Newt Gingrich has taken a bit of a beating over the last couple of weeks over alleged changes in his position on using military force in Libya. Critics accused the potential presidential candidate of simply gainsaying whatever Barack Obama did and not holding a consistent position on how the US should handle the crisis in Libya. Today, his team released to Hot Air a video compilation of Gingrich’s comments from late February, interspersed with Obama’s comments, to argue that Gingrich has been consistent all along. Obama’s actions made moot his earlier recommendations, and his delay ruined what chances for success a no-fly zone had when Gingrich reluctantly backed it — and only did so after Obama made regime change the public position of the US:
Here’s there accompanying statement:
Before March 3rd, US military force was not necessary to help remove Qadaffi who was clearly in a weak position. The United States could have worked with our allies and particularly our Arab allies to use quiet, covert, and indirect action to get rid of Qadaffi. But on March 3rd the president took those options off the table when he unambiguously declared that the Qadaffi must step down from power and leave. Obama repeated this objective again on March 11. But from his initial statement of March 3rd, when he put the authority and prestige of the United States against a dictator, the president committed the United States to that objective. Anything less than the removal of Qadaffi will be seen as a defeat for the United States.
Given the new reality, Gingrich commented on March 7th that we should declare a no-fly zone in support of the president’s mission to oust the dictator. But on March 19th the president dropped his objective of getting rid of Qadaffi and adopted the UN’s objective of enforcing a no-fly zone for humanitarian reasons and explicitly rejected the goal of defeating Qadaffi.
Gingrich said at that time that he could not support using the U.S military for a strictly humanitarian intervention. His message has been clear and consistent. Prior to March 3rd, he would not have intervened but used other means to defeat the dictator, but after the president’s March 3rd statement, he said that only reason to use our military force was to get rid of Qadaffi. He has maintained that position.
To be fair, it’s possible that the US did attempt to apply covert action to get Gaddafi out of power, or at least to convince the military to revolt. If we did, it didn’t succeed, obviously, but we won’t know what happened (if anything) for a while, probably for years. Gingrich is right that a NFZ would have been more effective three weeks earlier, when Gaddafi was isolated to Tripoli and an air campaign could have kept his forces bottled up. By the time Libyan ground forces reached Benghazi, it was far too late for a bombing campaign to be effective as a game-ender; about the best it can accomplish now is a long, protracted, and bloody stalemate.
So yes, there is a subtle but important distinction in when one supported an NFZ, and when change could possibly have been necessary without overt American military action. Gingrich makes a good point when he says that his analysis will change as facts on the ground do — a piece of advice that Obama, NATO, and the UN would have done well to heed in this case.
Did Gingrich’s argument convince you? Take the poll: