James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

Friday File: Is Operation Odyssey Dawn Going to End Well?

by James M. Lindsay Friday, March 25, 2011
A French fighter jet prepares to land at the military air base on the island of Corsica where France runs its military operation against Libya. (Jean-Paul Pelissier/courtsey Reuters)

A French fighter jet prepares to land at its military air base on the island of Corsica where France runs its military operation against Libya. (Jean-Paul Pelissier/courtesy Reuters)

Above the Fold. Seldom can I remember more skepticism about a president’s foreign policy choices at the start of a military operation than we have with Operation Odyssey Dawn. Whether people favor intervening in Libya or oppose it, everyone seems to be asking questions that don’t have clear answers: What will we do if Qaddafi accepts the cease-fire? Are we prepared to guarantee the security of a slice of Libya for years to come? Are we going to help the rebels march to Tripoli? Can we resist expanding our involvement in what the administration calls a “kinetic military action” rather than a war? What will NATO and European cooperation look like when the fighting stops? Can the president maintain public support if fighting in Libya drags on? The fact that these questions are being asked doesn’t mean the operation is doomed. The White House may yet have something up its sleeve or conjure up the right policy in the pressure of the moment. Necessity, after all, is the mother of invention. The dynamics of war certainly have changed overnight before. In early November 2001, the conventional wisdom was getting ready to declare Afghanistan a quagmire. Then the Taliban broke, Kabul fell, and administration insiders went from shifting the blame to claiming credit. Perhaps the same thing will happen in Libya. Even so, I suspect we will be questioning the wisdom of (and reasons for) President Obama’s decision for years to come.

CFR Event of the Week. CFR brought together three Middle East experts this week to discuss the political turmoil roiling the region: Lisa Anderson, the president of the American University in Cairo; Ayman Mohyeldin, Middle East correspondent for Al-Jazeera English; and Tom Lippman, a former reporter for the Washington Post and an adjunct senior fellow at CFR. That’s a lot of talent and experience talking about one of the most pressing foreign policy challenges facing the White House. You can watch the video, read the transcript, or download the audio to go.

Read of the Week. CFR Distinguished Visiting Fellow A. Michael Spence and Sandile Hlatshwayo have just released a new paper on the employment challenge the United States faces in an age of globalization. Mike is as good as you get in the economics profession. Besides being a Rhodes Scholar, winning the John Bates Clark Medal (awarded to the best economist under the age of 40), and the Nobel Prize in the Economic Sciences, he has been dean of the faculty of arts and sciences at Harvard and dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. The paper looks at the evolving structure of American employment and the news isn’t good. Job growth over the past two decades has come mostly in the so-called non-tradable sector of the economy—essentially jobs that can only be done here at home—and not in the tradable sector—jobs vulnerable to foreign competition. To put a finer point on it, much of our job growth is coming in the fields of government and health care, two areas where budgetary pressures are building to cut jobs. Here’s the most dismaying news: there is no easy fix for our employment troubles. If you are not the adventurous type or would prefer Cliff Notes to the original masterpiece, check out Steven Pearlstein’s piece on the Spence-Hlatshwayo paper in the Washington Post.

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Do Americans Support Operation Odyssey Dawn?

by James M. Lindsay Thursday, March 24, 2011
President Barack Obama leaves the East Room after making a statement about the situation in Libya on March 18, 2011.

President Barack Obama leaves the East Room after making a statement about the situation in Libya on March 18, 2011. (Jim Young/courtesy Reuters)

An early poll on U.S. military action against Libya is in, and the news for the White House is mixed. On the positive side, Gallup found that 47 percent of respondents approved of the strikes as opposed to 37 percent that disapproved. That’s more support for the no-fly zone than we saw in the polls conducted before Operation Odyssey Dawn began. That’s not surprising. A president’s decision to act can move public opinion, at least for a time. It’s one variant of the rally-‘round-the-flag effect.

On the negative side, the 47 percent support number is the lowest initial support figure Gallup has found in any of the initial polls it has done on U.S. military actions over the past four decades. (Gallup didn’t poll for every operation.) Public support for sustained military actions tends to drop over time. Moreover, while presidents can push public opinion in one direction, critics (and events) can push it in the other. More polls should be out shortly. That will tell us whether the criticism President Obama is getting from opponents of Operation Odyssey Dawn are gaining traction with the public.

