“Prior to March 3, I would have strongly recommended an Eisenhower-Reagan model,” he said. What he meant was a covert effort, largely with help from others in the region, to topple Gaddafi. “You should have said nothing. Be very quiet. Condemn the violence. Do everything you can covertly,” he added.
Once Obama said Gaddafi had to go, Gingrich said, his views changed. “The U.S. is now committed to replacing Gaddafi, and so we had better replace Gaddafi. . . . The president, I hope, understands that he has pitted the prestige of the United States on replacing Gaddafi.”
He said the administration now should be doing all it can to funnel arms and assistance to the rebel forces through intermediaries in the Middle East. He held out the possibility that the current policy will work but argued it still has damaged the president. “If Gaddafi leaves, this will all become a really minor memory,” he said, “but one more memory that weakens the administration.”
Romney spoke to radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt. “I support military action in Libya,” he said. “I support our troops there in the mission that they’ve been given. But let me also note that thus far the president has been unable to construct a foreign policy, any foreign policy. . . . Without a compass to guide him in our increasingly turbulent world, he’s tentative, indecisive, timid and nuanced.”
Hewitt asked: Did Obama wait too long to strike in Libya? Romney answered implicitly. “There’s no question but that his inability to have a clear and convincing foreign policy made him delegate to the United Nations and the Arab League a decision about our involvement there,” he said.
But he then referred back to the Lockerbie bombing, not the rebel uprising, as the apparent justification for getting rid of Gaddafi. He suggested he would have moved unilaterally but did not say so explicitly. Nor did he outline the steps that should be followed now to oust the Libyan dictator. Aides said his comments spoke for themselves.
Barbour initially declined to criticize the president. But on Wednesday in a radio interview, he said the administration hasn’t provided the kind of leadership other countries have always looked to the United States to provide. “We see that when you don’t have strong leadership from the strongest country in the world, then everybody else scatters out and breaks up,” he said.
Barbour, however, continued to express reservations about a military mission, as he did before the no-fly zone went into effect. Asking “what are we doing in Libya,” he said, “We have to be careful, in my mind, about getting into nation building exercises, whether it’s in Libya or somewhere else.”
The Republicans sound more hawkish than the president. They appear far more enthusiastic than Obama about the unilateral use of military force. But like the president, they are grappling with a conflict and conditions that make certitude difficult, and their statements show it.