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The political effects of Libyan leader’s fall

Former Libyan dic­tator Moammar Gad­hafi was killed on Thursday by rev­o­lu­tionary fighters in his home­town of Sirte. We asked Robert Gilbert, the Edward W. Brooke Pro­fessor of Polit­ical Sci­ence in North­eastern University’s Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties, to ana­lyze the impact of Gadhafi’s death on U.S. pol­i­tics and the 2012 pres­i­den­tial campaign.

How will the death of Moammar Gadhafi affect President Obama’s re-election run?

Last May, the death of Osama bin Laden, U.S. public enemy number one, 
boosted Pres­i­dent Obama’s favor­a­bility rating by 14 points. This is because Obama ordered bin Laden’s exe­cu­tion. Gadhafi’s status is not as “exalted” here and the United States’ role in his death appears to be much more indi­rect. I would be sur­prised if Gadhafi’s demise will exert any sig­nif­i­cant effect on the President’s re-​​election prospects.

What role can victories in foreign policy play in presidential campaigns? Should we expect to see a boost in President Obama’s approval rating as a result of Gadhafi’s death?

Studies show that any dra­matic, short-​​term, sharply focused inter­na­tional event in which the United States is involved leads to an increase in a president’s pop­u­larity. It doesn’t matter if the events are “good” or “bad.” John F. Kennedy’s pop­u­larity, for example, increased after both the Cuban mis­sile crisis (a suc­cess) and the Bay of Pigs (a dis­aster). The elec­tion of 2012 is still more than a year away. Any boost for Obama will be min­imal and will fade quickly.

Will members of the Republican presidential field give Obama credit for his military strategy to rely on allies to bring Gadhafi to justice?

As a group, the Repub­lican hope­fuls are likely to give Pres­i­dent Obama little credit for any­thing he does. This is a polit­ical season, and our present envi­ron­ment is hyper-​​partisan. There was also some sen­si­tivity last spring to the fact that Obama did not go to Con­gress to get formal autho­riza­tion to par­tic­i­pate in any way in the anti-​​Gadhafi mil­i­tary cam­paign. So I wouldn’t now expect many plau­dits from his would-​​be successors.

– by Jason Kornwitz

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