As missiles rain down on Libya for the third day, President Obama is facing criticism from both the right and the left--and the two sides' criticisms are looking remarkably similar. The contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, however, have to craft their responses particularly carefully, differentiating themselves from the president while still projecting strength. Many have opted to stay silent since bombing began Saturday, Politico's James Hohman reports. Of the GOP contenders willing to comment, most faulted the president for being indecisive, waiting weeks to take action.
Sarah Palin: “I won’t criticize what [Obama’s] foreign policy has been. ... But certainly there would have been more decisiveness."
Rick Santorum: The U.S. "may have missed our window of opportunity. ... Under any score, I don’t know how you could play this worse than this president has... I think we’re going to be involved potentially in a very prolonged standoff, or U.N. peacekeeping, or who knows what could be involved in the long term? … The president put [us] in a very difficult situation."
Newt Gingrich, though, strayed from the Obama-is-dithering talking point, suggesting intervention wasn't that good an idea to begin with: “Iran and North Korea are vastly bigger threats. [Zimbabwe dictator Robert] Mugabe has killed more people, the Sudanese dictatorship has killed more people, there are a lot of bad dictators doing bad things,” Gingrich told Hohman, sounding eerily similar to Janeane Garofalo in 2003. ("I think lots of people are eager to obtain weapons of mass destruction. ... We've got Iran and North Korea. We've got a problem with Pakistan.") But maybe that's on purpose: Garofalo's position on Iraq--"I think that Saddam Hussein is actually, with the evidence, the least able to use nuclear weapons and the least obvious offender in that area at this moment"--proved prescient.
Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels, Mike Huckabee, and Michele Bachmann wouldn't comment to Politico after airstrikes began. But several of them had commented earlier that Obama should have acted more swiftly. Hohman writes that their silence shows the potential candidates' limited foreign policy experience and a wait-and-see attitude. "Perhaps these seven really are quietly rallying behind the commander-in-chief in a time of war, but a more likely explanation is that these potential candidates are waiting to see how the fluid situation develops and watching for what their main rivals say first."
Other Republicans echoed comments that Obama acted too slowly:
Former Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton: “Had we intervened decisively, sharply, earlier this whole thing might be over now. I think it’s much more complex, much riskier, and Qadhafi has even more incentives to stay now because of events that have transpired.”
Sen. John McCain: “He waited too long, there is no doubt in my mind about it ... But now, it is what it is. And we need, now, to support him and the efforts that our military are going to make. And I regret that it didn’t - we didn’t act much more quickly, and we could have.”
Meanwhile, many on the left are unhappy about the intervention, too. Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall writes, "there are so many reasons this strikes me as a bad idea I really hardly know where to start." He sees three major problems: 1) The rebels have already lost momentum, making it harder to attract more supporters--no one wants to join a losing battle. 2) Comparisons to Rwanda and the Balkans are wrong--the violence is awful, but it's not a genocide. 3) It's going to be hard to leave, because we're taking responsibility for a failed rebellion and thus have to protect and arm them.
Salon's Glenn Greenwald adds that "glib comparisons" of Libya to Iraq should be avoided, because there are so many critical differences between the wars.
All that said, it is striking how wars -- no matter how they're packaged -- ultimately breed the same patterns. With public opinion split or even against the war in Libya (at least for now) -- and with questions naturally arising about why we're intervening here to stop the violence but ignoring the growing violence from our good friends in Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere -- the administration obviously knows that some good, old-fashioned fear-mongering and unique demonization (Gadaffi is a Terrorist with "deadly mustard gas" who might attack us!!) can only help.