For Obama, Gadhafi death a vindication of doctrine
WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama's doctrine of dealing with American enemies just got another test -- and, for him, another vindication.
The death of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi reinforces Obama's style of dealing with enemies without immersing the United States in war.
Even skeptics offered grudging support.
For Obama, the outcome allowed him to stand victorious in the Rose Garden on Thursday, taking note also of the death this year of prominent al-Qaida leaders at the hands of the United States. His message: The United States showed it can help rally an international campaign to protect Libyans and rid the world of a killer without a single American dying.
His vice president, Joe Biden, went further.
"This is more of the prescription for how to deal with the world as we go forward than it has been in the past," Biden said in New Hampshire, as the administration sought again to distance itself from an era of politics once dominated by the Iraq war.
For Obama, the larger story is of an administration with deepening credibility on how to handle bad actors or international tinderboxes without immersing the United States in war.
It is not expected to impact his re-election chances; 2012 will be the economy election.
But it burnishes his standing on how to protect the country and work with the rest of the world.
As Obama likes to remind Americans, he is the president who hastened the end of the war in Iraq, and he is now winding down the one in Afghanistan after expanding it greatly. And in a span of months, the country has seen the demise of infamous men who either had killed Americans or haunted the United States by targeting it for terror attacks.
Obama ordered a daring special forces raid in Pakistan in May that led to the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the architect of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Last month, a U.S. drone strike in the mountains of Yemen killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen and prominent al-Qaida figure who was deemed as having an operational role in plots against the U.S. The plots included two nearly catastrophic attacks on U.S.-bound planes -- an airliner on Christmas 2009 and cargo planes last year.
And then came the confirmed reports Thursday that Gadhafi was dead. There were conflicting accounts on how he died, but little doubt he suffered a grisly end.
Libyans celebrated and Obama spoke of a victorious revolution for those who had suffered under Gadhafi's rule.
"The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted," Obama said. He spoke of Gadhafi as a man who beat and killed his people and who for decades robbed a nation of its potential.
What the president didn't note was the criticism he faced from some members of Congress earlier in the campaign, long before rebels got their foothold in overthrowing Gadhafi. Obama had gotten heat on various fronts -- acting too slowly in the first place, acting without sufficient consent from Congress, acting in a way that left the United States vulnerable to endless trouble.
One top Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said Thursday that replacing Gadhafi with a representative democracy in Libya will be "worth its weight in gold in terms of our national security." He added that fellow Republicans who "wanted the War Powers Act invoked would not have asked for it if President Obama wasn't the president."
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, asked in Iowa whether Obama deserved credit for killing Gadhafi, answered, "Yes, absolutely."
Obama's opponent in the 2008 election, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, also gave the president credit but said Obama could have brought Gadhafi down faster. He told NBC's "Today Show" Friday: "The fact is we could have ended this conflict a lot earlier if we had used the full weight of U.S. airpower instead of leading from behind."
The U.S. and NATO allies launched a bombing campaign in Libya on March 19 after the United Nations authorized military action in order to protect civilians from attacks perpetrated by Gadhafi loyalists.
The U.S. took the initial lead in the campaign, launching an air and sea assault on Gadhafi's forces in order to protect civilians and provide cover to the Libyan rebels.
By the end of March, the U.S. assumed a secondary role in Libya, with the French and the British carrying out the bulk of the bombing missions. U.S. assets turned their focus toward support and intelligence.
When asked if the outcome was a vindication of his strategy, Obama said: "We did exactly what we said we were going to do in Libya."
Obama's response to Gadhafi's death allowed him to keep the focus on Libyan civilians and not face charges that he was seeking unseemly political gain by declaring victory.
Yet he wasn't silent on that. He offered credit to the united effort of intervention when Gadhafi was threatening what Obama warned would be a massacre.
"The United States and our friends and allies stopped Gadhafi's forces in their tracks," Obama said.
And he put Libya in his own context of Iraq, Afghanistan and the targeted death of al-Qaida leaders this way: "We see the strength of American leadership across the world."
Biden on Thursday suggested the U.S. approach to Libya was the new way of waging war -- less cost, less risk to Americans. In short, not Iraq.
"I think we'll let analysts make observations about that comparison," Obama spokesman Jay Carney said when asked about it later. "The president simply believes that the action that he took, that this administration took, working with our allies, working with NATO, working with our partners in the Arab world, was the right action for Libya."
Foreign affairs remains Obama's strong suit in the public's eyes, with 59 percent approving of how he handles relationships with other countries and 64 percent approving his handling of terrorism, far outpacing his overall approval rating, according to a new AP-GfK poll.
But these issues are much less important to most Americans than the economy and unemployment.
Gadhafi's death likely will have a fleeting impact on domestic politics, but a lasting one on a part of the world that matters to American interests.
And, as Obama said, to the Libyan people.
Associated Press writers Julie Pace, Erica Werner and Donna Cassata in Washington, Kasie Hunt in Iowa and AP Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.