Gallup’s poll has one other worrisome piece of news for the White House. While majorities of self-identified Democrats (51 percent) and Republicans (57 percent) support Operation Odyssey Dawn, only a minority of Independents (38 percent) do. In fact, a plurality (44 percent) of Independents oppose it. Democratic support for military action is probably soft; many Democrats likely say they approve out of party loyalty. And independent voters are who the White House has been targeting ever since losing them in the congressional midterm elections.

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The World Next Week: Is Operation Odyssey Dawn Foundering?

by James M. Lindsay Thursday, March 24, 2011
U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons return to Aviano Air Base, Italy, after supporting Operation Odyssey Dawn on March 23, 2011.

U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons return to Aviano Air Base, Italy, after supporting Operation Odyssey Dawn on March 23, 2011. (Ho New/courtesy Reuters)

The World Next Week is back!  Bob McMahon and I talked about disputes between the U.S. and its partners in the Libya intervention; Japan’s ongoing nuclear crisis; and Apple’s thirty-fifth anniversary.

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The highlights:

  • The international coalition behind Operation Odyssey Dawn is foundering over disagreements about how it should operate while serious questions persist about the operation’s objective and its likelihood of success. Qaddafi’s quick ouster would squelch talk of dissension and confusion, but if Libya turns into a sustained stalemate the political costs to President Obama could be significant.
  • Unlike the case with Libya, the major economic powers have acted in unison to steady a Japanese economy that has suffered greatly in recent weeks. Chinese condolences for the disaster mark a significant step in the often strained relations between the two countries, and Japan’s focus in the coming months is likely to be more inward rather than outward.
  • Apple continues to make products you didn’t know you needed but you now can’t live without.

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Campaign 2012: Hello Tim Pawlenty, GOP Presidential Candidate

by James M. Lindsay Monday, March 21, 2011
Tim Pawlenty speaks during the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition's Spring Event at Point of Grace Church in Waukee, Iowa on March 8, 2011.

Tim Pawlenty speaks during the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition's Spring Event on March 8, 2011. (Brian Frank/courtesy Reuters)

Only one Big Ten university has ever graduated an American president—The University of Michigan, which was Gerald Ford’s alma mater. Ford was appointed president, so it remains the case that no Big Ten university has ever graduated someone who was elected president. The University of Minnesota has come close, not once but twice. Hubert Humphrey (Class of 1939) and Walter Mondale (Class of 1951) both became the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. A Minnesota graduate who hopes that the third time is the charm is Tim Pawlenty (Class of 1983). Today the former Minnesota governor threw his hat in the ring for 2012, announcing that he is creating a presidential exploratory committee. And he did it in hi-tech, twenty-first century way—with a web video posted on Facebook.

The Basics.
Full Name: Timothy James Pawlenty
Date of Birth: November 27, 1960
Place of Birth: St. Paul, Minnesota
Religion: Evangelical Christian
Marital Status: Married
Children: Anna Pawlenty 17, Mara Pawlenty 14
Alma Mater: BA University of Minnesota, JD University of Minnesota
Political Offices Held: Governor of Minnesota from 2003-2011, Minnesota State House majority leader 1999-2003, Minnesota State House of Representatives 1993-2003, Eagan City Council

What Supporters Say. Pawlenty has impressed a lot of people during his political career. At a pancake breakfast back in January, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) encouraged Pawlenty to run:

You know, I am not endorsing anyone, but I am happy to introduce any candidate who comes here to people like you. But I hope Tim Pawlenty will run because he has a great record and a great message.

Back in July 2008, when Sarah Palin was still an obscure governor, Pawlenty was a favorite for the vice presidential slot for Sen. John McCain’s ticket. Back then, on a visit to Minnesota, McCain called Pawlenty:

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The World Next Week on Injured Reserve

by James M. Lindsay Thursday, March 17, 2011
U.S. President Obama meets with Ireland's Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the White House.

U.S. President Obama meets with Ireland's Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the White House. (Jason Reed/courtesy Reuters)

Technical problems derailed today’s recording of The World Next Week. No, that is not CFR code for: “We blew off work to watch March Madness.” Michigan doesn’t play until tomorrow. (Go Blue!)

In honor of it being St. Patrick’s Day, I had intended to use the podcast to thank one of our loyal listeners, Brian, for writing in and gently pointing out that I had mangled the pronunciation of Taoiseach, the Irish Gaelic word for “prime minister. My apologies. You can hear the correct pronunciation here.

The topics Bob and I had wanted to discuss were the aftershocks of Japan’s massive earthquake and tsunami; President Obama’s visit to Latin America; the upcoming Egyptian vote on constitutional reforms, and the eighth anniversary of the Iraq war.

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