Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images.
Two of the leading Republican candidates to face President Obama in the presidential election next year cheered the news that ousted Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi had been killed.
The development marks the first time in months that the issue of U.S. involvement in Libya has warranted a mention from either candidate, which highlights just how insignificant foreign policy issues have been in a campaign dominated by rhetoric about how Mr. Obama’s would-be successors would restart a stalled economy.
Radio Iowa’s Kay Henderson has Romney’s reaction from Iowa:
“I think it’s about time,” Romney told reporters. “Gaddafi — terrible tyrant that killed his own people and murdered Americans and others in the tragedy at Lockerbie … The world is a better place with Gaddafi gone.”
Romney in March said he supported military action in Libya, but that it did not fit into a “discernible foreign policy.”
Perry’s campaign sent out a similar statement:
“The death of Muammar el-Qaddafi is good news for the people of Libya. It should bring the end of conflict there, and help them move closer to elections and a real democracy. The United States should work closely with Libya to ensure the transition is successful, and that a stable, peaceful nation emerges,” the statement said.
Both candidates praised the downfall of Gadhafi’s regime in August.
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman also welcomed the news.
“Colonel Gaddafi’s demise is positive news for freedom-loving people everywhere, but it is just one step in a long and tumultuous turnover that is coming to Northern Africa. It is my sincere wish that this news accelerates Libya’s transition to a society that respects openness, democracy, and human rights. I remain firm in my belief that America can best serve our interests and that transition through non-military assistance and rebuilding our own economic core here at home,” Huntsman said in the statement.
The last time Libya was discussed at length during one of the many presidential debates was a June CNN debate in New Hampshire, where Rep. Michele Bachmann said the United States lacked a vital national security interest in military involvement.
“We to this day don’t yet know who the rebel forces are that we’re helping. There are some reports that they may contain al Qaeda of North Africa. What possible vital American interests could we have to empower al Qaeda of North Africa and Libya? The president was absolutely wrong in his decision on Libya,” Bachmann said during the debate.
Bachmann also implied the decision to go into Libya was stretching U.S. forces too thin in Tuesday’s debate in Las Vegas, in what was quickly picked up as a geographic gaffe: “Now with the president, he put us in Libya. He is now putting us in Africa. We already were stretched too thin, and he put our special operations forces in Africa.”
Like her counterparts, Bachmann also welcomed the news of Gadhafi’s death
“The world is a better place without Qaddafi. It is my hope that Qaddafi’s reign of terror will be replaced with a government that respects the people of Libya and one that will be a good partner with the United States. Hopefully, today will also bring to an end our military involvement there, something I opposed from its beginning,” the Bachmann statement read.
Bachmann has been President Obama’s most outspoken critic from the GOP field, but the other back-of the-pack candidates have attacked the president on the issue as well.
Rep. Ron Paul said in the June debate he would not have sent military forces to Libya. Herman Cain, now ahead in the polls, said in a May debate that President Obama lacked a clear strategy in Libya, but he did not offer a strategy of his own. (Watch here.)
In an August 30 speech to the Veteran of Foreign Wars National Convention in San Antonio, Romney hit the president for not defining exactly what the goal was in working with NATO to launch air strikes against Gadhafi.
“When a president sends our men and women into harm’s way, he must first explain their mission, define its success, plan for their victorious exit, provide them with the best weapons and armor in the world, and properly care for them when they come home! Anything less is not befitting a great nation,” Romney said, according to a transcript provided by his campaign.
But aside from that, there’s been little discussion of the United States’ military engagements among the people who seek to be commander in chief. It is a testament to just how dominant the debate over unemployment and the lingering recession continue to be as the 2012 race progresses. That focus has meant much less time for debate about ongoing issues in Libya, Afghanistan or Pakistan.
The reactions seem to follow a pattern: candidates like Bachmann, Paul and Cain (who was until very recently considered a long-shot candidate) came out strongly against the decision to help Libyan rebels depose Gadhafi. Front-runners Romney and Perry have been quick to praise positive developments in Libya, while Romney tries to also frame the issue in the context of a lack of national security strategy from President Obama.
And the limited criticism of President Obama’s actions could fade now that Gadhafi is gone — but the issue could resurface if unrest and civil war break out in the country.