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Obama Says Qaddafi’s Ouster Vindicates Coalition-Based Action

U.S. President Barack Obama
Barack Obama, president of the United States. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

President Barack Obama said the death of Muammar Qaddafi is a vindication of his brand of coalition-based global leadership as allied officials also expressed satisfaction with the outcome in Libya.

Critics in Congress assailed the administration for entering the conflict with NATO, describing it as “leading from behind.” Others argued that the president didn’t have the right to start a war without congressional approval. Administration officials such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the military campaign was “limited intervention,” not war.

Now, after almost eight months of coalition bombing runs and financial and materiel support for the post-Qaddafi National Transition Council, the U.S. mission to give Libyans a chance to “determine their destiny” has succeeded, the president said.

“Without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives, and our NATO mission will soon come to an end,” Obama said yesterday at the White House.

“We did exactly what we said we were going to do in Libya,” Obama said. “ I think it underscores the capacity of us to work together as an international community,” the president said, adding that partnerships can make the U.S. “even more effective.”

Obama, back in Washington a day after an early election campaign bus tour, said Qaddafi’s fall was another display of the strength of America’s global leadership during his tenure.

Obama’s Leadership

“We’ve taken our al-Qaeda leaders and we’ve put them on the path to defeat,” Obama said. “We’re winding down the war in Iraq and have begun a transition in Afghanistan. And now, working in Libya with friends and allies, we’ve demonstrated what collective action can achieve in the 21st century.”

Leaders from countries such as Britain and France echoed Obama’s claims of victory and validation about the end of the Libyan dictator’s 42-year turn on the international stage.

“Well I think we’ve felt vindicated all along,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on the BBC yesterday. “The real gamble,” he said, would have been to do nothing in March when Qaddafi was threatening the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

On Canada’s CBC television, Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared that “Qaddafi’s days are over. Never again will he be in a position to support terrorism or to turn guns on his own people.”

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the leader’s death showed that “NATO and our partners have successfully implemented the historic mandate of the United Nations to protect the people of Libya.”

Chavez Disagrees

The acclaim was not universal. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez said Qaddafi was a “martyr” and a “great fighter” whose death was an “assassination,” according to the Agence France-Presse news agency. The Libyan leader awarded Chavez with the “al Qaddafi International Human Rights” award in 2004.

Qaddafi’s death follows the flight of Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power on Jan. 14 after large-scale protests. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in April after three decades in power.

Egypt’s interim ruling authority yesterday called on Libya’s NTC to “turn over a new page” to rebuild the country and offered assistance to its “Libyan brothers,” the semi-official newspaper Al Ahram reported.

Obama, Harper, Hague and Rasmussen all said Qaddafi’s death would mean the end of the NATO-led mission.

End of Mission

“We will terminate our mission in coordination with the United Nations” and the NTC, Rasmussen said. With the reported fall of Qaddafi-loyalist strongholds Bani Walid and Sirte, “that moment has now moved much closer,” the NATO leader said.

Action in Libya was authorized by a UN resolution that allowed NATO to take all necessary measures to protect civilians. The step was taken after the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League asked the West for help in dealing with Qaddafi’s assault on his own citizens.

Arab-American groups, including the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, welcomed the start of a new era for Libya. U.S. lawmakers in both parties reacted positively to the news about Qaddafi.

Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who was his party’s presidential candidate against Democrat Obama in 2008 and was an early advocate of intervention to help Libya’s rebels, said the U.S. “must now deepen our support for the Libyan people as they work to make the next phase of their democratic revolution as successful as the fight to free their country.”

Securing Libyan Weapons

Michigan Representative Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said Qaddafi’s death closed an important chapter for the families of those killed in 1988 by the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and warned about the need to secure Libya’s chemical stockpile and conventional weapons such as missiles that can bring down aircraft.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, praised the “strong action taken by the United States, led by President Obama, and NATO, the United Nations and the Arab League proves the power of the world community working together.”

Republican Critic

For some Republicans, including Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, Obama’s handling of the Libya situation fell short. Kyl told reporters yesterday that the president “wanted to lead from behind and let others do the job.”

Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat and chairman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee that oversees Africa, said the Libya campaign was “appropriately measured,” given fiscal constraints and engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, said “it is undeniable that the NATO campaign prevented a massacre” and contributed to Qaddafi’s downfall without “suffering a single American fatality.”

The praise contrasted with the tone of debates earlier this year when Kerry’s committee rejected Obama’s argument that involvement in Libya didn’t require congressional approval because it didn’t constitute full-blown hostilities.

The 1973 War Powers Resolution demands congressional authorization within 60 days of first military strikes.

An April 1 Justice Department memo said Obama had the constitutional authority to use military force in Libya because he could “reasonably determine” intervention was in the national interest.

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton ruled that members of the House of Representatives who had said Obama violated the War Powers Act in Libya had failed to demonstrate that they had the right to sue executive branch officials.

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