For a handy explainer, see Newt’s many flips on Libya issue by issue.
Newt Gingrich’s explanation of his shifting Libya position is growing even more complicated and contradictory, even as the former speaker slams President Obama for supposedly flip-flopping himself between inaction and overreaction.
“There is now total confusion,” Gingrich told South Carolina Republicans Thursday, according to the AP, describing the no-fly zone as an “open-ended commitment that is a nightmare.”
In an interview later Thursday with FOX News’ Greta Van Susteren, the same outlet where he called for an immediate no-fly zone earlier this month, Newt tripled down on his elaborate explanation as to how he went from demanding immediate military action to protect Libyan civilians to berating Obama for entering an unnecessary humanitarian war.
According to Newt, Obama committed an unforgivable error by demanding Qaddafi step down on March 3. Before that, he claims, he could have gotten away with a quieter non-military approach to removing him from power.
“If we had a choice, if President Obama had not come out and said Qaddafi has to go,” he told Greta. “I would have preferred the Reagan-Eisenhower model of using the CIA, using our allies, having Moroccan, Egyptian, Jordanian, Iraqi forces helping the people who are going to overthrow Qaddafi.”
But Gingrich’s already tenuous claim that March 3 was a magic bright line that swung him wildly from anti- to pro-war appears to be contradicted by his own prior statements. On February 22, for example, Newt explicitly chided Obama for not taking a more forceful public stance against Qaddafi, complaining of a “conspiracy of silence.”
“I wish the administration — the Obama administration was as enthusiastic about democracy in Libya and in Iran and in other countries as it was in Egypt, which was our ally,” he told FOX News at the time. “Qaddafi’s been our enemy for years. This is an opportunity to replace that dictatorship, and I think the United States ought to be firmly on the side of the Libyan people in replacing this administration.”
So let’s unpack this for a moment. If we’re to take Newt Gingrich at his word, then it seems that he was calling on Obama to “replace” Qaddafi … while hoping the President didn’t take his advice? TPM e-mailed Newt spokesman Rick Tyler to ask whether Gingrich’s Feb. 22 comments should have been interpreted as a call for the White House to demand Qaddafi’s ouster, as Obama subsequently did, or to quietly and covertly arm rebels, as Gingrich now claims was the proper move.
“The president made an unpresidential mistake by publicly calling for Qaddafi to go,” Tyler responded. Obama put “American prestige” on the line against Qaddafi when he called for him to go with “no plan to remove him,” Tyler said.
According to Tyler, Gingrich did “not call for military action” in his Feb. 22 interview. “Reagan defeated the Soviet Union without going to war,” he said. “Newt’s position has been consistent.”
But didn’t Reagan also call the Soviet Union an “Evil Empire?”
“Calling the Soviet Union an evil empire is not them same as announcing regime change,” Tyler replied. “The difference is Reagan had a plan and it worked. Obama has no plan except to referee a civil war.”
Below, via Politico, is a clip of Newt’s fateful February 22nd interview.
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.