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First Thoughts: Republicans backtrack on Libya

Republicans (especially Romney and Huntsman) backtrack on their Libya criticism of Obama… Highlighting the GOP field’s lack of foreign-policy experience (outside of Huntsman)… Did “leading from behind” work?... But the conflict in Libya still isn’t over… Romney once again to bracket Obama… Pataki’s “major announcement”?... Huntsman and Romney -- no love lost?... Rubio to deliver speech at Reagan Library… And Hatch isn’t out of the woods just yet.

*** Republicans backtrack on Libya: Running for president against a sitting incumbent can sometimes be easy, especially when there is so much chaos in the world. You get to wind up and hurl any criticism you want -- and chances are that you’ll land some strikes. But you have to be sure that your criticism doesn’t backfire, which appears to be the case with Libya. Since the U.S. and NATO operations began there back in March, the GOP presidential candidates have had a field day. Romney ridiculed President Obama for “leading from behind” on Libya. Yet in an interview yesterday, he told FOX’s Neil Cavuto that “the world celebrates the idea of getting rid of Khaddafy.” Huntsman criticized the entire intervention, saying it wasn’t core to U.S. national security interests. But yesterday, he said that Khaddafy’s defeat “is a step toward openness, democracy, and human rights for a people who greatly deserve it.” And Bachmann took this shot at the GOP debate in June: “The president was wrong. All we have to know is the president deferred leadership in Libya to France. That's all we need to know.”

*** Lacking foreign-policy experience: While the 2012 race, as we wrote yesterday, will still likely hinge on the state of the U.S. economy, the GOP criticism -- and then reversals by Romney and Huntsman -- on Libya highlights the field’s lack of foreign policy and national security credentials. Outside of Huntsman, there isn’t a candidate in the field with substantial foreign-policy experience. Yes, when Obama entered office, he didn’t have a resume that would confuse him with Dwight Eisenhower or even George H.W. Bush. But he did serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a credential the current GOP crop lacks. In a time of such conflict and change in the world, the eventual Republican presidential nominee is going to need to prove he/she can manage those conflicts and changes.


Tripoli, Libya.

*** Just a little patience: As Politico's Ben Smith notes, the Obama administration's "leading from behind" in Libya -- having NATO lead the military operations, getting the cooperation from the Arab League, and letting the Libyan opposition have the main stake in the outcome -- seems to have been a success. But it hasn’t been an easy five months for the White House. In fact, it emphasizes how difficult managing a war, even one being waged “from behind,” can be in this 24-7 media environment. Consider: The American Revolutionary War, with an assist from France, lasted some eight years; the U.S. Civil War lasted four years; and World War II lasted about that same amount of time. There is little patience when the news cycle changes every hour. The one ironic exception, of course: the Afghanistan war, which has lasted nearly 10 years…

*** But the conflict there still isn’t over: Still, the conflict in Libya isn’t over. NBC’s Richard Engel reported on “TODAY” that heavy battles are occurring in Tripoli and that rebel forces are trying to storm Khaddafy’s compound. Moreover, as the Washington Post writes, “The dramatic appearance Monday night of Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam at the Rixos hotel, where the Tripoli-based press corps remains trapped, contradicted the rebels’ assertion the day before that they had captured him and cast into doubt their claim of controlling 80 percent of the capital.”


Mitt Romney speaking to steel workers in New Hampshire.

*** Romney once again to bracket Obama: Turning to domestic 2012 news… Romney yesterday announced he will unveil his jobs plan on Sept. 6 in Nevada, per NBC’s Garrett Haake. That’s the same week that Obama will unveil his plan -- and maybe even the same day. This appears to be another example of Romney bracketing the president. As Haake noted, “In June, Romney criticized President Obama at a shuttered steel plant in Allentown, PA, soaking up news coverage, on the same day the president attended a pair of fundraisers in Philadelphia. The Romney campaign also released a series of Web videos timed to the president's fundraising and travel schedules, including one highlighting Chicago's economic struggles under the current administration during President Obama's birthday visit to his home city. Last week, the campaign released a pair of videos hitting President Obama on the economy, set in stops along his Midwest bus tour route.”

*** Pataki’s “major announcement”? While Paul Ryan took himself out of the GOP presidential race yesterday, could we see another Republican get in? And we’re not talking about Sarah Palin. According to NBC’s Anthony Terrell, the Polk County (IA) Republican Party confirmed that George Pataki will be attending its picnic on Saturday -- and that he’ll have a “major announcement” there. What kind of announcement? A Pataki spokesman told NBC’s Andrew Rafferty, "At this point, I can only confirm he will be in attendance."


Huntsman and Romney in New Hampshire.

*** Huntsman, Romney -- no love lost? If Huntsman wanted to dispel the notion that there’s animosity between he and Mitt Romney, then he didn’t help that cause last night on with CNN’s Piers Morgan. Almost any time he’s asked about serving as President Obama’s China ambassador, he says, when asked to serve your country, you do so. But serving with Mitt Romney? That goes too far. When asked if he could imagine running on the same ticket as Romney, he said, "There would be too many jokes about that,” presumably because they are both Mormon. “No, I can't imagine it at all." But when Morgan immediately followed up and asked if he’d serve as VP to a “tea partier,” like Michele Bachmann -- someone who he is not as closely aligned ideologically -- he said, "You know, if you love this country you serve this country.” The Huntsman campaign says he was joking, and that, “Of course,” he would serve in a Romney administration. “He’s served in four of the last five administrations.”

*** On the 2012 trail: For the first time in quite a while, not a single GOP presidential candidate is active on the campaign trail today.

*** Rubio delivers speech at Reagan Library: In fact, the biggest political event of the day is at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA, where Marco Rubio delivers a speech at 9:00 pm ET. By the way, the Reagan Presidential Library is the site of the upcoming Sept. 7 NBC/Politico presidential debate.


Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) at a town hall in Utah.

*** Hatch isn’t out of the woods just yet: On the Senate front yesterday, GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz shocked the political world when he announced that he wouldn’t challenge incumbent Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R). Chaffetz’s decision not to run is a HUGE break for Hatch, who has been spending the past year trying not to meet the same fate that took down Sen. Bob Bennett last year. But Hatch isn’t completely out of the woods. Politico: “Even with Chaffetz on the sidelines, Hatch will likely face a convention challenge. Utah GOP insiders agree it could come from state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, a 37-year-old father of six first elected in 2008... Even Chaffetz himself signaled he wasn’t going to board the Hatch bandwagon.”

*** Tuesday’s “The Daily Rundown” line-up (with guest host Chris Cillizza): Libya latest with NBC’s Richard Engel on the ground, more on President Obama’s reaction from NBC’s Kristen Welker, more on the U.S. political reaction with one of us (!!!), and what’s next with Washington Institute’s Michael Singh and Center for American Progress’ Sarah Margon… CNBC’s Melissa Francis with a market preview… NBC News political analyst Charlie Cook breaks down what 2008 teaches us about 2012 for GOPers in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina… plus more 2012 with AP’s Liz Sidoti, syndicated columnist Bob Franken, and GOP strategist Ron Christie, who’s about to be a fall fellow at Harvard’s IOP (congrats Ron!).

*** Thursday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews UN Ambassador Susan Rice, former State Department adviser Vali Nasr, the New York Times’ Charles Blow and Jeff Zeleny, and Dem Congressman John Larson.

Countdown to NBC-Politico debate at Reagan Library: 15 days
Countdown to NV-2 and NY-9 special elections: 21 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 77 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 167 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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