What’s Newt Gingrich’s position on Libya? The answer might depend on what day you ask.
As ThinkProgress notes, Gingrich called for immediate strikes against Qadaffi earlier this month and aggressively condemned President Obama for his restraint.
“Exercise a no-fly zone this evening,” Gingrich said on March 7 when asked for his policy prescription, adding the administration was “inept” in its reponse. “This is a moment to get rid of him. Do it. Get it over with.”
But Gingrich appears to have had a change of heart since then and is now aggressively going after Obama for getting involved in Libya at all, telling The Today Show that he specifically “would not have intervened” and not “have used American and European forces” based on America’s commitments elsewhere and the danger of creating a broad humanitarian justification for war.
Update: Gingrich responds on Facebook, after the jump.
Gingrich posted a lengthy explanation to his Facebook page of his stance on Libya in which he claims that while he believes Qadaffi could have been dealt with without military force, President Obama forced him to reluctantly support military action by ill-advisedly putting American credibility on the line. Taking the argument on good faith, there is some sort of consistency to it, albeit one that takes several paragraphs to unpack and relies on a few major assumptions.
According to Gingrich’s post, he was always against attacking Libya because there were “options to be indirect and subtle” to remove Qadaffi without military forces — hence his quote on The Today Show this morning that he “would not have intervened” militarily. However, President Obama rendered these options ineffective by declaring on March 3 that “it’s time for Qadaffi to go,” because after that “anything short of a successful, public campaign for regime change would have been seen as a defeat for the United States.”
So by Gingrich’s logic, once Obama crossed that Rubicon, the best of all options suddenly shifted dramatically, turning him instantly into a cheerleader for unilateral, decisive, intervention. Hence his claim on March 7th in his interview with FOX News that Obama should establish a no-fly zone “this evening” and that “This is a moment to get rid of him. Do it. Get it over with.”
There is a sort of internal consistency to the idea if you believe that somehow Obama saying Qadaffi should leave automatically commits the US to military action. But you would be forgiven if you didn’t understand this distinction while watching that March 7 interview. That’s because at no point did Gingrich berate Obama for rushing to war or picking a fight he shouldn’t have or for not exhausting non-military options — he immediately, from his first sentence, suggested setting up a no-fly zone, the exact action Obama ended up taking. And he went out of his way to attack Obama for even considering easing up on Qadaffi.
“The idea that we’re confused about a man who has been an anti-American dictator since 1969 just tells you how inept this administration is,” Gingrich said. “They were very quick to jump on Mubarak who was their ally for 30 years and they’re confused about getting rid of Qadaffi.”
Newt also seemed to undercut his argument in his Facebook post that Obama has threatened American foreign policy by using humanitarian reasons to justify his intervention. He offered up similar arguments in telling FOX News that “We don’t need to have the United Nations. All we have to say is that we think that slaughtering your own citizens is unacceptable and that we’re intervening.”
Was Newt just so enthusiastic about a military action he disagreed with in the first place and believed could have been avoided that he failed to mention anything along those lines that night? If that’s the case, then his argument might make a sort of sense. But it’s up to you to watch the film and decide how plausible the idea is.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.