As you might expect, Republicans aren’t exactly rushing to credit the Obama administration for first the downfall and now the death of Moammar Kadafi, even though the United States was part of the NATO force that backed the rebels who deposed the longtime Libyan leader.
Sens. John McCain and Marco Rubio, who have favored strong U.S. intervention in the Libyan conflict, took it one step further Thursday, praising the efforts of Britain and France in bringing down Kadafi.
That’s right. France. It wasn’t all that long ago that House Republicans were renaming their French fries.
“Let’s give credit where credit is due. It’s the French and the British that led on this fight and probably even led on the strike that led to Kadafi’s capture—or to his death,” Rubio told Fox News Channel before making similar remarks on the Senate floor.
Obama? He fell short in supporting the rebellion. “He did the right things; he just took too long to do it and didn’t do enough of it,” Rubio said.
The freshman conservative from Florida later released a statement that included praise for the “American and NATO forces that courageously assisted on this endeavor.”
Similarly, McCain on Tuesday released an early statement that omitted any mention of the president. In an interview after he, too, congratulated the British and French, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked whether the administration and the U.S. military may have had something to do with the end of Kadafi.
“But the U.S. played a significant role in the NATO operation. Not just the British and the French, Sen. McCain,” Blitzer said. “The first few weeks, the first two weeks in particular, U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles and U.S. air refueling capabilities. The Obama administration, from your perspective, deserves a lot of credit for this as well, don’t they?”
“Oh, I think they deserve credit,” the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee said. “The fact is, if we had declared a no-fly zone early on, we would have never had -- Kadafi would have fallen at the beginning.”
Neither House Speaker John A. Boehner, nor Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, nor Mike Rogers, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, mentioned Obama or the role of U.S. forces in bringing Kadafi down, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, the House’s top Democrat, were quick to praise the president.
“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, Kadafi will never again harm another human being,” Reid said.
On the campaign trail, reaction from the GOP presidential contenders has largely been circumspect. Speaking at an event in San Francisco, Michele Bachmann said the “world is a better place without Kadafi.”
Unlike Republicans such as McCain, Bachmann had opposed U.S. intervention in Libya, saying that Obama had failed to identify the national security interest at stake. “Hopefully today will also bring an end to our military’s involvement in Libya, something I have opposed to the beginning,” she said.
Jon Huntsman, who also opposed the U.S. role, offered a carefully worded statement that said America should only offer “non-military” assistance from this point forward.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, on the other hand, seemed to be calling for some sort of American boots on the ground. “The U.S. must also take an active role in ensuring the security of any remaining stockpiles of Kadafi’s weapons,” Perry said in a statement. “These weapons pose a real danger to the United States and our allies, and we cannot help secure them through simple observation.”
But Huntsman and Perry’s statements shared one thing in common: no mention of President Obama or the role of the U.S. military.
Mitt Romney, whose position on Libya has been less than clear at times, said in Iowa on Thursday morning that it was “about time” that Kadafi met his fate.
As ABC News’ Jake Tapper details here, Romney was initially in the camp of Republicans who charged that Obama was being too hesitant with regard to Libya. But later, after establishment of the no-fly zone, Romney warned about “mission creep” saying that Obama owed the country an explanation of American objectives in the region.
Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom, reacting to Tapper’s criticism, emailed several reporters in response, including Politico’s Ben Smith.
“Mitt Romney has responded to the situation in Libya as it has developed. It is the president who has been completely unclear regarding what his intention was with respect to our military’s involvement in Libya,” Fehrnstrom wrote. “Mitt Romney supported the initial humanitarian mission -- as articulated by President Obama -- to enforce a no-fly zone. As the mission went on, however, it became clear that President Obama had no idea about his intentions in Libya and that’s when Mitt warned against mission muddle and mission creep. The fall from power and subsequent death of Qaddafi brings to end a brutal chapter in Libya’s history, but that does not validate the president’s approach to Libya. The credit goes to the people of Libya.”
If there has been one consistent Republican theme among the many responses to Kadafi’s death, that’s it: Credit goes to the Libyan people. Or Britain. Or France. Anybody, it seems, but the president.
Times staff writer Maeve Reston contributed to this report from San Francisco.