GREENVILLE, S.C.—Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich slammed President Obama’s handling of the situation in Libya on Thursday, arguing that he president changed his position on the U.S. role only after the president did.
The one-time Georgia congressman and acknowledged presidential hopeful told an audience of GOP activists in this early presidential primary state that he had initially advocated for a no-fly zone over Libya as a "first step to defeating Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi." But he said he now questions the direction of the mission.
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Gingrich charged that the White House has severely mishandled the situation by having "pitted our prestige against Qaddafi.” If Qaddafi survives, Gingrich added, “it is a significant defeat for the United States and it puts us in a very bad position.”
In an interview after the speech, Gingrich told National Journal that the media had taken his remarks out of context in alleging he was flip-flopping on Libya.
“I had one comment before March 3, which was we should favor freedom and we should help them indirectly using other forces and our own," he said, referring to Libyan rebels. "The president on March 3 said Qaddafi has to go and I said, 'If he uses the no-fly zone as the first step toward getting rid of him, then we should do it immediately.’ On the other hand, I am deeply opposed to having a no-fly zone as a humanitarian mission. It won’t work.... I think they’re in a total muddle," Gingrich said.
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He argued that the seeming shifts in his position reflect those of the president. "What happens is, I will do a TV show or a speech and I’ll respond to events as of that day, and you go back and look, ‘Is it the day Obama was for getting rid of him, or was it the day Obama was not getting rid of him?’ There’s a certain inevitable variation of my comments because I’m responding to a rapidly changing circumstance. But my principles are very clear," Gingrich said.
In his speech, Gingrich argued that the administration's policy "has mutated over the last several weeks in ways every one of us should be concerned about. The president now says his authority came from the U.N., the Arab League,” said Gingrich. “I’m prepared to challenge the president head on. I do not believe under our Constitution that the president of the United States gets any authority from the U.N. or any authority from the Arab League, and I think that is a profound misunderstanding of the American presidency.”
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Instead, Gingrich advocated for a coalition of Egyptian, Jordanian, Moroccan, and Iraqi forces to help the opposition forces. “We should get it done as fast as we can without using American forces,” said Gingrich. “Further overstretching forces is very dangerous and symbolic of liberal contempt for the realities of military power.”
Gingrich argued that the current military mission is not accomplishing the president's stated goal of protecting civilians.
“It is not a humanitarian mission to have a no-fly zone that allows Qaddafi to stay in power, because the same dictator with the same secret police killing people will continue killing people,” Gingrich told a Greenville County Republican Women’s Club luncheon, where he was the keynote speaker. “People confuse totally an operational tactic with a goal. The idea that we’re going to somehow going to police a humanitarian truce between a ruthless dictator and the people trying to overthrow him is an open-ended commitment that is a nightmare.
“There’s now total confusion,” Gingrich said. “You need to plan and think through what you’re trying to accomplish before you’re holding a press conference. It’s as big a mess as we’ve seen.”