America "doesn't need anybody's permission," he said. "We don't need to have NATO. . . . We don't need to have the United Nations. . . . All we have to do is suppress [Qaddafi's] air force, which we could do in minutes."
Two weeks later, on the day the UN Security Council voted for a Libyan no-fly zone, Gingrich intensified his criticism. The Obama White House, he told Sean Hannity, "is maybe the most passive and out of touch presidency in modern American history." Qaddafi was still in place two weeks after the president said he had to go, Gingrich observed, and "there is no evidence that the no-fly zone by itself will be effective."
The next day, Gingrich told Politico that the president's position on Libya "makes us look weak and uncertain and increases the danger in the Persian Gulf."
Yet by Sunday, with US missile strikes on Libyan air defense systems underway, Gingrich's tune began to change. Now Obama was guilty of "opportunistic amateurism without planning or professionalism," he said, and the only thing that could explain the administration's decision was "opportunism and news media publicity."
On Wednesday, March 23, Gingrich went on NBC's "Today" show to condemn the entire operation. "I would not have intervened," he told Matt Lauder. "I think there were a lot of other ways to affect Qaddafi. I think there are a lot of allies in the region that we could have worked with. I would not have used American and European forces." For good measure he labeled the military campaign, which so far has gone pretty well, "about as badly run as any foreign operation in our lifetime." That will come as news to anyone who can remember Vietnam, Somalia, or Iraq before the surge.
Thus in the space of three weeks, Gingrich went from blasting Obama for not imposing a no-fly zone in Libya "this evening" to blasting Obama for imposing a no-fly zone in Libya. On March 3 he wanted the president to tell Qaddafi "that slaughtering your own citizens is unacceptable and that we're intervening." By March 23 he was mocking "humanitarian intervention" as an unserious "public relations conversation."
But if the only consistent note in Gingrich's ever-evolving position on Libya is that Obama is always wrong, just who is the unserious one? On his website, Gingrich describes himself as an internationally recognized "expert on world history, military issues, and international affairs." He would like to be regarded as a man of deep learning and principled ideas. He is coming across so far as a politician who will say anything to score cheap points.
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