The Republican presidential field showered praise on the Libyan rebels and described the collapse of Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime as a victory for freedom and a “cause for cautious celebration” Monday, but steered clear of giving the Obama administration any credit for military intervention there.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney went a step further, calling on the new Libyan government to arrest and extradite the mastermind behind the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which killed 259 people in 1988.
President Obama, meanwhile, suggested that end of Col. Gadhafi’s rule vindicates his limited use of military force and multinational approach toward the civil war in the North African nation. The Obama administration teamed up with NATO allies to help rebel forces in March by establishing a no-fly zone over Libya and using air power to attack Col. Gadhafi’s forces.
“The Libyan intervention demonstrates what the international community can achieve when we stand together as one,” Mr. Obama said.
Col. Gadhafi’s ouster could change the political dynamic in the ongoing 2012 presidential race, where the candidates vying for the Republican nomination have leveled stiff criticism of Mr. Obama’s handling of the situation, as they look to woo support from party primary voters by distancing themselves from the commander in chief.
On the other hand, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota set herself at odds with the party’s “hawks,” who think the president was too slow to intervene. While she chastised him for “leading from behind,” she also called his intervention “absolutely wrong” and argued that the nation had no vital interest in Libya.
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, meanwhile, warned that the federal government can no longer afford cover the costs of this kind of military interventionism and argued that the constitution requires the president seek congressional authorization to continue U.S. involvement in Libya.
On Monday, the Republican White House hopefuls said there is still a lot of work to be done before Libya establishes some sense of order.
“I opposed U.S. military involvement in Libya and I am hopeful that our intervention there is about to end,” Mrs. Bachmann said. “I also hope the progress of events in Libya will ultimately lead to a government that honors the rule of law, respects the people of Libya and their yearning for freedom, and one that will be a good partner to the United States and the international community.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry claimed that success in Libya now hinges on “ensuring rebel factions form a unified, civil government that guarantees personal freedoms, and builds a new relationship with the West where we are allies instead of adversaries.”
Just one candidate Monday mentioned Mr. Obama specifically — and he subscribed to the other side of the partisan coin: If you don’t have something mean to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.
“Ridding the world of the likes of Gadhafi is a good thing, but this indecisive president had little to do with this triumph,” former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania said, warning that the U.S. needs to “positively influence the direction of the successor government.”
“As we have seen in Egypt, the euphoria of toppling a dictator does not always result in more security for us and our allies in the region,” he said.