Most of the Republican presidential contenders have issued statements in response to events in Libya. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) restates her enthusiasm for America doing nothing: “I opposed U.S. military involvement in Libya, and I am hopeful that our intervention there is about to end. 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.” This sounds suspiciously like leading from behind.
Jon Huntsman, who also appeals to the non-interventionist segment of voters, is pleased that his advice was ignored. Well, he doesn’t actually say that. But that is what you’d gather from this: “The impending fall of Colonel Gaddafi is one chapter in the developing story of a nation in turmoil. Gaddafi has been a longtime opponent of freedom, and I am hopeful — as the whole world should be — that his defeat is a step toward openness, democracy and human rights for a people who greatly deserve it.”
Rick Santorum expresses enthusiasm with a healthy dose of skepticism, altogether fitting considering the mixed results from the Arab Spring. “Ridding the world of the likes of Gaddafi is a good thing, but this indecisive president had little to do with this triumph. The stated task from the very beginning for this administration was to determine whether the U.S. can 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.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry gives a standard-issue vote of approval. “The crumbling of Moammar Gaddafi’s reign, a violent, repressive dictatorship with a history of terrorism, is cause for cautious celebration. The lasting impact of events in Libya will depend 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.”
The most interesting, and perhaps most aggressive, stance comes from Mitt Romney, who has of late not been so bold. He makes a constructive request: “The world is about to be rid of Muammar el-Qaddafi, the brutal tyrant who terrorized the Libyan people. It is my hope that Libya will now move toward a representative form of government that supports freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. As a first step, I call on this new government to arrest and extradite the mastermind behind the bombing of Pan Am 103, Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, so justice can finally be done.” Well, yes, it would be a good idea if the U.S. started requesting some show of good will and responsible behavior before we start cutting checks.
It is worth considering what would have happened had one of these figures been in the White House when the rebellion began. Would Perry and Romney have acted more decisively, curtailing a long and bloody battle to oust Gaddafi? Would Bachmann and Huntsman have been content to let Gaddafi remain? As the Republican candidates flesh out their views on foreign policy, it will be essential for voters to consider whom they trust to make often unpopular calls on foreign policy. Who would be trusted to ensure we don’t leave Afghanistan prematurely, repair alliances with Israel, Britain and Eastern Europe and stand up to bullying by Russia? The reactions to Libya begin to tell us something about the candidates views and instincts; more discussion and tough questioning are needed.