Shooting from the lip

If you don't like Newt Gingrich's carefully considered and passionately argued position on the U.S. intervention in Libya, just wait. Recent history suggests that within days he'll be saying the opposite of whatever he's saying now.

My best guess is that for the moment, at least, Gingrich kind of supports President Obama's decision to use military force against Libyan despot Moammar Gadhafi, or at least that he hopes it succeeds. But it's hard to be certain. On Libya, the former House speaker has shown the ability to be both pro and con with equal moral certainty and intellectual arrogance.

Why does it matter if a man known for rhetorical bomb-throwing happens to lob a few contradictory grenades? Because when Gingrich said on "Fox News Sunday" that he hopes to announce his candidacy for president within a month, nobody laughed. There's no clear front-runner for the Republican nomination, and one has to assume that anything can happen.

In that same interview, Gingrich completed the final full twist in a "flip-flop-flip" maneuver that would have merited perfect "10s" in an Olympic diving competition - demonstrating why he should never, ever be allowed anywhere near the Oval Office.

Gingrich launched himself from the springboard on March 7, when Fox News host Greta Van Susteren asked what he would do about Gadhafi's use of heavy weapons and deadly force against peaceful demonstrators.

"Exercise a no-fly zone this evening," he replied. "All we have to say is that we think that slaughtering your own citizens is unacceptable and that we're intervening."

His first somersault came on March 23, days after the U.N.-authorized military intervention had begun. You'd think he might applaud the operation - enforcement of a no-fly zone and attacks on Gadhafi's armored columns, all in an attempt to protect civilians from an impending massacre - since that was what he had suggested. But you'd be wrong.

"I would not have intervened," he told NBC's Matt Lauer. "I would not have used American and European forces, bombing Arabs and that country."

But then on Saturday, at an appearance in Iowa, he spun to what looked suspiciously like his original position, arguing that the U.S. and its allies should "defeat Gadhafi as rapidly as possible."

In a rare understatement, Gingrich acknowledged Saturday that "obviously there were contradictions" in his various statements. Typically, however, he defended them all.

The fact that he had appeared to take so many sides of the issue, he claimed, was somehow Obama's fault. Just like not intervening was Obama's fault, intervening was Obama's fault, and whatever the allies are doing with air power is Obama's fault.

Obama moved painstakingly toward committing U.S. forces to the Libya intervention, first securing a U.N. mandate, some measure of support from Arab nations and a guarantee of meaningful involvement by our European allies. He thought about the precedent this kind of humanitarian military action might set. He tried to assess how the other beleaguered autocrats in the region might react to U.S. action or inaction.

Leave aside, for the moment, whether Obama made the right call. At least he tried. Gingrich, by contrast, reflexively shoots from the lip. On any conceivable subject, he's always ready to tell you more than he knows. He is certain that his view is 100 percent right - until he decides it's 100 percent wrong.

Contact Robinson, a syndicated columnist, at eugenerobinson@washpost.com.