On March 7, the former Speaker of the House and likely 2012 presidential candidate told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren that his response to Libya would be swift and unilateral. “Exercise a no-fly zone this evening,” he said.
“I mean, 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,” he continued. “They were very quick to jump on Mubarak, who was their ally for 30 years, and they were confused about getting rid of Gaddafi. This is a moment to get rid of him. Do it. Get it over with.”
Now that Obama has taken that step and established a no-fly zone in conjunction with UN allies, Gingrich has changed tacks.
“I would not have intervened,” he told Matt Lauer on The Today Show Wednesday. “I think there are a lot of other ways to affect Gaddafi. I think there are a lot of other allies in the region that we could have worked with. I would not have used American and European forces.”
He criticized Obama for changing the designated purpose of the mission. “The president said on March 3, ‘Gaddafi has to go.’ Well they’re now saying this is a humanitarian intervention, which is nonsense. If this is not designed to get rid of Gaddafi, then this makes no sense at all.”
“This is about as badly run as any foreign operation we’ve seen in our lifetime,” he added.
Gingrich’s spokesperson Rick Tyler, explained that this was not the flip-flop that it might seem. Rather, he said, Gingrich’s response changed because Obama’s proposed mission had changed. “The Speaker has been consistent,” he told The Daily Caller. “The president has changed his mind.”
Before Obama made the pronouncement on March 3 that Gaddafi must be removed from power, there were “indirect and subtle options” for dealing with the situation in Libya “that would have required no U.S. force,” Tyler said. For instance, he said, “plenty of third party people who could get [Gaddafi] a message to be clear about the U.S.’s intention that he leave.”
“But the president took those options off the table March 3,” Tyler said. “So, on March 7…the Speaker called for a no-fly zone in short order with the goal of regime change.”
On March 19, however, Obama called the intervention in Libya a humanitarian mission, changing the goal of U.S. involvement. This, Tyler says, is what Gingrich was reacting to when he said the he would not have intervened in Libya.
“The only rational motive for intervention is to replace Gaddafi,” Tyler said.
“The humanitarian standard could be applied to North Korea…Yemen…Darfur…Many other places,” Tyler continued. On that standard, he said, Gingrich would not have intervened in Libya. If humanitarianism is the rationale for intervention, then the priorities ought to be North Korea and Iran, as those are the two countries that most directly endanger U.S. interests, Tyler explained, not Libya.