The Libyan rebels’ advance into Tripoli has so far drawn relatively muted reactions from Republican presidential candidates, some of whom criticized President Obama’s decision to intervene in Libya.
The most vocal critics were Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr.
Huntsman issued a statement that did not make mention of his earlier stance on U.S. intervention but that said he was “hopeful -- as the whole world should be -- that [Gaddafi’s] defeat is a step toward openness, democracy and human rights for a people who greatly deserve it.”
Bachmann, by contrast, acknowledged that she has long opposed U.S. military involvement in Libya. In a statement, she expressed hope that “our intervention there is about to end.”
With the possible exception of Afghanistan, the debate over intervention in Libya has been one of the rare foreign policy issues in the presidential campaign.
For Huntsman, the issue has largely been about cost.
“It’s an affordability issue. With all of our deployments and all of our engagements abroad, we need to ask a fundamental question: Can we afford to do this?" Huntsman said in the spring. “I felt from the beginning that Libya was not in our core national security interest.”
Bachmann struck a similar note in the Republican debate in June, saying that the United States has no “vital national interest” in Libya and that the president was “absolutely wrong in his decision.”
With the reality on the ground in Libya far from clear, caution may be the most prudent political response. Even if the Tripoli government really has fallen, the ouster of Gaddafi could prove to be the easy part.
If rebels are able to consolidate their gains and establish security, however, Obama could get a much-needed foreign policy victory headed into the re-election campaign. That could force Bachmann and Huntsman to revisit — though not necessarily revise — their earlier comments.
Even the Republican candidates who had not come out swinging against U.S. intervention in Libya have so far avoided any tut-tutting.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who supported the mission, said Monday that he hoped Libya would move toward a representative form of government and, as a “first step,” extradite Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi, who was convicted in the Lockerbie bombing but who was released from a Scottish prison in 2009 on compassionate grounds.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who had not spoken widely on the issue, issued a statement saying that the crumbling of Gaddafi’s government was “cause for celebration.” But he also said that the lasting impact of events on Libya will “depend on ensuring rebel factions form a unified, civil government.”
An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Mitt Romney as the former governor of Minnesota.