American conservatives are divided on the merits of their country’s military involvement in Libya. Whereas foreign policy hawks like Senator John McCain urged support for Libya’s anti-government forces from the start, many of the likely Republican presidential contenders were skeptical of the president’s war policy on Monday night.
During a primary debate in the northeastern state of New Hampshire, several of the Republican presidential hopefuls criticized Barack Obama’s decision to intervene in Libya. Others lambasted him for not assuming a leadership role.
Former Governors Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney, both of whom are considered moderates, previously complained about how the president handled the military campaign. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich initially called on Obama to impose a no-fly zone only to criticize him later for doing exactly that. During the New Hampshire debate, he warned that, “We have no idea what percent of the Libyan rebels are in fact Al Qaeda.”
Although the Arab and Western nations enforcing the no-fly zone do not know very well just who the rebels are, according to Senator McCain, who visited the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi in April, where the rebels established their interim government, terrorists have not been directing the uprising. If there were a stalemate though, he warned, “it’s very possible that Al Qaeda could come in and take advantage of” the situation.
Both McCain and Republican senator Lindsey Graham urged greater pressure on Tripoli where Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi continues to defy NATO airpower and sanctions. “The people around Gaddafi need to wake up every day wondering, will this be my last?” Graham said two months ago.
According to the South Carolina legislator, American national-security interest could be harmed if Gaddafi survives. Others beg to differ. Most foreign policy analysts agree that regime change in Libya is not in the vital interest of the United States. “It is more in the vital interest of Europeans,” former national security advisor General James Jones said in April, “when you consider the effects of massive immigration, the effects of terror, the oil market.”
Most Americans agree. A Rasmussen poll released this week found just 26 percent of likely voters supporting continued military action in Libya. 42 percent would like the United States to stop participating in the intervention altogether. Among Republicans, opposition is even more pronounced. Half of likely Republican voters want their country out.