President Obama said the death of longtime Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi on Thursday shows "the rule of an iron fist inevitably comes to an end."
"The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted," Mr. Obama said from the White House Rose Garden, hours after the news that Col. Gadhafi had been killed in fighting near his hometown of Sirte. "One of the world's longest-serving dictators is no more."
The killing of Col. Gadhafi is the culmination of Mr. Obama's unauthorized seven-month military operation, an intervention that continues to raise questions about the limits of presidential power and the wisdom of U.S. participation in the multilateral mission to oust the Libyan leader.
Mr. Obama credited the Libyan people, the U.S. and its allies for toppling Col. Gadhafi's regime.
"This is a momentous day in the history of Libya," said Mr. Obama, addressing its citizens. "You have won your revolution."
The initial reaction in Congress, where many lawmakers had questioned whether Mr. Obama's policy violated the 1973 War Powers Act, overwhelmingly was positive. But some in Congress noted that America's obligation for rebuilding in Libya has only begun.
"The mad dog of the Middle East is dead, and the Libyan people can breathe a sigh of relief," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican. "Libya is trying to build a democracy out of the ashes of a dictatorship, and the United States should be a helpful partner in that endeavor. The decisions made in the coming days about Libya will affect our own national security, and the security of the region, for decades to come."
Some foreign-policy analysts said Mr. Obama's decision to go to war without explicit congressional authorization won't hold up as a model for future U.S. action, in spite of the president's claim that he has set a useful precedent for intervening in foreign-policy crises on humanitarian grounds.
Leslie H. Gelb, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said there is no "clear-headed policy thinking" evident in the administration's decision, noting that Mr. Obama is not likely to replicate his action against dictatorships in Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, which are friendly to the U.S.
"It's very dangerous to get into the business of humanitarian intervention" unless the action is limited and precise, Mr. Gelb said. He also said that, in spite of Col. Gadhafi's dictatorial ways, he had been aiding the U.S. in rooting out al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists among tribes in eastern Libya.
"I'm worried about terrorists having more of a free rein there," said Mr. Gelb, citing reports that terrorists are helping themselves to the stockpile of weapons from the Gadhafi regime.
Mr. Obama never asked for congressional approval when he launched the military action in March, and his legal team later came up with justification for not seeking lawmakers' approval.
But the decision precipitated a constitutional clash, with House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and other lawmakers in both parties arguing that the president was violating the War Powers Resolution.
The act sets limits on how long a president can commit combat troops without obtaining congressional approval.
On Thursday, a federal judge dismissed a bipartisan case brought by 10 members of Congress challenging the president's authority to commit the nation to war without congressional approval. The court said it didn't have jurisdiction, declining to rule on the constitutional merits of the complaint.
The president said the U.S. wasn't involved in "hostilities" for very long owing to the limited nature of the war. Then his administration argued that Congress should focus on the U.S. effort to protect civilians from Libya's military forces loyal to Col. Gadhafi.
As Congress debated the issue and failed to agree on a course of action, Mr. Obama essentially faced no opposition to continuing his policy.
The president's critics nevertheless are confronted with this reality: As a result of Mr. Obama's orders, two of the world's most dangerous figures in the Muslim world, Osama bin Laden and Col. Gadhafi, have been killed this year.
"Without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives" in Libya, Mr. Obama said. "This comes at a time when we see the strength of American leadership across the world. We have taken out al Qaeda leaders, or put them on the path to defeat. We are winding down the war in Iraq, and we've got a transition in Afghanistan."
Later, in an Oval Office meeting with the prime minister of Norway, Mr. Obama said he intends to rely on allies "increasingly" for operations such as the Libya campaign.
"Wherever we have the possibility of working with outstanding partners like Norway, I think we're going to be more effective," Mr. Obama said. "The United States will always reserve its right and its duty to protect ourselves, but I think what this shows is, on a whole range of international issues, there is enormous capacity, and we are capable of leveraging greater resources, more effectiveness at lower cost, when we are able to work together."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, on Thursday praised Mr. Obama's leadership on Libya.
"Thanks to President Obama's leadership, our military's strength, the cooperation of our NATO allies and the bravery of tens of thousands of ordinary Libyans who stood up to oppression, Gadhafi will never again harm another human being," Mr. Reid said. "With Gadhafi's fate sealed, it is critical that we work with our allies in NATO and the region to integrate Libya into the international community of free, democratic nations."
Mr. Boehner, in a statement, made no mention of the president's role, but called Col. Gadhafi's death a "turning point in the Libyan people's pursuit of freedom."
He added that it's now time for Libya's National Transitional Council "to show the world that it will respect the rights of all Libyans, guide the nation to democracy, and work with the international coalition and its neighbors to secure Libya's borders and any weapons and weapons materials."
Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, said Col. Gadhafi masterminded numerous terrorist attacks that killed Americans, while noting that U.S. allies such as Britain and France conducted much more of the military support operation than had American forces.
"We are impressed with the tenacity of the Libyan people in reclaiming their freedoms and honor the service of American and NATO forces that courageously assisted on this endeavor," Mr. Rubio said. "Gadhafi has now joined the list of failed and disgraced tyrants that have faced justice from their own people. We still have a long and arduous road ahead as we partner with the free Libyan people to build a more prosperous and democratic future."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, said, "it's about time" when he learned of Col. Gadhafi's death.
"This was a tyrant who has been killing his own people and of course is responsible for the lives of American citizens lost in the Lockerbie attack," Mr. Romney said, referring to the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that left 270 people dead. "And I think people across the world recognize that the world is a better place without Moammar Gadhafi."
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