign policy adviser to a 2008 US Senate candidate (now senator) — I think they’re right on the mark. Genuine foreign policy seriousness means going through a gradual process of knowing one’s mind. Now, if a politician preparing to run isn’t even getting tutorials on the issues, then that could rightly be considered derelict. I remember reading someone who wrote that they knew Howard Dean would run for president when they saw him in 2002 reading Foreign Affairs magazine on a flight.

As a final word, let me nominate my own favorite for worst foreign policy performance in campaign rhetoric. No, not former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, despite his laughable Libya flip-flops. The worst is actually Gov. Mitt Romney, who’s been telling voters that if America only is insistent enough on getting our way, the rest of the world will snap into line. Those interested in learning more about the shallowness of Romney’s foreign policy ideas can read Spencer Ackerman’s March 2010 take-down of his then-recent campaign book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.


Photo: state govt of Indiana


Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y6 years ago

EVERY candidate or potential candidate for any national office should be pinned and wriggling to the wall about Lybia or any other national issue. That's what a free press is for!

The Compass is claiming lack of an opinion shows a laudable caution?? What a load of crap. It's merely utter and complete incompetence masking as 'prudence'.

It's as if you were to go to a shoestore and the salesman couldn't tell you what he has in stock because he 'wants to be careful'.

A politician who cannot articulate a response to ANY question, on the fly, has no business in public life - articulating public policy is what a politician's JOB is! He or she should have been thinking about this stuff for years. Maybe these know-nothings can show us the greatest virtue of prudence there is - DON'T RUN!

Barbara V.
Barbara V6 years ago

Who gives a damn what Beck says? Why give him any attention at all? The man is a fool among fools.

Debbie Wasko
Past Member 6 years ago

Another pre-election survey, in my opinion, so that hopefuls on either side can gain a heads-up on what the public is thinking and where best to put their campaign money, supporter aid/money, and major efforts to, hopefully, the conclusion of their desire.


Geraldine H.
Gerri Hennessy6 years ago


Nancy V.

They sure as hell better..........but then........even if they do IF elected you won't be able to depend on them to follow through... especially the (*&^ Repukes

Bruce V.

Republican's only declare themselves in the offices of their Corporate buddies, perhaps at their nearest radical Baptist Church.

Sharon A.
Sharon A6 years ago

What contenders???? The teapublicans cant even get a budget for six months thru.....what makes them think they can run the country with the current crop of pseuo-contenders?????

Foreign policy?? sure, bring the troops home and let countries decide for themselves how to govern about that for a start???? I want to know abour MY country's problems...the economy, jobs, medical care, education, environmental issues, elderly care....and so on....

Lets clean up at home before we go spouting off to other governments about how they should take our advice....oh....I know what we are doing....its the "take my advice, I'm certainly not using it"..mentality...!!!

John L.
Brabant Lenting6 years ago

I believe that we have come to a time in this country when we can say throw all the bums out democratic republican and Tea Party activists, lets start over by forming a truly democratic government one that supports all human rights,strong unions providing government backed pensions (Taxes) and a government that minds their own business not everyone elses, building a strong infastructure and clean energy system. Lets restructure our out of touch greedy corporate structure from top to bottom, unfortunately to do this we must rid ourselves of the loopsided inadequate indivduals who make up the republican party and so called Tea Party along with a good degree of democrats.